I was just watching a feature regarding how Giannis Antetokounmpo has a very real chance of breaking the Bucks’ MVP drought. Milwaukee hasn’t had an MVP since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the award back in 1973-74. As great a year as Giannis has had, it’ll be tough to overcome James Harden’s prolific scoring output. But this year’s horse race doesn’t interest me yet. We can get back to that nearer to the end of the season.
For now, I was more interested in going down the wormhole that is MVP droughts. What is each team’s current drought? How close has that team come to an MVP candidate since then? Let’s take a look at the droughts from most recent to most distant. There are two distinct categories, (a) the nine teams with no MVP ever and (b) the team’s who’ve had MVPs. For the former, we took a look at their nearest misses. For the rest, we listed their most recent MVPs, as well as their closest calls since. We deem a close call to be one where the player garnered some first place votes and was in the top three or four. Without further ado, here are the lists in reverse order:
Franchises with No MVPs
-New Orleans (no MVP since 2002-03): Due to the move and the ex post facto return of the Hornets, this is a weird franchise history to review. Young Chris Paul came in second to Kobe Bryant in 2007-08. CP3 had a better season than Kobe that year (but maybe not better than Kevin Garnett).
-Toronto/Memphis (no MVP since 1995-96): These teams came in to the league together and have not really had anyone come close to an MVP vote yet.
-Orlando (no MVP since 1989-90): The Magic have had many dominant players but never an MVP. Peak Dwight Howard lost out to Derrick Rose in 2010-11.
-Charlotte (no MVP since 1988-89): No one really has been close, though Glen Rice was quasi-close at his peak in the mid-1990s.
-Brooklyn (no MVP since 1976-77): The Nets came darn close to getting an MVP in 2001-02, when Tim Duncan beat Jason Kidd by only a few votes. Kidd wasn’t nearly as good as TD but got some inertia for turning the Nets into contenders. The irony was that Kidd was even better in 2002-03 but received only a few votes and finished ninth.
-Indiana (no MVP since 1976-77): Peak-ish Jermaine O’Neal came in third in the voting in 2003-04 and scored two first place votes. He was probably overrated by the voters because the Pacers had such a good season.
-Denver (no MVP since 1976-77): In their second season as an NBA team, the Nuggets had the third place in the MVP with David Thompson and haven’t really sniffed an MVP since.
-Detroit (no MVP since 1954-55): The Pistons technically haven’t ever had an MVP even dating back to the late 1940s but we cut off our search officially to the Shot Clock Era. Despite Detroit’s pockets of success, the balanced nature of its good teams didn’t lend itself to scoring well in the MVP voting. Chauncey Billups was in the conversation in 2005-06 (top five with a few first place votes). None of the Bad Boys got first place votes while the team was contending (Isiah Thomas did get a vote in 1983-84 when the Pistons were still in the offense-first phase).
Franchises With MVPs
-Houston (last MVP 2017-18): The Rockets have had plenty of MVPs and James Harden is likely to get the award again.
-Oklahoma City (last MVP 2016-17): Russell Westbrook’s recent MVP coincided with the only year that his three-point shooting wasn’t well below average (.343% in 2016-017 versus .307% for his career). He’s going to have to fix that at some point.
-Golden State (last MVP 2015-16): Steph Curry was the unanimous MVP in his pre-Kevin Durant days. As great as the Warriors have been since that time, they haven’t gotten a single first place vote the last two years.
-Miami (last MVP 2012-13): LeBron James was second in the voting in his final year in Miami.
-Chicago (last MVP 2010-11): Derrick Rose’s MVP season feels even longer ago than it actually was. Even at his best, Rose was a questionable selection. Maybe that makes up for all those years the writers didn’t give Michael Jordan the MVP because they found it boring to elect him every year?
-Cleveland (last MVP 2009-10): James hasn’t won an MVP since 2012-13 and hasn’t won an MVP as a Cav since the last season of his first tenure in Cleveland. LBJ did come in second to Harden last season.
-Los Angeles Lakers (last MVP 2007-08): Kobe Bryant deserved a lot of credit for turning the Lakers around in the late 2000s but he was not as good as LeBron and a few other players. The narrative won out and got Kobe his only MVP. He had ostensibly the same season in 2008-09 but was a distant second to LBJ.
