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This past season, Russell Westbrook won the NBA MVP award. Personally, I felt that Kawhi Leonard was the most deserving but Westbrook’s season was incredible. This got me thinking about MVP caliber seasons from players who didn’t win the award. Sure, they didn’t win but the campaigns put forth by Leonard and James Harden were certainly MVP worthy in their own right. Westbrook’s triple-double average simply could not be ignored.
This line of thinking inevitably lead to another question: who are the best players to have never won the MVP? The all-time list may be impossible for me to determine. The modern NBA (1990 until now), is a bit more feasible.
So who makes the cut as the best players of the last 28 seasons who don’t have an MVP trophy sitting on a shelf? Without further ado…
1. Jason Kidd- Kidd was a triple-double machine before Westbrook started mass producing them. A complete guard, Kidd could score, create, rebound and defend. He was one of the most exciting players to lead the fast-break in NBA history. Kidd never took home the MVP but he finished second in 2002 during the run in which he led the Nets to two consecutive Finals appearances. Kidd finally got his ring in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks. The best player of the late 90’s to mid 2000’s to never take home the trophy and the best of that group in the modern era.
2. Patrick Ewing- Ewing never finished higher than 4th in MVP voting. Nearly everyone who finished ahead of him in various years won at least one MVP in their career. Ewing’s lack of hardware is more a result of playing in the same era as Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson than it is of his individual ability. Ewing was a dominant two-way center in a decade that was loaded with them. He’s the best shooting center of all-time until centers started shooting threes in recent years. Ewing led the New York Knicks to two Finals appearances but never got his ring. He was the unquestionable best player of a great Knicks run that gave Jordan’s Chicago Bulls many great battles over the years.
3. Chris Paul- Paul is the only active player to make this list. Although he technically could still produce a MVP season, that window is all but closed. Much like Kidd, Paul is a complete lead guard. As Kidd slowed down, Paul took the mantle as the best pure point guard in the game. A terrific playmaker and scorer, what often goes overlooked is that he’s averaged 4.4 rebounds per game despite barely standing 6’0″ tall. Paul has also always been an excellent defender. He finished second in MVP voting in 2008 and may top this list when his career is finished.
4. Scottie Pippen- Playing most of his career next to Jordan, Pippen is the victim of being tragically underrated. A remarkable defender, Pippen may have been the only player in the 90’s who could have actually guarded Jordan had they not been teammates. He was no slouch on the offensive end as well. He averaged 22.0 points, 8.7 and 5.6 assist per game in 1993-94. When discussing Pippen, many people mention how he finished third in MVP voting in 1994 while MJ was playing baseball. What’s more remarkable is he finished fifth in 1996 despite Jordan taking home the prize that year.
5. John Stockton- Unlike everyone else on this list, Stockton never finished in the top five in MVP voting. Much like Ewing, this is primarily a result of the stacked decade he played in. Stockton is the league’s all-time assists and steals leader. He averaged 13 points per game and made the All-Defensive second team five times in his career. Alongside Malone, he led the Utah Jazz to two consecutive Finals appearances in 1997-98. Malone was a two-time MVP and frequent top five finisher in the award race in their years together. Stockton, the man who helped Malone become the second all-time leading scorer, never gets enough credit for all those assists.