The NBA’s Most Disappointing MVP Encores

By: 04.12.12
Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose (photo. adidas)

Not everyone gets to take a bow like they want to after winning the NBA MVP. We’ve seen it by now, that some MVPs portend a superstar future (Jordan in 1987-88) or one that won’t ever reach higher (Allen Iverson in 2000-01).

Those evaluations, though, rarely come so quickly as the next season. This isn’t a knock against Derrick Rose of Chicago, who had such an incredible second season last year that he took home the Bulls’ first MVP since Jordan. Even if you’re a hardened Eastern Conference fan, you had to at least begrudgingly give him his due after getting 25.0 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.

But whether it’s his ankle or groin’s fault for being injured this season, it still adds up that it’s been a disappointing encore after his MVP. He’s not alone, though. Not everyone can take their game even higher after winning an MVP — after all only 10 player have repeated — but these count as the most disappointing season afters.

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Derrick Rose in 2011-12:
While Rose is still one of the most feared players, the problem is his team is still one of the best teams — without him. In the 23 games he’s missed Chicago is 16-7 entering tonight’s game with Miami. So with the Bulls having the East’s best record this season, doesn’t that have to devalue his influence?

For the record, John Lucas and C.J. Watson are good players, but they are not Rose. The Bulls with Rose are a championship favorite with him because of his offensive genius in the lane. Tom Thibodeau‘s defense carries the Bulls without him.

That’s the argument with Rose because his statistics haven’t barely flinched. He’s averaging 23 points, 7.9 assists, 3.5 boards and 3.1 turnovers (he had 3.5 per game as an MVP), while shooting just a hair worse from the field. So in a way, nothing’s changed. He’s still playing excellent. Trouble is, his team plays the same, even when he’s not there.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1977-78:
This was a case of being careless, and it cost the Lakers a good start and any continuity. A year after exhibiting the calm killer attitude that exemplified his game, Jabbar lost it — and any chance at an MVP.

In the season’s opening game Jabbar punched rookie Kent Benson of Milwaukee, Jabbar’s former team. It cost him 20 games with a broken hand (the second of his career) and a $5,000 fine. His stats were basically the same: 26.2 points, 13.3 boards and 57 percent from the field as an MVP vs. 25.8, 12.9 and 55 percent shooting.

What changed was the perception you could rattle the big man, whose other gifts (sky-hook included) seemed near-impossible to stop. Can you imagine LeBron or Rose or Tim Duncan going after a player in the first game after an NBA season? Even from a pure basketball standpoint, ignoring a player’s marketing awareness, the act is bizarre but the timing made it even moreso.

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Bill Walton in 1979-80:
If you haven’t read David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game, scrounge up a copy stat. It tells the story of the Trail Blazers’ championship team in 1977. The next year, on pace for another title with a 50-8 start, Portland lost Walton to a broken foot. He was nonetheless won the MVP with 18.9 points and 13.2 boards per game and was cleared to play in the playoffs where he reinjured himself against Seattle. So much for that.

Walton, believing he hadn’t been ready to come back, was so upset he sat out whole 1979-80 season in protest before signing with San Diego as a free agent. There’s a way to look at this as the precursor to Brandon Roy, who likely returned prematurely for a playoff series with Phoenix after knee surgery just days before. Neither’s career was the same after chronic injuries shadowed them.

More than ever now it seems a player’s health after he leaves the pros is as important as how he is during his career. Looking back with hindsight of more than 30 years ago, it seems more than admirable that Walton was looking out for himself. That’s fine, but shouldn’t he have owed his teammates the effort? It’s rhetorical. He absolutely needed to show up for his teammates, even if ownership was his enemy.

Walton’s still one of the game’s best minds but in that moment, he wasn’t thinking right. That’s what crosses my mind, and why it’s No. 1.

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