-Dallas (last MVP 2006-07): Dirk Nowitzki deserved that award but it was tainted by the subsequent lost in the first round of the playoffs. Dirk hasn’t had a first place MVP vote since.
-Phoenix (last MVP 2005-06): Steven Nash was great but likely wasn’t better than a number of other great players that season (LeBron, Dirk, Kobe, Billups, Dwyane Wade).
-Minnesota (last MVP 2003-04): It’s still amazing to me that the Wolves couldn’t build a sustained good team around Kevin Garnett.
-San Antonio (last MVP 2002-03): At age-26, Tim Duncan won his second straight MVP. He would go on to be a great player for another 15 years but would never get another first place vote.
-Philadelphia (last MVP 2000-01): The 76ers last won the award in 2000-01, when Allen Iverson dragged a blah team to the top seed in the East. Shaquille O’Neal was the best player in the NBA but came in the third because of the malaise the Lakers suffered for most of the regular season. Shaq promptly eviscerated the 76ers in the NBA Finals.
-Utah (last MVP 1998-99): Karl Malone won the closest modern MVP vote, when he nipped Michael Jordan by 29 points before winning relatively easily in 1998-99.
-Boston (last MVP 1985-86): The Celtics have had quite a few MVPs (Bill Russell had five, Dave Cowens had one, and Larry Bird had three). Their last MVP was Bird at his (and his team’s) absolute peak in 1985-86. The last time the Celts were even close to an MVP since then was Garnett during the Celtics’ last title in 2007-08. KG came in third despite having the second best WS per 48 minutes behind the aforementioned CP3.
-Portland (last MVP 1977-78): Bill Walton broke his foot that year and was never the same player but did get an MVP at the end of the year in a very narrow vote over George Gervin. Since then, Clyde Drexler came in second 1991-92 behind Michael Jordan. Drexler remains underappreciated but it is hard to imagine that there actually multiple voters who took Clyde over MJ, when the players played the same position and were directly comparable. I assume the voters were in Portland.
-Los Angeles Clippers (last MVP 1974-75): You have to go back to Buffalo and Bob McAdoo to find an MVP for this franchise. Chris Paul was third in the voting in 2011-12, and was probably the second best player in the NBA that season.
-Milwaukee (last MVP 1973-74): As noted, the Bucks have been pretty dry in the MVP voting since Kareem. The last Buck to get a first place vote was Terry Cummings in 1984-85.
-New York (last MVP 1969-70): You have to go back to 1969-70 for the Knicks’ only MVP, Willis Reed. Carmelo Anthony somehow got a first place vote in 2012-13, even though Melo’s win shares were not in the top 10 (LeBron got the all the other first place votes). Bernard King came in second in 1983-84 behind Bird (Patrick Ewing was routinely in the top five in the early 1990s but never really a legit top tier candidate).
-Washington (last MVP 1968-69): Wes Unseld was Rookie of the Year and MVP the only time the Bullets got the award. Elvin Hayes was close a few times, most recently coming in the third in 1978-79.
-Sacramento (last MVP 1963-64): The Kings were the Royals when Oscar Robertson won the 1963-64 MVP. Tiny Archibald came close in 1972-73 when the he led the NBA in points and assists. The most recent real candidate was Chris Webber in 2000-01, coming in fourth with a few first place votes. Peja Stojakovic actually got a fluke first place vote in 2003-04 but didn’t net a large percentage of the total votes.
-Atlanta (last MVP 1958-59): Bob Pettit beat Bill Russell in the Finals one year and in the MVP vote one year (though that was not the same season that he beat Russell). In 1985-86, Dominique Wilkins was the only non-Larry Bird player to get first place votes.
There you have it…the Bucks have had an MVP drought but they are not near the bottom of the list. Somehow, the Pistons have three NBA titles and nearly 65 years in the NBA but only one player on the outskirts of the voting. Moreover, the Knicks, Bullets, Kings, and Hawks have been MVP-less since Richard Nixon and/or JFK were presidents. Giannis may break the Bucks’ streak but there are much longer streaks out there to deal with.