The 50 best NBA players to never win an NBA MVP award

By Andrew D

October 19, 2022

Image Courtesy of Alamy

Best NBA players to never win an MVP award

It's strange to think that some of the greatest players ever to set foot on an NBA court in anger will leave the sport empty-handed. No hardware of any kind. Across their whole careers in some cases.

They contribute hugely to their respective teams. Are beloved by fans and pundits alike. They might even be Hall of Fame contenders in some cases. And yet they take home nothing except their exceptional paychecks.

Maybe it’s hard to feel too much sympathy when we think of it like that…

Nonetheless, there are some players who were criminally unrecognised during their NBA careers. We’ve made a list of them. Enjoy.

They didn’t

In NBA history, there have been 55 MVP awards won. By only 29 different players. There are certain players we can all name who took way more than anyone else. 

And rightly so. Between them, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took 11 MVP titles. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain took 9 between them. 

That’s 4 players with over 35% of all the MVP awards ever given out! Talk about hogging the limelight…

Clearly, if a player happened to be unlucky enough to ply their trade at the same time as one of these titans of the game, their chances of snagging MVP themselves were drastically reduced.

There are players that many would consider legends of the game who didn’t get a sniff. But more of that later. 

There are other factors to consider of course. Due to the way the NBA assigns its rookies via the NBA Draft, the best players often end up with the worst teams. This is great for the teams in question but not so great for the players. 

Good luck having a shot at the NBA MVP award playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1990s.

As always, we argued bitterly here in The Jump Hub office about almost every name here. There was just no way we could agree to the order of the top ten. We’ve listed them in an order that didn’t cause the office to get trashed in a giant rumble but you’ll have to decide for yourselves the true order as you see it…

At least you can’t accuse us of lacking passion for our sport...

Image provided by alamy

We’ve taken a lot of things into consideration here. Including the elusive “X factor”. So you won’t see the names just listed according to the quality of their NBA stats. How much influence the players had on the team and its fans also comes into play.

We've added comments from 20th place onwards. From 21-50, feel free to add your own internally. It's more fun than you'd think

Here’s the list. Try not to have an aneurysm

Amare Stoudemire

  • Best finish: 6th (2008)

  • Denied by: Steve Nash. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James

Mitch Richmond

  • Best finish: 13th (1997)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan. Grant Hill. Chris Webber

Carmelo Anthony

  • Best finish: 6th (2010)

  • Denied by: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant

Ray Allen

  • Best finish: 9th (2005)

  • Denied by: Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett. Shaquille O'Neal

Chauncey Billups

  • Best finish: 5th (2006)

  • Denied by: Steve Nash

Tracy McGrady

  • Best finish: 4th (2002 & 2003)

  • Denied by: Tim Duncan

Paul Pierce

  • Best finish: 7th (2009)

  • Denied by: Kobe Bryant. LeBron James

Yao Ming

  • Best finish: 12th (2009)

  • Denied by: Kobe Bryant. LeBron James. Tracy McGrady

Reggie Miller

  • Best finish: 13th (2000)

  • Denied by: Shaquille O'Neal. Karl Malone. Michael Jordan

Chris Mullin

  • Best finish: 6th (1992)

  • Denied by: Mitch Richmond. Tim Hardaway

Bernard King

  • Best finish: 2nd (1984)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird

Pete Maravich

  • Best finish: 3rd (1977)

  • Denied by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kevin Durant

  • Best finish: 2nd (2010)

  • Denied by: LeBron James. Derrick Rose

Tim Hardaway

  • Best finish: 4th (1997)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan. Alonzo Mourning

Adrian Dantley

  • Best finish: 7th (1984)

  • Denied by: Larry Bird. Magic Johnson

Dave Bing

  • Best finish: 3rd (1971)

  • Denied by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Shawn Kemp

  • Best finish: 7th (1994)

  • Denied by: David Robinson. Gary Payton

Jerry Lucas

  • Best finish: 5th (1966)

  • Denied by: Oscar Robertson

Sidney Moncrief

  • Best finish: 4th (1983)

  • Denied by: Moses Malone. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson

Mark Price

  • Best finish: 7th (1992)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan. Brad Daugherty

Grant Hill

  • Best finish: 3rd (1997)

  • Denied him: Michael Jordan

Dwight Howard

  • Best finish: 2nd (2011)

  • Denied by: Derrick Rose. Kobe Bryant. Chris Paul. LeBron James

Chris Webber

  • Best finish: 4th (2001)

  • Denied by: Allen Iverson. Tim Duncan

Bob Lanier

  • Best finish: 3rd (1974)

  • Denied by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Alex English

  • Best finish: 6th (1983)

  • Denied by: Magic Johnson. Larry Bird

Artis Gilmore

  • Best finish: 8th (1978 & 1983)

