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Da Real MVP – Part 3: Age, draft, bio

Welcome to the last piece of the NBA MVPs series. In previous posts, we investigated MVP voting results and performance of the MVPs, individual as well as team’s. Today we will have a closer look at the following:

  • Age: do the young guys perform better than experienced players?
  • Draft (draft positions, drafted by which team)?
  • Wherefrom MVPs are coming to the league: which Universities or no college ball at all?
  • height and weight: is it more important to be big and strong or slim and quick?

On top of the above list there will be some extras, so let’s start.

Please note the following:

  • Data used in this post is accurate through the end of the 2019-20 NBA Season.
  • In order to view the graphs and charts clearly, please use a bigger screen. If you are on a mobile device, use the landscape orientation for a better view.

Age of the MVP – Young guns vs experienced vets

When I started researching this topic I was convinced that the age when players mostly win MVP awards is 25 or 26. There were always these images like MJ winning early in ’88, KG with Minnesota, young LBJ with Cavs, KD with his famous “Da Real MVP” speech. But let’s have a look at the chart below and see what the data says.

We can see that the peak age is 27, closely followed by 28. Few more details on this topic that you can read from that chart:

  • The youngest MVP is Derrick Rose(2011), 22 years and 191 days old at the end of the regular season
  • The oldest one is Karl Malone (1999), 35 years and 284 days old at the end of the regular season
  • The longest span between 1st and the last award is 10 years: MJ winning in 1988 and 1998
  • K.Malone and Nash are only multi-time winners who have won all of their awards in their 30’s
  • LBJ on the other hand won all of his 4 MVPs in his 20’s


Physical attributes – big and strong or quick and agile

As already mentioned, we are looking all the way back to the season 1955-56, when the 1st MVP award was awarded. During the first 8 seasons, Bob Cousy at 6-1 was an anomaly, the rest of the winners were tall, strong players. In fact, during the first 28 seasons, there were 3 non-centers to win it: Cousy (6-1), Big O(6-5), and Dr. J (6-6). Each of them won the award once, meaning 25 from 28 times award went into the big strong hands: Pettit, Russell, Wilt, Unseld, Reed, Kareem, Cowens, McAdoo, Walton, Moses.
The next 10 awards (from 1984 to 1994) went to the all-round guys Magic, Larry, MJ, and Sir Charles. During this 10 years streak, the classic big guy was not winning it. This stopped in 1994 when Hakeem went super-human and swept everything in front of him, winning MVP, DPOY, FMVP, and of course the Ring. Since then, we have a mix and match situation, where different profiles have been awarded with the famous trophy. When I say different profiles, it means that in the last 25 years we had the shortest MVP winner (Iverson), but also we had the heaviest one (Shaq).

As already mentioned, first what we see are Iverson bottom left and Shaq in the top right corner. Interesting to see also, close to Iverson, we have 3 more “small” guys there that have recently won: Nash, Curry, Westbrook. And each of four of them had a different style: AI the relentless scorer, Nash the offense architect and tempo-dictator, Curry with his revolutionary shooting and handles, and Russ with his all-around game.

Franchise perspective – which organizations had the MVPs?

Let’s have a quick look at the NBA franchises and how often do they have the advantage of having the MVP on their team. So far 21 different NBA teams had MVP in their ranks, at least once. The last “new” franchise to add MVP to their history was OKC Thunder (Durant, 2014), although they had another MVP only a few years later (Westbrook, 2017). Let’s have a look at all NBA organizations that had MVP winners more than 3 times, as per the table below.

Although the Celtics are still leading the race, they haven’t had MVP since 1986 when Larry Legend won his 3rd in a row. As usual, when looking into NBA history, it comes to Celtics vs Lakers. Same in this case, as Lakers sit in 2nd place with 8. Both teams didn’t draft all of their 4 players, with Celtics drafting 2 (Cowens, Bird) and Lakers only 1 (Magic). Although Kobe was selected by the Hornets per instructions from the Los Angeles side, technically he is still drafted by the Hornets. But we’ll have a look a bit deeper into the draft later in this post. LeBron is holding 100% of Cavs’ and Heat’s MVPs, each franchise having two awards.

NBA Draft – how high, where from, and by which organizations MVPs are drafted?

As the title above stated, we have some questions to answer. Most of the MVPs are drafted as high picks, most often as number 1, 11 times (~32%), and very rarely outside top 10, only 5 times (~15%).
Let’s have a look at our chart and then I will try to break down the numbers later.
Please mind the notes at the bottom of the chart, regarding Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone.

We can see that Giannis and Nash are the lowest picks, who were selected as 15th pick.
Looking at the most fruitful years, 2 times we had a situation that 3 future MVPs are drafted in the same year: 1984 (MJ, Hakeem, Sir Charles) and 1996 (Kobe, Nash, Iverson).

Where are NBA MVPs coming from?

