A lot of all-time great NBA players never won an MVP award

  • Only one player can win NBA MVP each season, meaning plenty of deserving players come up short of the prestigious award.
  • Our list of best players to never win it includes Jerry West, Isiah Thomas, Patrick Ewing, Dwyane Wade, and more.

The NBA's Most Valuable Player award rewards the best player each NBA season.

There can be debates over the interpretation over the award, and historically, there have been some winners that have later been questioned. But by and large, the history of the award reflects the most dominant players over that stretch.

The one problem is there can only be one MVP. Each year, there are plenty of players deserving of MVP, and one player edges them out due to some minor advantage.

We took a look back at some of the most dominant players in league history, who although deserving, never took home MVP. We excluded players currently in their prime who have a shot at winning the award in the coming years.

28 PHOTOS
The best NBA players to never win MVP
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The best NBA players to never win MVP
Jerry West

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers

Career: 1960-1974, 14 years

Career averages: 27 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 47% FG

All-Star teams: 14

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (four times)

One thing to know: The man who inspired the NBA logo never won MVP, but was widely regarded as one of the best players and most fierce competitors the game has seen.

(AP Photo/HPM)
John Havlicek 

Teams: Boston Celtics

Career: 1962-1978, 16 seasons

Career averages: 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals

Number of All-Star teams: 13

Championships: 8

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 4th (1971-1972)

One thing to know: Playing alongside Bill Russell didn't allow Havlicek a ton of shine, but he later starred on his own, helping rebuild the Celtics following Russell's retirement to win another championship. He owns one of the most famous, clutch steals in NBA history.

(AP Photo)
Elvin Hayes

Teams: San Diego/Houston Rockets, Washington Bullets

Career: 1968-1984, 16 seasons

Career averages: 21.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 45.2% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 12

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (twice)

One thing to know: An under-appreciated big man in an era that featured Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Wes Unseld (with whom he later teamed to make three Finals appearances), Hayes averaged over 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game five times — and they didn't begin recording blocks until his sixth year in the league.

(AP Photo)
George Gervin

Teams: Virginia Squires (ABA), San Antonio Admirals (ABA), San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls

Career: 1972-1986, 14 years (four with ABA)

Career averages: 25 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 50% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 9

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (twice)

One thing to know: Gervin was one of the league's smoothest scorers of all-time and even had a signature move in the finger-roll. Gervin led the Spurs in scoring for seven straight seasons, helping them win 50 games or more three times and eight total playoff series.

(AP Photo)
Alex English

Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks

Career: 1976-1991, 15 years

Career averages: 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 50.7% shooting

Number of All-Star teams: 8

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 6th (1982-83)

One thing to know: English averaged 26 points per game over 11 seasons with the Nuggets, finishing in the top five in points per game six times. Over that span, the Nuggets made the playoffs nine times and advanced past the first round four times.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kevin McHale

Teams: Boston Celtics

Career: 1980-1993, 13 years

Career averages: 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 55.4% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 7

Championships: 3

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 4th (1986-87)

One thing to know: McHale had the disadvantage of never being the best player on his own team — it's hard to win an MVP that way. But consider that in 1986-87, when he finished fourth in voting while averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game on 60% shooting for a 59-win team, and it's easy to believe that maybe he would have won the award if he played somewhere other than Boston.

(Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
Isiah Thomas

Teams: Detroit Pistons

Career: 1981-1994, 13 years

Career averages: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.9 steals

Number of All-Star teams: 12

Championships: 2

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 5th (1983-84)

One thing to know: Thomas' Pistons might not have been good enough for him to earn MVP candidacy when he was putting up his best numbers — 21.3 points and 10.7 assists per game from 1982-1987. By the time the Pistons were contending for titles, Thomas' numbers had scaled back, even though he was as important as ever to the team.

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Dominique Wilkins

Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic

Career: 1982-1999, 15 seasons

Career averages: 24.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 46% shooting

Number of All-Star teams: 9

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1985-86)

One thing to know: One of the best gauges of Wilkins' career is how his former opponents talk about him. Those who played against him describe an unstoppable scorer with another gear of athleticism. He simply was never the best player of his era or on the best team.