  • Denied by: Bill Walton. Moses Malone. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Chris Paul

  • Best finish: 2nd (2008)

  • Denied by: Kobe Bryant. LeBron James

Robert Parish

  • Best finish: 4th (1981)

  • Denied by: Larry Bird. Kevin McHale

James Worthy

  • Best finish: 12th (1986)

  • Denied by: Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Bird

Dolph Schayes

  • Best finish: 2nd (1958)

  • Denied by: Bob Pettit. Bob Cousy. Bill Russell

Ok then. Sufficiently aggrieved? Good. Here are our top 20:

George Gervin

  • Best finish: 2nd (1978 & 1979)

  • Denied by: Bill Walton. Moses Malone

Gary Payton

  • Best finish: 3rd (1998)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan

Elvin Hayes

  • Best finish: 3rd (1975 & 1979)

  • Denied by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wes Unseld

Nate Thurmond

  • Best finish: 2nd (1967)

  • Denied by: Wilt Chamberlain. Rick Barry

Walt Frazier

  • Best finish: 4th (1970)

  • Denied by: Willis Reed

Alonzo Mourning

  • Best finish: 2nd (1999)

  • Denied by: Karl Malone

Paul Arizin

  • Best finish: 2nd (1956)

  • Denied by: Bob Pettit. Bob Cousy. Bill Russell

Dominique Wilkins

  • Best finish: 2nd (1986)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan

Rick Barry

  • Best finish: 4th (1975 & 1976)

  • Denied by: Bob McAdoo. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Jason Kidd

  • Best finish: 2nd (2002)

  • Denied by: Tim Duncan


Here it is. The top 10:

10. John Havlicek

  • Best finish: 4th (1972)

  • Denied by: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Dave Cowens

Boston Celtics shooting guard John Havlicek played his part in many of their NBA titles. Even more so once the dynamic duo of Russell and Cousy retired. 

He won eight titles with the Celtics with one NBA Finals MVP in 1974.

Havlicek was one of the most gifted players through the '60s and '70s. His points average was an incredible 20+ for six straight seasons. 
Add to that an average of 6+ assists for the same period and you have a serious contender on your hands. 

Havlicek finished top ten in MVP voting for four consecutive seasons, never bettering 4th place. 

9. Kevin McHale

  • Best finish: 4th (1987)

  • Denied by: Larry Bird. Robert Parish

Kevin McHale faced the nearly impossible task of becoming NBA MVP largely due to one player on his own team. 

Larry Bird simply led Boston from the front and snuffled up every prestigious award that McHale had a shot at taking.

McHale's best season, in statistical terms, was in 1987 when he averaged a career-high of 26 points per game and 10 rebounds. This pushed him as high as fourth place in MVP voting. 

That was the best he ever managed but his contribution to the Boston Celtics should not be underestimated. He drew a lot of defensive attention from opponents with his superb footwork and post presence. This gave Bird countless opportunities to shoot, which he duly did. 

8. Patrick Ewing

  • Best finish: 4th (1989, 1993, & 1995)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan. Karl Malone. Hakeem Olajuwon. David Robinson

New York Knickerbockers' Patrick Ewing was an absolutely dominant force throughout the 1990s. An incredibly strong center that could do it all. He owned the paint at both ends of the court. 

This dominance helped him lead the Knickerbockers to the postseason consistently. Losing in the NBA Finals twice. 

Ewing almost single-handedly turned the Knickerbockers franchise into a superb NBA powerhouse. 
His points averages were as high as 29 per game at one point with a cheeky 12 rebounds for good luck. 

But he could not break into the very top of the MVP voting despite finishing top ten seven times and top five six times.

7. Dwyane Wade

  • Best Finish: 3rd (2009)

  • Denied by: Kobe Bryant. LeBron James. Derrick Rose

Since joining the NBA in 2003, Dwyane Wade has pushed for an MVP win consistently. 

To that end, he has finished in the top ten five times.

It's surely not easy to go much higher when you're up against the likes of Bryant and James. 

In fact, even when leading the league with 30 points per game he was only able to finish 3rd. His best effort. 

No prizes for guessing the two players who finished above him. 

With James as a teammate now, it may help to propel him to that final step to being a winner. 

But time is not on his side.

Join the club Dwyane...

6. Clyde Drexler

  • Best finish: 2nd (1992)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan

Averaging a career-high of 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, Clyde "The Glide" led the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1992 NBA championship Finals.

He would surely have been a shoo-in for MVP had it not been for a pesky Chicago Bull. Jordan pulled off one of the great individual seasons in NBA history and there was no real chance of Drexler taking the award. 

To add insult to injury, the Trail Blazers were the losing team in that final. The winners? Jordan's Chicago Bulls...

