The NBA MVP award is given to the player that had the best performance of the regular season. It is arguably the top individual award any NBA player can receive. Throughout NBA history, we’ve seen various MVPs dominate the game and showcase their greatness.
Although a lot of MVPs earn the award by dominating the game, only a handful of them have achieved it in an unorthodox manner. And in the process, they’ve redefined their playing positions that has become a critical aspect in the NBA’s evolution. For this piece, let’s take a look at five MVPs who redefined their playing positions.
NBA MVP: 2021
Nikola Jokic was recently declared as this season’s Most Valuable Player, and he certainly deserved it. Jokic became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to win the prestigious award. The Joker has been a vital cog for the Nuggets this season, as he had career-high averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game.
Traditionally, centers are tasked to operate in the paint by finishing around the rim and controlling the boards. Furthermore, their dominance often hinged on their overpowering strength and explosive athleticism. However, Jokic proved to everyone that he is the golden standard when it comes to the modern day center.
Unlike traditional centers, Jokic doesn’t only keep himself in the paint. Aside from being a great post scorer, he also acts as the team’s ball handler while being an elite passer at that. Furthermore, although he probably one of the least athletic players in the league, Jokic remains efficient with his playmaking, deceptive agility, and perimeter shooting. Because of this, Jokic isn’t only the best center in the league today. But also, he has proved how dominant a skilled big man can be which completely redefined the center position.
NBA MVP: 2007
Aside from Jokic, another MVP out of Europe that redefined his playing position was Dirk Nowitzki. Back in the days, power forwards often play with a back-to-the-basket style as they acted as enforcers around the rim to support the center position. However, Nowitzki was different. Although he was a great post scorer, the German star revolutionized the power forward position by being a deadeye shooter from beyond the arc, which gave birth to the idea of the “Stretch-Four”.
Nowitzki is arguably the best stretch four in NBA history, as he was crowned the MVP during the 2006-2007 season. En-route to leading the Mavericks to a 67-15 record, which was good for the top seed in the West, Nowitzki also joined the 50-40-90 club. It was arguably the most efficient season of his career, and also made him the lone seven-footer to join this esteemed club.
With a lethal jump shot, Nowitzki helped space the floor on offense. And because of his dominance in that aspect, the Stretch Four is now a common piece in almost every team’s rotation in the league today. This goes to show how the former MVP impacted the power forward position which allowed him to be considered as one of the best to ever play the game and arguably the best stretch-four in league history.
NBA MVP: 1987, 1989, 1990
Point guards are usually the smallest player on the court. They often facilitate the offense and take advantage of their speed. However, Magic Johnson defied the definition of a point guard. Standing at 6’9, Magic was the biggest point guard of his time. With his size, Magic also posted up defenders which traditional point guards never did.
Magic was simply in a class of his own, as he took home three MVP awards. Obviously, there was no other point guard in his time that made an impact on both ends of the floor in the way that Magic did. With his unorthodox play, not only did Magic become arguably the greatest point guard of all time, but he also paved the way for the era of position-less basketball.
NBA MVP: 2015, 2016
With the NBA experiencing a three-point revolution, there is no doubt that Stephen Curry has been at the forefront. Although considered as one of the best point guards today, Curry isn’t your typical point guard.
While a point guard often has the ball in his hands in order to facilitate plays, Curry dazzles defenders with his off-the-ball movement. Although he is clearly a great shooter off the dribble, over 50% of his three point makes were assisted by his teammates during his two MVP seasons.
Aside from this stellar off-the-ball movement, Curry veered away from the athletic mold of point guards that includes the likes of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Allen Iverson. While Curry has shown some flashes of his ability to dunk, he would prefer to shoot the three ball instead, which would’ve been frowned upon traditionally.
However, Curry justified that given that he is the best shooter we’ve ever seen. Despite jacking up a lot of treys, Curry shot at least 44% from that distance. Furthermore, he also led the league for most three-point field goals made from the 2012 season until this present day. With his elite shooting, there is no doubt that the two time MVP ushered in the greatest three-point shooting era we’ve ever seen. And according to Warriors Head Coach, Steve Kerr, Curry has altered the definition of a point guard.
“Steph, in many ways, has changed the definition of a point guard." pic.twitter.com/D1A82sMre5
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) April 26, 2021
NBA MVP: 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
LeBron James is in the GOAT conversation for good reason. He has achieved a lot in the NBA which includes four MVPs. As we all know, he is arguably the best small forward we’ve ever seen. What separates James from the rest of the small forwards is that aside from his ability to score and to defend at an elite level, he can also facilitate the offense like a legitimate on-court general.
Regarded as a “Point Forward”, LBJ can easily create for himself or for his teammates. Although James isn’t really the first point forward given that there have been players as such who have played before him like Scottie Pippen, Grant Hill, and Chris Webber. However, none of them have taken over the league in the way James did.
In his MVP seasons, James averaged 7.3 dimes per game. In fact, he has the most career assists by any small forward that has ever played in the league with 9,696. With a point forward like James, it is next to impossible to stop him one-on-one given his wide array of offensive arsenal.
James certainly expanded the role of the small forward, as this benefits teams with a lot of scoring options. With the NBA turning into a league dominated by scoring guards, the point forward is a valuable commodity. In fact, LBJ paved the way for the likes of All-Stars Ben Simmons and Draymond Green.
Although James is one of the best scorers of the game as well, given that he is the third leading scorer in NBA history, his all-around game is often overlooked. There’s no question, James is in a class of his own when it comes to being the master of versatility which allowed him to become the arguably the greatest player in the world.