Winning the NBA MVP award is quite complicated. Many superstars spend years working for this title, as it takes a combination of many factors to obtain this coveted statuette. In addition to excellent individual statistics, you need your team to perform well in the regular season. Stars who are not among the first pick in the draft usually end up on teams that are not the best quality and are in the process of rebuilding, so they need time to develop. But even after achieving team success, many begin to miss the stats because they have to share shots with other good players.
Here we will talk about basketball players who managed to achieve the title of “most influential player in the league” at a very young age. Let’s remember what made voters choose them over more experienced league stars.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
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5th place. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 24 years and 18 days
This list wouldn’t be complete without the man with the most MVPs in history: six. The first award of this type was received in the 1970/1971 season. This was his second season in the league; he then he played for the Milwaukee Bucks. From his first year in the league, Abdul-Jabbar became an NBA star without surprises. He would have been, even if he had entered the league a couple of years earlier, if the modern one-time rule, which allows players to declare for the draft after one year of college basketball, was in effect. But in the end, he allowed Kareem to become perhaps the greatest player in college basketball history.
Before the second season, Oscar Robertson arrived in Milwaukee and the results improved even more. The Bucks confidently won their first championship in history and Kareem took the MVP. More precisely, I’m misleading you a little, so his name was still Lew Alcindor. The day after taking the title, he adopted his new Muslim name. During the season he averaged 31.7 points and 16 rebounds. He ranked first in the league in scoring.
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4th place. Bob McAdoo. 23 years and 199 days
The top spot also included one of the most underrated MVPs in league history. In 1996, he did not make the list of the 50 greatest players in league history, being the only MVP who did not do so. The critical error was corrected in 2021, when he was included in the updated list of the 75 greatest basketball players.
Bob spent the first period of his career with the Buffalo Braves. Almost immediately he became one of the best scorers in the league, showing unique speed and agility with his 206 cm height, the clearest manifestation of his level was the 1974/1975 season, his third year in the league, where averaged the following statistics. : 34.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Statistics of a true center, who later played the role of power forward. It was during this season that he received the MVP title.
Buffalo, which ranked third in the East, stopped at the semifinal stage. As a result, McAdoo only managed one championship in the early 1980s with the Los Angeles Lakers, already in a much more limited team role.
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3rd place. Bob Pettit. 23 years and 98 days
We go to completely prehistoric times. But again, we must keep in mind that then players came to the league much later than now, so we must applaud the fact that basketball players achieved such a status in the first few years in the league. For example, Pettitte won his first MVP award in only his second season in the NBA: 1955-1956.
He averaged 25.7 points and 16.2 rebounds with the St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks failed to win the title and were stopped in the division finals. Bob wouldn’t take his long-awaited championship until 1958. But he would still win the MVP award in 1959.
In general, the player’s career consisted only of seasons in which he averaged more than 20 points, being one of the most dominant players of that era. When we look back at the entire history of the league, we divide the eras into players who are associated with a particular era. Pettit is who most people think of when they think of the early years of the NBA. And that means a lot.
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Second place. Wes Unseld. 23 years and nine days
Unseld is one of the most unique MVPs in history. The first reason is that Unseld is the only one, besides Wilt Chamberlain, who managed to win this award in his first season in the league. The second reason is that he earned this award by not putting up amazing offensive numbers. His statistics for the 1968/1969 season: 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds.
I would dare to suggest that the perception of the player’s contribution was then strongly influenced by Bill Russell, who dominated his Boston Celtics during the 60s without contributing statistics like Chamberlain, who, on the contrary, was almost always the loser. There was an incredibly intelligent understanding of the game in the late 1960s, where a player’s contribution at all stages of the game was valued, not just the number of points scored.
Standing just 201cm tall, Wes brilliantly performed the job of a true classic big man: defense and rebounding. This helped the Baltimore Bullets take first place in the East Division. But the playoffs did not work out, and in the first round the team lost 0:4 to the New York Knicks. However, Unseld was eventually able to help the team win the title in 1978.
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1st place. Derrick Rose. 22 years and 191 days
I think most NBA fans knew very well who would take first place. Many of you probably remember that season, and I think almost everyone remembers it with nostalgia. With sad nostalgia, because everyone knows what happened next with Rose’s career. Some also look back on that season with a bit of anger because they believe LeBron deserved the award more. But James is one MVP award away from Jordan.
We won’t argue how justified the judges’ choice was, but there’s no doubt that Rose had an incredible season. In the East, the “Big Trio” was formed in Miami, which, as it turned out, probably could have been created in Chicago. The Bulls lost the opportunity to have a historic team guaranteed, but decided to build it themselves with internal resources.
As a result, in that same 2010/2011 season, Chicago finished the regular season above the star Heat and became one of the Florida team’s main rivals. The only leader of the Chicago team was Derrick Rose, who averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists.
The numbers don’t convey how unstoppable Rose was, his athleticism allowed him to hit doubles and made every big man in the league fear him when he entered the paint. In addition to his immediate basketball skills, Derrick demonstrated maturity and maturity beyond his years, becoming a true mental leader of the team. And everything that happened next is a topic for another very difficult conversation.
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Will anyone be able to beat Rose in the future?
Many factors influence the answer to this question. For one thing, unlike in the old days, players now enter the league at a much younger age. But the league itself has become much more competitive than it was in the 1960s or 1970s. That’s why Rose’s accomplishment is especially great.
Even the biggest stars of our time, like LeBron, Giannis, Durant or Jokic, received their first MVP at 24 or 25 years old. But still, something tells me we could see someone take a step ahead of Derrick. Maybe he has already been selected for the league. What if it was Victor Vembanyama?
But what will be even harder to repeat is Unseld and Chamberlain’s achievement. Winning MVP in your first season in the league now seems like an unrealistic achievement.