A History of Top-Five MVP Finishes

Fifteen Top-Five Finishes

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986) +6

Fourteen Top-Five Finishes

  • LeBron James (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020) +3

Eleven Top-Five Finishes

  • Kobe Bryant (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) +6
  • Bill Russell (1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1969) +2

Ten Top-Five Finishes

  • Wilt Chamberlain (1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973) +3
  • Michael Jordan (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998) +0

Nine Top-Five Finishes

  • Larry Bird (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988) +1
  • Tim Duncan (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007) +4
  • Magic Johnson (1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991) +0
  • Karl Malone (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000) +4
  • Oscar Robertson (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1971)

Eight Top-Five Finishes

  • Shaquille O’Neal (1994, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005) +3
  • Bob Pettit (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964) +3
  • Jerry West (1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1972) +3

Seven Top-Five Finishes

  • Elgin Baylor (1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1969) +3

Six Top-Five Finishes

  • Kevin Durant (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016) +2
  • Patrick Ewing (1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995) +6
  • James Harden (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) +1
  • Hakeem Olajuwon (1986, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996) +4

Five Top-Five Appearances

  • Julius Erving (1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983) +2
  • Kevin Garnett (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008) +1
  • Moses Malone (1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985) +1
  • David Robinson (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996) +0

Four Top-Five Appearances

  • Charles Barkley (1988, 1990, 1991, 1993) +2
  • Bob Cousy (1956, 1957, 1959, 1960) +2
  • Dave Cowens (1973, 1974, 1975, 1976) +1
  • George Gervin (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981) +1
  • Dwight Howard (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) +3
  • Chris Paul (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013) +2
  • Russell Westbrook (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018) +3

Three Top-Five Appearances

  • Paul Arizin (1956, 1957, 1959) +1
  • Rick Barry (1967, 1975, 1976) +3
  • Stephen Curry (2015, 2016, 2019) +1
  • Elvin Hayes (1974, 1975, 1979) +1
  • Allen Iverson (1999, 2001, 2005) +2
  • Kawhi Leonard (2016, 2017, 2020) +1
  • Steve Nash (2005, 2006, 2007) +0
  • Willis Reed (1969, 1970, 1971) +1
  • Bob McAdoo (1974, 1975, 1976) +0
  • Dirk Nowitzki (2005, 2006, 2007) +0
  • Dolph Schayes (1956, 1957, 1958) +2
  • Dominique Wilkins (1986, 1987, 1993) +2

Two Top-Five Finishes

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019, 2020) +0
  • Tiny Archibald (1973, 1980) +1
  • Dave Bing (1968, 1971) +1
  • Billy Cunningham (1969, 1970) +1
  • Anthony Davis (2015, 2018) +1
  • Clyde Drexler (1988, 1992) +1
  • John Havlicek (1972, 1973) +2
  • Sam Jones (1965, 1966) +2
  • Jason Kidd (1999, 2002) +1
  • Bob Lanier (1974, 1977) +1
  • Tracy McGrady (2002, 2003) +2
  • Alonzo Mourning (1999, 2000) +0
  • Scottie Pippen (1994, 1995) +1
  • Dwyane Wade (2009, 2010) +1
  • Bill Walton (1977, 1978) +0
  • George Yardley (1957, 1958) +1

One Top-Five Finish

Carmelo Anthony (2013), Chauncey Billups (2006), Terry Cummings (1985), Bob Dandridge (1979), Walter Davis (1978), Luka Doncic (2020), Walt Frazier (1970), Paul George (2019), Blake Griffin (2014), Connie Hawkins (1970), Spender Haywood (1972), Mel Hutchins (1956), Dennis Johnson (1980), Nikola Jokic (2019), Penny Hardaway (1996), Tim Hardaway (1997), Grant Hill (1997), Bernard King (1984), Damian Lillard (2018), Jerry Lucas (1966), Pete Maravich (1977), George McGinnis (1976), Kevin McHale (1987), Sidney Moncrief (1983), Joakim Noah (2014), Jermaine O’Neal (2004), Robert Parish (1982), Tony Parker (2012), Gary Payton (1998), Glen Rice (1997), Derrick Rose (2011), Dan Roundfield (1980), Bill Sharman (1956), Peja Stojakovic (2004), Maurice Stokes (1958), Isaiah Thomas (2017), Isiah Thomas (1984), David Thompson (1978), Nate Thurmond (1967), Wes Unseld (1969), Chris Webber (2001), Lenny Wilkens (1968), Gus Williams (1982)

