Published March 5, 2022
Underrated NBA MVP Seasons
Give Them Their Flowers
Michael Jordan. LeBron James. Wilt Chamberlain. So many recognizable names are recipients of one of the greatest awards for a career; the “Most Valuable Player” award.
I’m sure any fan has talked over and over again about some of the greatest MVP seasons of all-time, from Stephen Curry’s unanimous vote run to Allen Iverson bringing a suspect 76ers squad to the finals. Regardless of this, there are some truly great runs that get swept under the rug and it’s necessary to acknowledge the dominance certain players had. This is going to highlight a handful of them, and hopefully give some legends their proper respect.
p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists
b – blocks
TS% – true shooting percentage (advanced measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for all types of goals: two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws)
Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets (1969)
Notable Stats: 13.8p / 18.2r / 2.6a on 52 TS%, Final Record: 57-25
On paper, this doesn’t appear to be one of the more impressive MVP seasons of all-time. The rebound numbers are typical of its era for a center, and there isn’t anything flashy on the offensive side of things; what makes it crazy is that Unseld did this in his rookie season.
This made him one of two people to achieve this feat in their first year (alongside Wilt Chamberlain), and he naturally received “Rookie of the Year” honors as well. This is largely because he was able to shape Baltimore into a legitimate threat; they racked up twenty-one more wins than the previous season, and skyrocketed to the first seed in the Eastern Division. This put them over the well-rounded 76ers, Willis Reed’s Knicks, and the defending champion Celtics, which is an outstanding accomplishment from a rookie.
Fun Fact: The year Unseld joined the Bullets, they went from being ranked the 6th best defense in the league (relatively average) to the 2nd best, only behind Boston. His defensive impact was apparent from the beginning.
Bob McAdoo, BUFFALO bRAVES (1975)
Notable Stats: 34.5p / 14.1r / 2.1b on 57 TS%, Final Record: 49-33
Unlike Unseld, McAdoo had been with the Braves for a few years up to this point, but the ’75 season was truly when he broke out as a player.
He had become a pure fan favorite, leading the entire league in All-Star voting, and the Braves had a repeat visit to the playoffs. His ability to shoot so well for a big man made him a lethal scorer, and it was reasonable to consider him the best player in the NBA that season. Even though Buffalo wasn’t at the top of their Division nor a deep playoff team, McAdoo was someone the entire league respected for uplifting such a small market.
Fun Fact: He remains the only player in Los Angeles Clippers history to win an MVP award, although he did so with their original incarnation of the Braves. This is unfortunately a forgotten achievement as the Braves relocated to San Diego only a few years later.
Charles Barkley, Phoenix suns (1993)
Notable Stats: 25.6p / 12.2r / 5.1a on 60 TS%, Final Record: 62-20
I will always stand by the belief that Charles Barkley is one of the most underrated NBA players of all-time. Younger fans only acknowledge his antics and hear Shaq taunting him for having no rings, not realizing that he was one of the best talents in a very competitive era.
Phoenix was already successful prior to acquiring Barkley, but he solidified them as the best team in the West – comfortably, at that. He remained one of the league’s most efficient scorers and showed up for nearly every game, impacting the Suns enough that they even made a trip to the NBA Finals. They did leave shorthanded, but his leadership of what currently stands as Phoenix’s most successful campaign says enough about this run.
Fun Fact: This was the greatest playmaking season of Barkley’s career, with him averaging 5.1 assists per game. This rendered him as one of the best passing forwards in the league, alongside Scottie Pippen and Detlef Schrempf.
David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (1995)
Notable Stats: 27.6p / 10.8r / 3.2b on 60 TS%, Final Record: 62-20
The Admiral was a beast. One of the most underrated players period, but that’s a discussion for another time.
What’s unique about Robinson is that his greatness is proven by the eye test, but raw statistics support it to a surprising degree. Numbers say he was consistently among the most impactful players of his era, and this run is further proof. He led the Spurs franchise to a former best single-season record, as a first option on a somewhat dysfunctional squad.
He was an absolutely monstrous defender, averaging two steals and three blocks a game. This season also involved San Antonio’s first trip to the conference finals since the times of George Gervin, continuing a trend of improvement in the post-season that the team had seen since Robinson entered the picture.
Fun Fact: Prior to this year, Robinson had finished top three in MVP voting a remarkable three times in just five years. His ’94 season was actually his best year; he just couldn’t win MVP honors over conference rival Hakeem Olajuwon, who had a monster season as well.
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (2004)
Notable Stats: 24.2p / 13.9r / 2.2b on 55 TS%, Final Record: 58-24
Garnett’s path to greatness was one of the toughest. Minnesota’s incompetence led to his prime nearly being wasted due to a subpar supporting cast.
But in ’04, Garnett couldn’t have cared less. Minnesota did improve as an overall team, but he rushed forward with what could be argued as the best individual season a power forward has ever had; he willed a low-grade team to the best record in a competitive Western Conference, leading the league in points and rebounds along the way.
That season remained the only time the Timberwolves franchise has escaped the first round of the playoffs, and them beating out the improving Nuggets and ruthless Sacramento team is nothing to underrate. Garnett was an unstoppable force on both offense and defense, and played every game of the season too; there’s no doubt it was his year.
Fun Fact: Kevin Garnett nearly led the Timberwolves in all major statistics that season, only falling short to Sam Cassell on assists.