I wanted to have a look and to check which College basketball institutions are delivering the most MVPs. But then I realized that (more than I expected), not everyone is coming via that route. We have some guys coming directly from high school and some other guys coming from overseas. The next table will show us where most often MVPs are playing before joining the NBA, presenting all “sources” which delivered 2 or more MVPs.

We can see how general NBA trends reflected on MVP awards also. The end of the ’90s and the start of the new millennium brought a trend to draft players directly from high school. For the last 10 to 15 years we have been hearing how the game has become global, and there’s no better proof than 2 nice guys coming from Europe and getting that MVP award. 

Who is drafting NBA MVPs?

Most of the points we have analyzed so far in this MVPs 3-posts series, has been straightforward and pretty clear. But now we’ll see some of the unusual behavior, especially looking from today’s perspective. That is the reason that here I need to do more writing and less data visualization. Going back to the questions, who drafted most MVPs, and the answer is Milwaukee Bucks with 4 different players. I guess everyone knows the Bucks have drafted Kareem and of course Giannis. But not sure that people are aware of the fact that Bucks also drafted Nowitzki (and traded him immediately to the Mavericks). One that stands out is, Dr. J. Yes, Julius Erving was drafted by Milwaukee Bucks as pick number 12 in the 1972 draft. He was ready to join Bucks who already had Kareem and Big O on their roster. We can only imagine what would this turn into if Dr. J played on “that” Bucks team. But that never happened, due to a 3-team contract dispute ( Bucks, Hawks, and Virginia Squires from the ABA). The reality was that Dr. J was tearing apart the ABA league and joined the NBA five years later as a 76er. This whole story about him rejoining the NBA is rather interesting (yes the Knicks are again on the receiving end), it is worth looking it up. 

Next on the list, we have 2 teams that drafted 3 different MVPs. The first case is again somewhat odd. Hawks drafted Pettit, Cousy, and Rusell. While Pettit is their legend and the man who led them to the only title, Cousy and Russell are Celtics legends. Also interesting that the Hawks drafted all 3 of them before they moved to Atlanta. To be more precise, they picked each of these 3 guys while they were located in different cities (one of them being Milwaukee, again). 

Another team that drafted 3 MVPs is OKC Thunder/Seattle Sonics. They also changed cities during their process, during that infamous relocation move from Seattle to Oklahoma. This story is fairly known as it is recent, but let’s go through it once more. 2007 Sonics drafted Kevin Durant, 2008 Sonics drafted Russell Westbrook, 2009 Thunder drafted James Harden. So, 3 MVPs selected in a row. And they fall apart without the title, in what was not the most loveable breakup. 

Big Mo – Unique story of Moses Malone

Before we move to the final chapter of this series, I wanted to dedicate a few lines to Big Mo. In many ways, he was a unique player and 1st in many categories. Let’s try to list these unique achievements and circumstances Moses went through:

  • 1st MVP that came directly from high school
  • 1st and only MVP that wasn’t drafted in NBA draft (drafted in ABA draft, joined NBA via ABA & NBA merger)
  • Only MVP to lose in the 1st round of the playoffs twice

After he lost in the 1st round twice as an MVP with Houston, he moved to 76ers in 1982. And he made that season, 1982-83, the season of his life, and one of the most impressive individual seasons ever:

  • Won his 3rd MVP by averaging 25.5 ppg, 15.3 rpg, and 2.0 bpg 
  • Became 1st and only player to win back-to-back MVP awards with different teams
  • Led Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the league (65-17)
  • Selected for NBA All-Defensive First Team 
  • Led 76ers to the NBA championship
  • Won the NBA Finals MVP award

NBA Rings obsession – a quick look

I am not old enough to know what was the narrative back in the old days, but lately seems that the importance of winning the championship is only increasing. Every discussion about all-time greats uses the number of championships won as one of the key arguments. If not the key argument, then at least the disqualifying argument: “no ring, no place in the GOAT discussion”. Hence, let’s have a quick look at our MVPs and the rings they won. 

As we analyzed in the previous post, 23 out of 64 times (more than 35%), MVP is leading his team to the title.

But let’s look at the more general question: have guys that have won MVP award also won the NBA championship during their career? So looking at all seasons, not only the respective season when they won the MVP award.

Among retired players impressive 23 out of 27 have won the NBA title. Karl Malone and Steve Nash stand out as players who have won MVP multiple times and never won the ring. Other among retired players without championship are Barkley and Iverson. But, without any doubt, all 4 of them are all-time greats.
Looking at the active players, we have 4 without the ring and 3 that have won it. All 4 of them still have time, as 3 (Rose, Harden, Westbrook) are in their early thirties, and Giannis is still young and developing. Or we will see that guys who already won it (LBJ, Steph, KD) add some more to their CVs.

With the ring story, we are ending, not only this post but also complete series about NBA MVPs.
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Sources: , Wikipedia,

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