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
John Stockton

Teams: Utah Jazz

Career: 1984-2003, 19 years

Career averages: 13.1 points, 10.5 assists, 2.2 steals, 51.5% FG, 38.4% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 7th (1988-89)

One thing to know: Stockton led the league in assists for nine straight years while averaging 15 points per game on 50% shooting and playing all but four games over that span. He was the ultimate floor general, and though his resume wasn't that of a usual MVP candidate, he was still worthy.

(AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
Clyde Drexler

Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets

Career: 1983-1998, 15 years

Career averages: 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 47.2% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1991-92)

One thing to know: A smooth, two-way athlete, Clyde "the Glide" Drexler came close to an MVP in 1991, when he averaged 25-7-7 for the season while leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the Finals. But it was hard to win MVP when you were going up against Michael Jordan each year.

(Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
Patrick Ewing

Teams: New York Knicks, Seattle SuperSonics, Orlando Magic

Career: 1985-2002, 17 seasons

Career averages: 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 50.4% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 11

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 4th (three times)

One thing to know: Ewing had a tough run as a great center in an era that also featured the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and young Shaq. It says something about the era that a player who averaged 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game over six years for one of the best teams in the East never took home the MVP.

(AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Chris Mullin

Teams: Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers

Career: 1985-2001, 16 years

Career averages: 18.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 50.9% FG, 38.4% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 5

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 6th (1991-92)

One thing to know: One-third of the Warriors' famous "Run TMC," Mullin was one of the league's most potent scorers and best three-point shooters in an era where few people stretched the floor. He averaged 25.7 points per game from 1988-1993.

(Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Scottie Pippen

Teams: Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers

Career: 1987-2004, 17 years

Career averages: 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2 steals, 47% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 7

Championships: 6

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (1993-94)

One thing to know: Pippen was never going to win MVP alongside Michael Jordan. The closest he came was during Jordan's first retirement in 1993-94, when Pippen averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 3 steals per game while leading the Bulls to a 55-27 record, a hint of what he may have done if he was a team's go-to guy.

(AP Photo/Mike Fisher)
Tim Hardaway

Teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers

Career: 1989-2003, 14 years

Career averages: 17.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 8.2 assists

Number of All-Star teams: 5

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: No

Highest MVP finish: 4th (1996-97)

One thing to know: An influential player in the league because of his electric ball-handling, Hardaway was a dynamic offensive player in the Warriors "Run TMC" era, then later with the Miami Heat when they were title contenders.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Gary Payton

Teams: Seattle SuperSonics, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

Career: 1990-2007, 17 seasons

Career averages: 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.9 steals

Number of All-Star teams: 9

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (1997-98)

One thing to know: "The Glove" was one of the fiercest two-way players in the league in the '90s, racking up nine straight All-NBA and All-Defensive team selections.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Dikembe Mutombo

Teams: Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets

Career: 1991-2009, 18 years

Career averages: 9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 51.8% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 8

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 13th (1996-97)

One thing to know: Mutombo doesn't fit the usual profile of an MVP candidate, but he was one of the best centers in an era chock full of them. Consider from 1991-2002, Mutombo averaged 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game while winning Defensive Player of the Year four times, making eight All-Star teams, three All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Alonzo Mourning

Teams: Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, New Jersey Nets

Career: 1992-2008, 15 seasons (did not play 2002-03 season)

Career averages: 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 52.7% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 7

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1998-99)

One thing to know: Loop Mourning in the same group as Ewing and Mutombo — it's hard to stand out among big men when you're going up against Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Shaquille O'Neal. Nonetheless, Mourning was an athletic specimen, an elite rim protector, and the centerpiece of some championship-contending teams.

