Because of how talent-rich the best basketball league in the world is, snubs at NBA awards are an annual occurrence. In some extreme cases, worthy candidates get snubbed more than once and wind up never winning it.
Below, you can find a clear example for each of the individual awards…
Most Valuable Player: Jerry West
Throughout his illustrious career, Jerry West won one NBA championship, was a 14-time All-Star, a one-time Finals MVP and made 12 All-NBA teams.
The only major award “The Logo” didn’t win was overall league MVP, coming in second for the prestigious honor a record four times, behind Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar twice.
West was a 10-time 1st Team All-NBA member in his playing days (out of 14 seasons), making him the only player in league history to make that many All-NBA 1st Teams without taking home at least one league MVP award.
Finals MVP: Stephen Curry
The Finals MVP award didn’t exist until the 1968-69 season, which went to Jerry West in a losing effort for the Los Angeles Lakers. Starting in 2005, the award was named after Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, who would have won multiple Finals MVPs if they existed in his heyday.
But because it didn’t exist until Russell’s final season, we have to go with Stephen Curry here.
Curry, a two-time regular-season league MVP, has won three NBA championships so far in his career but has missed out on being voted the championship series’ best player all three times, once to Andre Iguodala and back-to-back years to Kevin Durant.
Curry is currently 14th overall in league history in points per Finals appearance, averaging 26.5 points in championship games, and the only player ahead of him on the list likewise without a Finals MVP award who has actually won a title is Kyrie Irving.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tim Duncan
Shockingly enough, Tim Duncan never won a Defensive Player of the Year award despite being widely considered one of the top point-preventing big men in basketball for his entire career.
In his 19 seasons, Duncan averaged 2.2 blocks per contest (No. 8 mark in league history) and swatted away a total of 3,020 shots (No. 4 mark all-time). An even more ridiculous statistic: During Duncan’s 19 career campaigns, the San Antonio Spurs boasted a Top 3 defense (based on points allowed per 100 possessions) 14 times and a No. 1 defense on six separate occasions.
The best Duncan finished in Defensive Player of the Year voting was third, which happened twice, once in 2000-01 and again in 2006-07.
Another important player who never won Defensive Player of the Year: Bill Russell, but that’s because he retired 13 years before the award came into existence.
Rookie of the Year: Hakeem Olajuwon
It was a tough decision here between Hakeem Olajuwon and Carmelo Anthony, one with a strong similarity: In any other season, both of them would have taken home Rookie of the Year for their first-season contributions – with ease, too.
They just had the misfortune of sharing rookie seasons with two of the sport’s top GOAT candidates, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Raw numbers-wise, Olajuwon and Anthony both put up strong first-year seasons: Olajuwon averaged 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per contest while Anthony put up 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Team success was also close: Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets went 48-34, losing in the first round of the playoffs; Anthony’s Denver Nuggets went 43-39 and were also eliminated in the first round.
Where Olajuwon dominates is in the advanced metrics, where he beats Anthony in Value Over Replacement Player (3.0 to 1.5), Box Plus/Minus (2.1 to 0.0), Win Shares (10.2 to 6.1) and Player Efficiency Rating (21.1 to 17.6).
That, plus the fact that Olajuwon was an All-Star and 2nd Team All-Defense member in his first season, gives the edge to the Hall-of-Fame big man in this race, though Anthony deserves a ton of credit for posting that type of campaign as a 19-year-old (Olajuwon was 22 his rookie year).
Sixth Man of the Year: Vinnie Johnson
Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson spent the entirety of his prime with the Detroit Pistons, seeing action in 798 games for the club but starting in just 200 of them.
Johnson made a name for himself coming off the bench for those elite Pistons teams of the 1980s, where he played a major role in two championship runs, lighting up the scoreboard and getting hot at a moment’s notice thanks to his point-producing prowess as a reserve.
He may have never put up otherworldly numbers (his best points-per-game average for Detroit was 15.8 in 1982-83) or won Sixth Man of the Year, but even so, Johnson really helped pave the way for an eventual important archetype in the NBA: the bucket-getting reserve.
Since 1983-84, Johnson ranks ninth in league history in bench scoring (7,889 points scored) and is one of just two players in the Top 12 of that stat without a Sixth Man of the Year award. Additionally, in that stretch, Johnson also ranks second in playoff scoring for a reserve (1,339), trailing just the great Manu Ginobili, a one-time Sixth Man of the Year.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Durant
Two-time champion Kevin Durant made his two biggest leaps as a player between the first and second years of his career and between his second and third seasons.
Those were the two seasons – in 2008-09 and 2009-10 – when the slender bucket-getter came closest to winning Most Improved Player, coming in third and second in the voting, respectively.
The second leap Durant made probably should have earned him the award in all honesty, as the former league MVP went from impressive young talent to legitimate superstar from one season to the next, leading the league in scoring in 2009-10 at 30.1 points per contest as a 21-year-old, and doing so with an outrageous 60.7 true shooting percentage.
Aaron Brooks took home Most Improved Player that year instead.
Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan
In his 23 seasons as head coach of the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan led his team to the Finals twice, won at least 50 regular-season games 13 times, won over 60 regular-season games three times and had a losing record just once over that long stretch of time.
Furthermore, to this day, Sloan ranks fourth all-time in wins among head coaches with 1,221, ahead of the likes of Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach.
And even so, Sloan somehow never won Coach of the Year, though he did win Coach of the Month seven times and Western Conference Coach of the Month three times.
Executive of the Year: Jack McCloskey
From 1979 until 1992, Jack McCloskey, known as “Trader Jack”, was the general manager for the Pistons, a stretch of time that just so happens to be the most successful in the franchise’s history.
Over those 13 seasons, Detroit first bottomed out before then making the playoffs the for the final nine campaigns in a row, reaching three Finals in that stretch and winning two championships under the “Bad Boys” moniker.
McCloskey was instrumental in the Pistons drafting Hall-of-Famers Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, and trading for Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre, creating the nucleus for one of the toughest teams the NBA teams had ever seen – one that won a whole lot of games.
And he somehow never won Executive of the Year.