Like a stampede in the distance, the rumblings are getting louder and more terrifying. If the herd of supporters continues to grow the rest of the contenders will get trampled over by the bull rush leaving one Bull at the helm, Derrick Rose. But is he the right choice?
First lets dissect the idea of the MVP. What makes a player an MVP, is it individual skills? Is it prolific scoring? Or is it based on team success measured in wins? I took a look at the last 20 MVP winners (from 1990-2009) and investigated where they finished in terms of a few key categories:
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) – The definition of PER according to basketball-reference.com:
Player Efficiency Rating (available since the 1951-52 season); PER is a rating developed by ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger. In John’s words, “The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” Please see the article Calculating PER for more information. Also seeVAA and VAR.
In today’s NBA, PER is as relevant as ever thanks to the works of John Hollinger and the Advanced Statistical Revolution that is taking place in the NBA. For most who believe in the relevance and importance of PER, the metric is used to measure who is the most skilled player in the NBA. In most cases, PER is just a statistical valuation to help provide mathematical proof to the “eye test”, i.e. Kobe vs. LeBron.
Team Wins – This is simple and straight forward. What place did the player’s team finish in during the corresponding NBA season. Many believe that to be an MVP you must lead your team to victory. Since the Award is voted on before the playoffs, this only applies to regular season wins and not the more crucial playoff wins.
Win Shares (WS) - Win Shares is a metric which estimates the number of wins a player was responisble for or contributed to the teams total. Please see the article Calculating Win Shares for more information.
Points Per Game (PPG) – There once was a time where scoring was the greatest marker of individual success. Today more advanced measurements, such as PER and WS, have helped erase the idea that the highest scorer is the best player.
Perception (Fame) – There is one category that we can’t quantify and that is the perception of the fans and media. Many times the MVp award voting is skewed based on hype or the perception that one is deserving. We can’t measure for this but it is an important factor to keep in mind.
Lets have a look at the list of winners from 1990 to 2009 and see where they rank in each category.
A few things imedietly stick out to me:
- Steve Nash might not have deserved that second MVP and perhaps not the first, either.
- If you win the MVP you are probably not going to win a title.
- Maybe Karl Malone did deserve some of those MVPs.
Looking at the list of players who have won the award and where they rank in each category you will notice that no MVP has finished outside of the top four in terms of team wins in the past 20 seasons. This shows that voters have always stressed the importance of winning. 16 of the 20 winners have had one of the top two records at the end of the regular season.
Scoring no longer seems to be important considering that the league MVP hasn’t won a scoring title since Allen Iverson did it in 2000-01. That year also comes with a great deal of controversy as Shaq O’Neal finished 1st in PER, 2nd in Wins, 1st in WS and 1st in PPG and he also won the title yet Iverson was awarded the MVP. O’Neal was probably robbed again the following season where his numbers bested Tim Duncan but Tim won the MVP. MVP voting isn’t always fair or by the numbers and that’s left a dominant player like Shaq with four championship rings, three Finals MVPs and only one league MVP.
Like wise, in 1993 Hakeem probably stole David Robinson’s first MVP award. The Admiral finished #1 in all four major categories but Hakeem won the MVP. Hakeem had a very good season himself, finishing no worse than 3rd best in each of the four categories and also taking home an NBA Title in June but by the numbers, Robinson was the best player in the league that season.
One more important fact to note; in the past 20 seasons, the MVP has finished at #1 in at least one of the four MVP categories except for Kobe Bryant in 2007-08, Steve Nash in 2005-06 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94.
Now that we understand what categories voters key in on when selecting their MVP candidates we can sift through the 2010-11 field. I’ve included almost everyone that has even been mentioned as a possible MVP this season so the list is rather long. The only elite level team that isn’t represented on this list is the Boston Celtics and that’s due to their team-orriented style of play and reliance on defense, both of which keep individual stats as low as the media hype. The list includes LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Kevin Love. Yes, KEVIN LOVE! (While Love’s team wins and individual WS are low, his individual stats are rather impressive. He is putting up very impressive numbers despite being stuck on a team drenched in a rotting pool of horrendous suace.
We can eliminate a few players based how voters have acted in the past. Amar’e, Nash and Love can all be eliminated because none of their teams are in the top ten in terms of wins and will probably have no shot at getting that high. Although no previous MVP winner has finished outside the top four in team wins, I’ll leave the top ten alone because we still have half a season to go and anyone of these players’ teams can rise to or fall out of the top four. This leaves us with a solid 10 players to rank.