Drexler was assuredly one of the NBA's most versatile, skilled players.

He helped lead the Trail Blazers to several deep NBA Playoff runs but only secured a Finals win with the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995.

He finished in the top ten three times and in the top five twice.

5. Scottie Pippen

  • Best finish: 3rd (1994)

  • Denied him: Michael Jordan. Hakeem Olajuwon

It is only natural that Scottie Pippen found himself being overshadowed by arguably the most talented individual to ever pull on a basketball jersey. 

The headlines were all Jordan's. The amazing stats. The clutch shots and mind-bending finishes. 

But Jordan himself has stated for the record that he could not have done any of it without Pippen. 

In fact, when Jordan took time off to play baseball badly, Pippen was able to lead the Bulls to consecutive 50+ win seasons. He held the team together where others might not have had the character or work ethic to do so. 

He was freakishly athletic and simply put, one of the best perimeter defenders you will ever see in the NBA.

He finished top ten in MVP voting three times. Two of those were top 5.

There is no shame in being the best sidekick that anyone could ask for. It's just that the limelight shines elsewhere. Now, whether Pippen was remunerated accordingly is another story...

4. Isiah Thomas

  • Best finish: 5th (1984)

  • Denied by: Magic Johnson. Larry Bird

Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas has to be one of the top offensive facilitators in the history of the NBA. In any other era, it seems highly likely that he would have been named MVP at least once. But it was not to be.

Thomas led the Pistons to consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. His command of the floor and marshalling of the troops was invaluable in those wins. 

He had amazing vision and awareness on the court. Able to pick out passes and moves where others could not. 

A heavy scorer who led the league in assists with a superb average of 14 per game. Thomas averaged 20 points or better for five back-t0-back seasons.

Despite finishing in the top ten four times, he could manage no better than fifth place when the chips fell. 

Competing with the likes of Johnson and Bird did not help his chances and Thomas found himself being overshadowed time and again. 

3. John Stockton

  • Best finish: 7th (1989)

  • Denied by: Michael Jordan. Karl Malone. Magic Johnson. Hakeem Olajuwon

The NBA's all-time leader in assists (15,000+) somehow never finished better than seventh in MVP voting. 

Stockton's contribution played a huge role in the Utah Jazz's fourteen years of success. But the focus seemed to always be on Karl Malone and most of the MVP voting fell with him. 
There was also the small matter of Messrs Jordan, Johnson, and Olajuwon. No wonder the guy struggled...

To think that John Stockton's best MVP finish was 7th is remarkable. There were very few better offensive facilitators anywhere. And he was even better in defence. 

That he never won MVP is truly down to the extraordinary level of competition he faced at that time. He'd walk it now...

Physical and fearless to the end. 

2. Elgin Baylor

  • Best finish: 2nd (1961, 1963)

  • Denied by: Wilt Chamberlain. Oscar Robertson. Bill Russell

Elgin Baylor is another player on this list unfortunate enough to compete with 'once-in-a-lifetime' players when trying to win MVP. 

In fact, he faced three of them. 

Russell was leading the Boston Celtics to NBA championships for fun. Wilt Chamberlain was snagging 40+ points per game. Oscar Robertson was averaging triple-doubles or thereabouts time and again. 

Baylor just couldn't catch a break. 

Sadly for Elgin, his beloved Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title the year after he retired. Gutted. 

He finished second place in voting for the MVP trophy twice. Top ten nine times and top five six times. Wow!

1. Jerry West

  • Best finish: 2nd (1966, 1970, 1971, & 1972)

  • Denied by: Wilt Chamberlain. Willis Reed. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Jerry West led some of the greatest Los Angeles Laker teams in the history of the franchise across a legendary career. 

Even so, he only ever reached second in MVP voting. 

Albeit four times. Three of them in consecutive seasons. That had to hurt...

He was up against some of the stiffest competition in league history and was unable to pull off the win. 

We actually agreed that "The Logo" Jerry West was our number one greatest player to leave the game without an MVP award. 

He left his mark in other ways.

When the fun stops, stop

Final thoughts

It's the nature of any sport that some deserving players fall through the cracks. Basketball is no different and NBA history is littered with 'also-rans'. 

they somehow manage to fail to secure a single NBA championship despite being a 'once-in-a-generation' type of player. 

Such is the nature of all competition at the end of the day. If you are unlucky enough to find yourself up against the greatest that there ever was then you have to accept your limitations. 

Hopefully, none of these players lies awake at night regretting that they did not give it their all. It's hard to see what else they might have done to succeed. 

At least they have mattresses stuffed with more cash than the rest of us could ever dream of having. Probably helps to soothe the old fevered brow in the dark wee hours. 

We hope you liked our list of the greatest NBA players who never won MVP.

Image Courtesy of Alamy

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