10 Most Surprising NBA MVP Seasons in League History
The NBA's Most Valuable Player award is the league's most prestigious individual honor.
Winning the award all but guarantees a player admittance into the Basketball Hall of Fame, so when browsing through all of the past MVPs, it is akin to reading a list of basketball royalty.
However, there were more than a few instances when a player seemingly came out of nowhere, took their game to the next level and managed to win the award, thereby sealing their place in NBA history.
This slideshow will serve to chronicle the stories of those individuals, recapping the 10 most surprising NBA MVP seasons in league history.
No. 10: Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) 1970-71
After a record-setting collegiate career at UCLA, Lew Alcindor was as high-profile of a prospect as the NBA had ever seen.
Therefore, it came was no shock that he was drafted first overall in the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, college success does not always transfer over to the pros, so Alcindor's future was still largely uncertain.
In his rookie season, however, Alcindor was largely responsible for turning around the Bucks fortunes, improving their win total by 29 games, while posting some amazing numbers and taking home the Rookie of the Year award.
The next season, however, was when he really began to shine, as improved both his team's record and his statistics even further, culminating in being named the NBA's MVP and winning an NBA Championship.
And by achieving all of this in his first two NBA seasons, Lew Alcindor certainly produced one of the most surprising MVP campaigns in NBA history.
No. 9: Kevin Garnett 2003-04
As a Minnesota Timberwolve, Kevin Garnett regularly performed as one of the NBA's best players.
Yet during the majority of this time, Minnesota was a solid, yet unspectacular club failing to ever even advance past the first round of the playoffs.
Therefore, Garnett was usually out of MVP contention due to his team's standing.
However, that all of that changed in the 2003-04 season, when KG not only managed to lead the NBA in total points and total rebounds, but he led the Timberwolves to a franchise-best 58 wins.
In the end, he was awarded the MVP, as his outstanding individual effort finally placed his squad among the best teams in the league.
No. 8: Bob McAdoo 1974-75
Bob McAdoo was drafted by the Buffalo Braves in the 1972 NBA Draft, and despite playing on a 21-win team, he won the Rookie of the Year award.
Fast forward to the 1974-75 campaign and McAdoo's Braves were then winners of 49 games—a 28-game improvement.
But that was not all, as McAdoo also led the league in scoring at nearly 35 points per game.
Consequently, it's certain few could have foreseen the 23-year-old, third-year player being named the MVP a few years prior.
No. 7: Charles Barkley 1992-93
After entering the NBA in 1984, Charles Barkley made a name for himself as one of the best and most unique players in the league.
However, that, in and of itself, was not enough to merit recognition for MVP honors.
In 1992 he departed from the Philadelphia 76ers for the Phoenix Suns, and surprisingly enough, Barkley's adjustment period with his new team was non-existent.
In fact, he managed to improve his stats, while also leading his new team to the NBA's best record.
But what makes his MVP truly surprising was the fact that Barkley's win marking the first time in nine seasons that the award was not taken home by someone named Magic, Larry or Michael.
No. 6: Moses Malone 1977-78
Moses Malone bypassed college to play professionally, and he experienced immediate success in the ABA.
However, during the next couple of seasons—which included the ABA-NBA merger—Malone witnessed his stats begin to drop off.
Nevertheless, in 1977 he began to experience a resurgence, and by the 1978-79 season, Malone led his Houston Rockets to improve by 19 wins.
Furthermore, he posted big-time numbers that season, ultimately resulting in the 23-year-old being rewarded with the NBA MVP.
No. 5: Wilt Chamberlain 1959-60
Wilt Chamberlain was another player who had been considered to be a marquee talent well before joining the NBA.
However, the real surprise was how soon he was able to dominate the competition.
In his first season, Chamberlain posts per-game averages of 37.6 points and 27 rebounds, while improving his team's win total by 16.
Consequently, he was awarded with the league MVP award, despite being only a 23-year-old rookie.
No. 4: Derrick Rose 2010-11
Heading into the 2010-11 NBA season, few people outside of Chicago expected that Derrick Rose would ultimately end up winning the league's top individual honor.
But armed with a drastically improved jump shot, he led his Bulls to the best record in all of the NBA, improving their record by 21 games, while also boosting his stats.
And despite the outstanding campaigns turned in by some of his competitors, Rose was ultimately granted the MVP award, making him the youngest-ever winner at just 22 years of age.
No. 3: Bill Walton 1977-78
Bill Walton put together one of the most accomplished collegiate basketball careers of all time, and therefore, great things were expected of him at the next level.
However, things didn't exactly pan out as expected, since Walton was constantly plagued by injuries.
Nevertheless, he was still an efficient player when on the court, and in the 1977-78 season, he helped to lead his Portland Trail Blazers to a league-best record.
And despite the fact that he only managed to play in 58 games, Walton was still named MVP of the NBA.
No. 2: Steve Nash 2004-05
Steve Nash was a bit of a late-bloomer, failing to average double-digit scoring totals during his first four seasons, and only being elected to an All-Star team in his seventh year.
However, while he managed to establish himself as a solid player during his time on the Dallas Mavericks (1998-2004), he never took the next step to that elite level.
Then, prior to the 2004-05 season, a 30-year-old Nash joined the Phoenix Suns, and nobody could have guessed what was going to happen next.
In Phoenix, Nash finally broke out, posting fantastic point guard numbers, improving his team's win total by a whopping 33 games and ultimately winning the first of two consecutive MVP awards.
No. 1: Wes Unseld 1968-69
While Wes Unseld was a talented and successful college basketball player, he didn't even show enough to be selected with the top pick in the 1968 NBA Draft.
Therefore, there was no way that anyone knew just how good he was going to be.
By the end of the 1968-69 season, Unseld helped to improve his team's record by 21 games, he posted impressive numbers inside, and he became just the second rookie in NBA history to be named as the league's MVP.