(AP Photo/Tami Chappell)
Chris Webber

Teams: Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons

Career: 1993-2008, 15 seasons

Career averages: 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks

Number of All-Star teams: 5

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: No

Highest MVP finish: 4th (2000-01)

One thing to know: Webber was one of the most skilled big men in the NBA — perhaps a little before his time — and a nightly 20-10-5 guy for the Kings when they were challenging the Lakers for NBA supremacy.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Grant Hill

Teams: Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers

Career: 1994-2013, 18 years (didn't play 2003-04 season)

Career averages: 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 48.3% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 7

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (1996-97)

One thing to know: Ankle injuries turned Hill from one of the league's most promising stars to a valuable, yet limited role player late in his career. He averaged 21-7-6 over the first five years of his career and looked poised to replace Michael Jordan as the face of the league.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Jason Kidd

Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks

Career: 1994-2013, 19 years

Career averages: 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 42.9% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2001-02)

One thing to know: Never an elite scorer, Kidd instead dictated every facet of the game, racking up triple-doubles and shredding defenses with his playmaking. For a guy who was never known as a scorer or shooter, he is 9th all-time in made threes.

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ray Allen

Teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

Career: 1996-2014, 18 seasons

Career averages: 18.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 40% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 2

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 9th (2004-05)

One thing to know: Allen's later years as three-point mercenary have blurred the memories of when he was one of the league's most dynamic scorers. Allen averaged 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game when the Bucks were challenging for the Eastern Conference, making him a legit MVP contender.

(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tracy McGrady

Teams: Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks

Career: 1997-2012, 15 seasons

Career averages: 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 steals per game

Number of All-Star teams: 7

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: Yes

Highest MVP finish: 4th (twice)

One thing to know: McGrady led the league in scoring in 2002-03 and 2003-04, averaging 30 points per game over the two seasons. He was second only to Kobe Bryant in fluid athleticism and thrilling shot-making during that time.

(Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Paul Pierce

Teams: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers

Career: 1998-2017, 19 seasons

Career averages: 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 44.5% FG, 36.8% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 1

Hall of Fame: No

Highest MVP finish: 7th (2008-09)

One thing to know: Pierce's best individual numbers came when the Celtics were a middling playoff team. By the time they contended for championships, his numbers dropped off as he shared the load with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo.

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Vince Carter

Teams: Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks

Career: 1998-current

Career averages: 17.2 points, 4.4. rebounds, 3.2 assists, 374% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 8

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: n/a

Highest MVP finish: 10th (1999-2000)

One thing to know: Known as one of the most electric players in NBA history, Carter probably never quite elevated his game high enough on a true contender to get real MVP consideration, but he certainly had the talent.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Carmelo Anthony

Teams: Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets

Career: 2003-current

Career averages: 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 44.9% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 10

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: n/a

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (2012-13)

One thing to know: It's unclear if Anthony's NBA career is over after he was unceremoniously cut by the Rockets early in the 2018-19 season. If it is, Anthony will go down as one of the league's most potent scorers — there was a time when he was widely regarded as the NBA's "purest" scorer — and a player who some think never hit his true ceiling thanks to only a luke-warm interest in defending and passing.

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dwyane Wade

Teams: Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers

Career: 2003-current

Career averages: 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 48.0% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 13

Championships: 3

Hall of Fame: n/a

Highest MVP finish: 3rd (2008-09)

One thing to know: Often considered the third-best shooting guard ever behind Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Wade is set to call it a career at the end of the season. And what a legendary career it was — at his peak, Wade was a two-way force that Heat president Pat Riley recently said was better than Bryant in the mid-to-late '00s.

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dwight Howard

Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards

Career: 2004-current

Career averages: 17.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 58.3% FG

Number of All-Star teams: 8

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: n/a

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2010-11)

One thing to know: At his peak, Howard was basically unstoppable. He defended the rim and deterred drives on one end, then bulldozed through people and finished anything around the basket on the other. Injuries and a reluctance to take a lesser role unfortunately cut short the prime of a truly dominant big man.

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Chris Paul

Teams: New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets

Career: 2005-current

Career averages: 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.2 steals, 46.9% FG, 36.9% 3FG

Number of All-Star teams: 9

Championships: 0

Hall of Fame: n/a

Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2007-08)

One thing to know: Paul could theoretically still win the award, but it's also fair to assume his best years are behind him, as he'll turn 34 in May and hasn't made an All-Star team in three years. At his peak, Paul was the undeniable best point guard in the league, a master playmaker who could take over games with his passing and scoring, then lock up an opponent on the opposite end.

(Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
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