The NBA has seen a lot of talent come and go over the years. Very few have been able to dominate the game in their rookie seasons. However, the players that have are in some elite company. Talking about these incredible rookies though, have any of them been able to win the MVP award?
Has a Rookie Won the NBA MVP? The answer to this question is yes. Two rookies in the history of the league up to this point have been able to win the MVP award in just their rookies’ seasons. Those two players were Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld. Both happened to come in the 1960s as well.
As we take a deeper look into how these two players were able to accomplish such a feat, we also will see if any player ended up being really close to joining this elite club. Plus, we could see if any player nowadays might be able to put themselves in this conversation this current season.
Chamberlain’s Rookie MVP Season
Wilt Chamberlain was picked up by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959 and he began playing in the next season. He went on to completely dominate everybody around him at the time. He averaged 37.6 points and 27 rebounds. What makes this even more impressive is that he shot 32 times a game on average, meaning he held a shot percentage of 46! He was named to the All-Star game that season and the voters determined that he was clearly the best player in the league that year. He got handed the MVP award. He had to beat Bill Russell for those honors as well, proving that it was incredibly honorable and deserving.
Chamberlain’s team was able to march into the playoffs but got quickly swept in the first round by the New York Knicks. Something that probably helped him perform so well in his rookie year was that he spent three seasons in college. He didn’t want to play his senior year and wasn’t allowed in the NBA if he didn’t play four years so he went with the Harlem Globetrotters. He wowed crowds from all over the world with his skills and trained the whole year. His transition to the league went smoothly from there as he was never one to shy away from the biggest stage.
Unseld’s Rookie MVP Season
Now onto Wes Unseld and his miraculous season. He was the number two overall pick in the 1968 NBA draft and quickly showed that he deserved to be in the league. The Washington Bullets drafted him and gave him a lot of minutes early on. He averaged 13.8 points, 18.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. As expected, Unseld cashed that in for the Rookie of the Year award on top of MVP honors. He didn’t score as much as you would expect from an MVP, but his impact on the team was far deeper than scoring.
The Bullets were dead last in their division when they drafted Unseld to join their roster. In just one short season, Unseld brought them up to first place in the division and clinched them a postseason spot. Creepily similar to Chamberlain’s season, Unseld’s Bullets lost in the first round to the New York Knicks. It’s a little weird that the only two rookies in the league to ever win the MVP award happened to lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Knicks. To any future rookie that wins MVP in the next few decades, be sure not to line up against the Knicks in the playoffs.
Could It Happen Again?
It’s been over 50 years since the last rookie in the NBA has won the MVP award. Both Chamberlain and Unseld had to post insane stat lines each game in order to be considered for the MVP award in their rookie years. Plus, the NBA is played so differently nowadays. For a player to dominate the game like they did and average such numbers is just not possible anymore. Also, a rookie in the NBA hasn’t been able to get named to the All-Star game since Blake Griffin did it back in 2011.
Judging by the current rookies’ performances this year, it is very unlikely that somebody is able to change this pattern. Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and Franz Wagner have all played great basketball, but none of them seem to even be in the running for the All-Star game. I think the only player since Griffin to get close to breaking this streak was Luka Doncic, he was and still is one of the brightest young superstars that the league has to offer.
Has Anybody Won NBA Finals MVP In Their Rookie Season?
Winning the MVP award is ridiculously difficult in general, and nearly impossible as a rookie. We covered that already. However, let’s take it one step further and see if anybody has ever won the NBA Finals MVP award in their first season. Jerry West was able to pull this off. In his rookie season, he was on a losing team. However, he won the Finals MVP award and didn’t even win the championship.
Although, he is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to winning Finals MVP. In terms of the current NBA Finals MVP award, the only player to do so was Magic Johnson. At just 20 years of age, Magic had led his team all the way to the championship. The Los Angeles Lakers were 60-22 that year and found themselves in an intense 3-2 series with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ruled out for the game. With a less than 100 percent healthy roster, Magic knew that he had to step up in order to win. That game, he dropped 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals to win by 15 points and seal the series. He also played the center position at times so that they didn’t miss a beat without Abdul-Jabbar.