  • Perhaps the most shocking piece of info of this entire series for me was finding that Isaiah Thomas has as many top-five MVP finishes as Isiah Thomas. Detroit Isiah undoubtedly suffered from some little-man bias, but it’s still shocking to find that he didn’t have more MVP success.
  • Walt Frazier only having one top-five appearance feels criminal. His 1970 campaign was undoubtedly deserving, but his next three seasons are comparable statistically and his Knicks were still thriving. Even more surprisingly, he didn’t even receive a single vote in 1971! That leaves me shaking my head.
  • Sidney Moncrief is the quintessential unheralded star of the 1980s. For a five-year stretch, Moncrief was neck-and-neck with the very best the game had to offer and, more importantly, his Bucks were an ever-present contender. 1983 was the peak of Moncrief’s individual success with a Defensive Player of the Year award and top-five finishes in just about every major advanced stat.
  • Sandwiched between James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins at number 2 in the 1982 draft, perhaps Terry Cummings’ career was destined to be overshadowed. Nevertheless, Cummings regularly shined and was perhaps at his brightest after joining the Bucks for the 1984–85 season and sparking the team to 59 wins to go with his own stellar counting and advanced stats.
  • Spencer Haywood’s 1972 campaign was great, but his rookie season in the ABA in 1970 is truly spectacular. He won the MVP, led the Denver Rockets to 51 wins, and led the league in scoring, rebounding, win shares, and several other stats… all at the age of 20!
  • Similar to Haywood, George McGinnis had some dominant ABA totals prior to establishing himself as an NBA mainstay. Perhaps most impressively, McGinnis is the only player to come close to Julius Erving’s soaring ABA heights when he tied Dr. J for the ABA MVP in 1975.
  • Dennis Johnson and Dan Roundfield tied for fifth in MVP voting in 1980, with two first-place votes apiece. This fascinates me, as both players were defensive stalwarts in an era where offense took precedence in MVP voting. Both were well-deserving of the honor, and I wish NBA history had more instances like this where defensive greatness is recognized.
  • In 1997, Glen Rice was the first player to shoot over 45% from three on over five attempts per game. He wasn’t the first to shoot this much or this efficiently, but he was the first to combine volume and efficiency with this much success. Rice’s 1997 season is a key predecessor, albeit an oft-forgotten one, to the league’s modern three-point explosion.
  • Tim Hardaway’s early hype with the Warriors was massive, but his 1993 knee injury seemed to spell doom on his promising career. This makes his resurgent 1997 campaign leading a 61-win Heat team all the more impressive. This late career success is sometimes overshadowed by teammate Alonzo Mourning and surname counterpart Penny, but Hardaway’s on-court revival and off-court resilience should never be overlooked.
  • I already covered them in the inaugural article on Pittsburgh basketball, but Connie Hawkins and Maurice Stokes deserve some more attention here. It speaks volumes about Hawkins’ ability and respect that he was able to live up to the post-ABA hype with an astounding 1970 season in which he led the Suns to a 26-win improvement. And Stokes’ well-rounded skill was on full display in 1958 as he dominated the glass and established himself as an early prototype of the now-common Point Center position, finishing third in the league in assists.
  • Bob Dandridge was an underrated cog in the Bucks squads of the early 1970s that regularly contended for titles. After supporting Kareem and Oscar with the Bucks, he found himself alongside Hayes and Unseld in Washington, and yet he still broke through in 1979 for one of the best performances of his career.
  • Walter Davis finished fifth in MVP voting as a rookie and followed that up with a second straight All-NBA Second Team appearance as a sophomore. He retained All-Star form for much of the remainder of his career, but drug issues possibly played a role in preventing him from reaching top-five heights again.
  • Jerry Lucas posted some monster stat lines in the 1960s and was one of the few players who could challenge Russell and Wilt for a rebounding title, though the Royals were undoubtedly Oscar Robertson’s team and Lucas’ MVP hopes likely suffered as a result. Nevertheless, his output could not be ignored in 1966 when he earned his sole top-five appearance.
  • Much like the aforementioned Havlicek and Jones, Bill Sharman was a key contributor to the Celtics dynasty. However, Sharman’s top-five appearance occurred pre-Russell. Sharman’s sharp shooting set the standard for 1950s perimeter players.

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