Still Valuable: The top 10 greatest NBA players without an MVP award

Rick Barry

In the 1955-56 season, the NBA decided to celebrate the most important individual talent each season by handing out the annual Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.

The legendary Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks got his hands around the trophy the first time, and ever since then, NBA greats past and present such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six times), Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five), Wilt Chamberlain (four), LeBron James (four), Moses Malone (three), Larry Bird (three) and Magic Johnson (three) have lifted the Holy Grail of individual basketball honours.

But as history as proven, although the MVP award is a good indication of NBA greatness, it isn’t everything. While the award is given at the end of the regular season, the league is truly decided by the eventual champions, who have to excel in the playoffs and the Finals, too.

There are several talents who excelled at different moments and were never recognized as a regular season MVP, and others who had a strong body of work throughout their career but never one season where they were the absolute best in the league.

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Here is an ode to the 10 greatest players in NBA history who never won an MVP award.

While these greats have never collected the Maurice Podoloff trophy (named in honour of the NBA’s first commissioner), they have done enough to write their names among NBA legends and proven that they were still valuable to the league and their teams.

The only rule here? The player must have spent at least seven seasons in the NBA to be considered, so that current younger talents can be given a chance to grow into their primes and become great – or valuable.

First, here are those who closely missed the cut: Patrick Ewing, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Clyde Drexler and Nate Thurmond.

And now, here are the top 10 NBA players never to win an MVP trophy:

10) Walt Frazier

You may now know Frazier only as that fly old guy rocking leopard skins and dropping versatile verses on the mic as the Knicks’ colour commentator, but the point guard fondly known as ‘Clyde’ is one of the greatest players in New York basketball history. Frazier was the backcourt pillar in the greatest era of Knicks’ history – the late 60s and 70s – as the team won two championships and got to three Finals.

Frazier has been a four-time member of the All NBA first team, seven-time All Star, and one of the greatest defensive guards in history. Playing alongside Willis Reed (the team’s captain and MVP) and in a selfless, team-first system, Frazier never shone as much individually to win an MVP trophy himself.

But his Knick legend is secure!

9) Rick Barry

One of the game’s greatest small forwards with the ability to master all aspects on court, Barry has won everything but a regular season MVP award.

The only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA and the NBA in scoring, Barry was also a great passer and rebounder of the ball. He played in eight All Star games, was in the All NBA First team five times, and his teams always found a way to overachieve despite mediocre talent.

Barry led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA title in 1975 and was the Finals MVP, too.

8) Kevin McHale

McHale never won an MVP award because, when playing next to Larry Bird, he was never even the MVP of his own team.

But a resume that included three championships with the Celtics in the 80s, an All NBA first team appearance, seven trips to the All Star game, and a complete offensive and defensive skill-set that ranks him among the game’s greatest ever power forwards definitely make him eligible for a spot in this list.

McHale had more post moves than any player of his time, and formed the league’s best-ever frontline alongside Bird and Robert Parish in Boston.

7) John Stockton

On talent and records alone, Stockton deserves to rank near the top of this list, but alas, the lack of NBA championships drops him down to seventh.

One of the game’s greatest-ever point guards, Stockton is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals (by considerable margins). He spent his entire career with the Jazz, where he and Karl Malone helped the team reach two NBA Finals, both losses to the Chicago Bulls in the 90s.

Stockton played in the league for 19 glorious years, played in 10 All Star games, and All NBA First Teams, leading the league in assists nine times. While teammate Malone won two MVP awards, Stockton was equally (or some would say more) valuable to his team.

6) Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade

The only reason Dwayne Wade will now surely end his career without ever winning a regular season MVP award is because he has played in an era crowded by so many other greats.

From Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Kevin Durant, the baton of the league’s best player has frequently been passed along with Wade always falling a little short. But no matter, since Wade has a clear lead over many in the more crucial department: championships.

He tasted success early as a champion and Finals MVP in 2006, and, as he has gotten older, has taken a step back for team success in Miami, where LeBron James helped him lift two more titles.

Wade’s best season was 2008-09, when he averaged 30.2 points and 7.5 assists a game, and he also had one of the greatest ever Finals performances in 2006. He has 10 All Star games and two All NBA First Teams to his name, too.

5) Elgin Baylor

The man credited with being the first to transform the game from being horizontal to vertical, Baylor blew people’s minds with his aerial abilities in the late 50s and early 60s and was a gifted scorer and rebounder of the game.

He played his entire career with Minneapolis and later the Los Angeles Lakers.

He played in 11 All Star Games, was named to the All NBA First Team an incredible 10 times, and had some of the most eye-popping statistics and averages ever. Shockingly, Baylor never won an MVP award and his team could never win a title, despite playing in eight Finals!

Baylor retired in 1971, the same year his Lakers finally broke their Finals losing streak, winning a title without him!

4) Scottie Pippen

When the game’s greatest ever player Michael Jordan began his Hall of Fame speech, the first person he named was the person who was beside Jordan for all his moments of success: Scottie Pippen. One of the game’s greatest ever forwards, particularly on the defensive end, Pippen understood his role perfectly by Jordan’s side and helped the Bulls win six championships in the 90s.

Pippen was a jack of all trades, and while playing next to Jordan (who won five MVP trophies) kept him MVP-less, he came closest to the individual accolade in 1993-94, averaging 22-8.7-5.6 in Jordan’s absence. Pippen played in seven All Star games, was in the All NBA First Team three times, and also enjoyed a significant stint later in his career with the Trailblazers.

3) John Havlicek

John Havlicek

How’s this for a glittering array of achievements: 16 seasons, eight championships, a Finals MVP award, 13 All Star appearances, four All NBA First Team appearances, and the honour of becoming the All Time leading scorer of the Boston Celtics, one of the NBA’s most storied franchises?

While Havlicek, or ‘Hondo’, won his first six titles next to Bill Russell in the Celtics’ greatest-ever era, it is the next two – in the mid-70s – that sealed his legacy. Team-mates like Russell (in the 60s) and Dave Cowens (in the 70s) took home the MVP trophies, but it was Hondo that outlasted them all to finish with more games under his belt in a Celtic jersey than any other.

2) Isiah Thomas

Before Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose, there was Isiah Thomas, the original small man to become a volume scorer and an inspirational leader from the guard position. But unlike the other two mentioned above, Thomas shockingly never won an MVP trophy.

Perhaps playing in an era where he shared his prime years between the likes of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan robbed Thomas of getting the shine he deserved.

But the leader of the ‘Bad Boy’ Pistons became a thorn in the side of everyone he played against; he led his underdog side to three NBA Finals and two titles, was the 1990 Finals MVP, played in 12 All Star games, and was in the All NBA First Team three times. He never won an MVP award, but he has the championships and the honour of being one of the greatest guards in the game’s history to make up for that let-down.

1) Jerry West

Jerry West

Jerry West, the Lakers legend, named his autobiography “My Charmed, Tormented Life”, and his NBA life certainly had some torments among its many charms.

Despite playing in 14 All Star games, getting named to 10 All NBA First Teams, leading the league in scoring and assists in different seasons, and leading the Lakers to an incredible nine NBA Finals in his 14-year career, West only won one NBA title (in 1972). He still holds the honour of being the only player to win Finals MVP in a losing team (1969).

And it goes without saying that he never won a regular season MVP trophy.

Still, West’s greatness can’t be defined solely by his silverware (or lack thereof). He was an All Star every year of his career and retired as one of the greatest guards in history. His ability to dominate at the biggest stage earned him the ‘Mr Clutch’ nickname, and his silhouette is still the model for the NBA’s logo.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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