21st Century NBA MVP's

Michael Patel
3 min readMay 9, 2021


Who had the best NBA MVP campaign in the 21st century?

The short answer, 2015–16 Steph Curry. But how does his MVP campaign stack up against LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kobe, or Shaq? Do other NBA legends who have won an MVP award feel slighted by my answer? Or just underappreciated?

Let’s break down the data, courtesy of Basketball Reference. Here’s the code on my GitHub if you are interested.

Basic stats for every MVP winner in the 21st century

From the onset, a few things jump out:

  1. MVP campaigns are separated by year, so multiple time winners show up in multiple years and are considered separately (so feel free to debate 2009 LeBron vs 2013 LeBron)
  2. The 2011 lockout and Covid-19 shortened the traditional 82-game regular season schedule, so winning percentage was taken into account as well
  3. Individual defensive statistics like blocks and steals are not represented in the data

First, I normalized different statistics since the purpose of this project is to perform comparisons, and I didn’t know the distribution of my data from such a small sample. Then, I calculated a weighted sum value of each MVP winner’s statistics for that year, called a HITP value. And for fun, I created different visualizations of the end results.

At the moment, I am particularly fond of racing bar charts…

racing bar style chart of MVP winners

And here’s the code for building the racing bar chart

code for racing bar style chart

Here is the same data, sorted by year

sorted by year

And sorted by HITP value

sorted by HITP value
raw numbers sorted by HITP value

As you can see, 2016 Steph (3.4904) edged out 2009 LeBron (3.3874) and 2013 LeBron (3.3405) for the top spot.

The biggest winners from this analysis were: Steph Curry, LeBron, and Giannis. The biggest losers: winners from the mid-2000s. The biggest surprises: 2001 Iverson and 2011 Rose being in the middle. Going into this project, I thought Iverson’s and Rose’s MVP years would stand up against 2016 Steph Curry, but my memories of their distinct, singular campaigns probably stemmed from preconceived biases.

Lastly, here’s a short list of future work that I hope to incorporate into this project at some point:

  • Take into account defensive statistics like Blocks and Steals
  • Take into account more advanced statistics such as PER and eFG%
  • Take into account the rise of 3-point shooting in the 2010s

And here’s the code on my GitHub, NBA podcast, and LinkedIn if you are interested. Thanks!