Next, I’ll see where each player ranks on average based on all four categories (AVG). In the previous 20 seasons, the MVP winner has had an average ranking of less than 3.79; meaning that they were on average at least the 4th best in each category. Let’s look where this year’s candidates rank:
Based on this, LeBron James, who I think is still the best player on the planet, deserves to win the MVP for a third consecutive year — Something that hasn’t happened since Larry Bird did it from 1983-85. Everyone’s favorite to win, Derrick Rose, seems to be at the bottom of the top five, hurt by both his Win Shares and PER. Check out Dwyane Wade landing at #2 on the list, just further proof why everyone originally feared this duo teaming up. Miami probably has the two best players in the Association playing on the same team.
Next I wanted to isolate the players from the one category that seems to matter less and less, scoring. I took the average ranking for each player in Wins, PER and WS (AVG2).
Again, LeBron James is at the top of the game with his Miami running mate, Dwyane Wade, dropping to #3. Chris Paul slides on up to the 2-spot. Derrick Rose, who is a high volume, low efficiency scorer, drops even further when we eliminate the use of PPG. An interesting situation also arises in Los Angeles where Pau Gasol now looks to be more suited for the MVP than his more famous teammate, Kobe Bryant.
Amar’e Stoudemire – Through December, Amar’e was the hot ticket and the fan favorite to win the MVP. But the hype has cooled down quite a bit since New York has struggled to keep winning games. I’d say Amar’e's shot at winning the MVP this season has fizzled out.
Pau Gasol/Kobe Bryant – Both will suffer in the “Perception” category. Kobe is being viewed as old and it’s no longer vogue to consider him the greatest. Blame that on marketing, media, hype or on LeBron James but it is the world we live in today. Pau Gasol, likewise, suffers from being perceived as too soft and is often times blamed for many of the Lakers’ struggles. Fact or fiction, that is the label that is attached to him and it with severely hamper his shot at the MVP.
Dwight Howard – While I mentioned that scoring has become the least important factor in MVP voting, for Dwight it might be the opposite. Howard can put up a good number of points if he chooses to but his lack of a true post game and his inability to hit big shots and knock down clutch-time free throws will almost certainly eliminate him from receiving top MVP honors.
Kevin Durant – Kevin has struggled for much of the season and for a good stretch Russell Westbrook was the best player on the team. It might be too early for the 22-year old Durant to win the MVP but chances are he will win his second scoring title this season, so there is that to look forward to.
Manu Ginobili/Dirk Nowitzki - Both of these guys have been the catalysts for their teams success but they both lack the individual stats to put them over the top. While Dirk has greater individual numbers his team wins will hurt him and for Manu the opposite is true.
Dwyane Wade - Flash is an amazing basketball player. He is one of the top 5 in the NBA and many will argue he is #2 right behind his teammate, LeBron. But that right there is the problem. How can you award someone the MVP when most don’t even believe he is the best player on his own team?
Chris Paul – CP3 has been robbed of the MVP before (2007-08) so don’t be surprised when the best point guard in the NBA finishes out of the top 3 in MVP voting.
Derrick Rose - I understand why so many believe Rose could be the MVP but that doesn’t change the fact that he shouldn’t be. one thing that blows my mind is that the same faction of media and fans that believe Rose deserves the MVP also think Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. So if Rose isn’t the best at his own position how can we consider him the best overall in the league? Dwell on that for a minute.
LeBron James – By the numbers, LeBron is still the best player in the Association. But a few things will prevent him from winning the MVP including “The Decision” and his teammate, Dwyane Wade.
One thing I am sure of, no matter who wins this year, it’s not going to be near unanimous like last season.
**EDIT**: From the comments and emails I’ve gotten, I believe that some of you have misunderstood the point of this post. I’m not making a claim that Derrick Rose is undeserving or incapable of winning the MVP this year. I simply wanted to point out that historically, the media/voters have chosen the MVP based on a few categories, even if they weren’t totally aware that they were doing so. Using this data we can build a profile of what the media ‘thinks‘ the MVP should be like or at least how they have voted so in the past.
D.Rose doesn’t fit the typical profile (Someone who is in the top 3 in most of the four major categories that I’ve pointed out) but that does not mean he can’t win the MVP. Nash, who didn’t fit the prototypical MVP profile in 2005-06 ended up taking home his second consecutive MVP award. Rose might be that player that not only doesn’t fit the mold but casts an entirely new mold for the next generation to fit into. I just don’t see it happening.
Read Part.II of the discussion HERE.
All player and team stats via www.Basketball-Reference.com – An NBA blogger’s best friend.
Shane is a part-time contributor for Stacheketball & NBAOffseason.com and a full-time lover of fresh socks. Find him tweeting nonsense at @Suga_Shane