Since the Golden State Warriors started winning titles without a dominant center, a big man’s importance began to decrease. GSW team was assembled with no true centers, except Andre Bogut, whose role wasn’t that impactful, and they’ve still managed to win multiple titles with small line-ups. It changed the game of basketball itself.
The game was moved away from the paint, and the three-point players took over. As we know, the old-fashioned, post-up centers weren’t appreciated that much. The post-game, by the way, is a dying art in the modern NBA. So, the requirements for the position became different. They have to know how to shoot and stretch the floor or be decent passers to excel in moderns day games.
From a historical standpoint, that was a significant change. From 1956 to 1983, only three out of 28 MVP awards were won by non-centers. Bob Cousy in 1957, Oscar Robertson in 1964, and Dr. J in 1981 were the NBA’S most valuable players. Bob Pettitt could also be included in this list (he won in 1956 and 1959) as he is listed as power forward and center.
Then from 1984 to 2020, only three of 37 MVP awards were given to centers. Hakeem Olajuwon has won it in 1994, David Robinson in 1995, and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
Okay, to be fair, you could add some center position players like Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki. They are officially listed as power forwards. Malone won two MVPs, and Duncan, KG, and Dirk combined four MVP titles in six years. However, only KG and Duncan played severe minutes on the center position from those mentioned, but Malone and Dirk played most of their minutes in a power forward role.
This year we see a shift in this trend because two big guys are in an MVP conversation. Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid are going vintage and bringing back the importance of centers in the game. Could their success imply that the game would again lean towards the big centers? Probably not, but their displays are showing that centers can be a preponderance in today’s game.