Time to Converse: An Examination of the NBA Most Valuable Player Award (Part 2)


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We continue on with Part 2 of our MVP conversation! Enjoy!

Mack: We have the name of the award, "Most Valuable Player." The word that’s most striking in that title has to be “valuable.” For a long time, you could only measure value by what you saw with your eyes and with basic statistics. That’s not to say it was easy to determine who was most valuable—in fact, one could argue it was rather arbitrary.

Now, with the various metrics and new statistical measurements, statisticians can actually put a numerical value on just how valuable a player is. It adds this new factor that makes it easier to truly understand how great a player is.

We must consider that type of value when it comes to determining an MVP winner. What say you, Pat?

Pat: I think if we’re making our own list of criteria for how to judge a Most Valuable Player, basketball value needs to be taken into account. Back in the day, certainly the numbers and statistics didn’t matter as much, but advanced numbers are here to stay.

I feel we need to balance things like metrics (as in, how fast certain players can run or how well they shoot from certain areas of the floor) with the old school “scouting a player with your own eyes” method. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, and there are often anomalies in them.

Aside from the numbers, there's almost an unwritten rule that you have to make the playoffs and be on one of the best teams in the league to win MVP.

Mack: Do you agree with that?

Pat: I don’t. I think it’s very important to consider what a team looks like without the MVP candidate. Do they lose many more games without him on the team?

The example I always go to is Carmelo Anthony and the 2012-2013 Knicks.

Carmelo was such a huge part of the Knicks clinching the second seed. I’m convinced that if you took him off that team, the Knicks would have missed the playoffs entirely.

Mack: So should Melo have won the regular season MVP award?

Pat: Yes, I believe so. Again, you gotta think about what the team looks like without him. LeBron won MVP that year. The Heat had Wade and Bosh, as well. You think they miss the playoffs without LeBron? No way.

Mack: Agreed.

Pat: I think we can both agree that if you take Stephen Curry and LeBron James off their respective teams, the Warriors and Cavs are certainly worse. But are they still playoff teams? Absolutely.

Mack: What if you took Harden off the Rockets? He completely carried the Rockets when Howard and Beverley went down, leading them to the two-seed in the powerful Western Conference. If Harden doesn’t play this past season, the Rockets wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

Pat: The guy who I actually thought should have been the 2015 regular season MVP was Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant was hurt the entire year, and even Serge Ibaka missed a bunch of games. Westbrook was forced to put the team on his back every night. And he managed to put on a show in the process.

Thanks to Westbrook’s frequent triple-doubles, OKC finished with the twelfth best record in the league. Their 45-37 record would have been good enough for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Mack: Damn. Westbrook finished the season averaging 28 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 8.6 APG on 43 FG% field goal. But here’s the interesting part. His points, rebounds, and assists per game numbers were all higher than Harden, Curry, and LeBron’s. Out of those guys, Westbrook led in every single major offensive category. That’s nuts!

Westbrook looks like a pretty good regular season MVP candidate—if we’re going by stats and more importantly, if we’re going by “most valuable to the team” (as in, what the team looks like without that player). I think this is how we’re defining "most valuable", for now. We see it as "most valuable to your team."

Pat: Yes, from a basketball perspective. And that can help us get into where we think the MVP award has been changed, reinterpreted, and maybe even in my opinion, tainted.

Mack: Whoa, that’s a heavy word Patrick.

Mack and Pat: (Laughs).

Pat: I know. It is a heavy word, but I’m willing to put myself out there. The word “value,” as we’ve highlighted several times, has multiple meanings to different people who are affected by the MVP winner. Take a team, for example. They want the MVP on their team so that they can sell more tickets and promote their product.

The league wants a flashy MVP so they get the marketing benefits, as well as an heir-apparent to whoever is the best player in the league.

Mack: The NBA is a business. First and foremost, it’s a business.

Pat: And don’t forget it. The media wants a star. They want somebody who grabs the headlines. I think that members of the media have a hard time going against the popular choice because they want to please the fans—that’s what their job is all about.

For us, we want the pick to be based entirely on basketball. Not marketing. Not popularity.

Mack: You’re right. Most valuable basketball player for your team—that’s what the bulk of the definition should entail, at least going by the language used in the title of the award and by our own perceptions. It’s the only way to be true to the award and what it’s named, quite frankly.

Pat: Again, we’re not trying to knock Curry (in the regular season) or Iguodala (in the finals). It’s just that for “Most Valuable Player,” we do not think the criteria matches what the words in that title. That’s why we support having a different award for those guys.

If you want to make a “Most Marketable Player” award or a “Rising Star of the Year” award, that could work. We should reward someone for dazzling us throughout a regular season.

The only problem we have with Curry as regular season MVP is that he was labeled “Most Valuable Player” instead of whatever this new award would be called. He was incredibly exciting and deserved recognition. However, the distinction we’re trying to make is that he wasn’t most valuable to his team.

Mack: If we were to create another award, I feel like “Best Player of the Year” would be great.

Pat: Yes, that language is totally flexible.

Mack: There should be a “Best Player of the Year” award. Keep the “Most Valuable Player Award.” They’re both important and would be very prestigious.

But if you did only want to have one award—an all-encompassing award—that’d be something worth thinking about too. A culmination award that would be given to the player who everyone considers was “the Man” last season—for basketball, advertising, and dazzling reasons. In other words, he hits all meanings of the word value.

Pat: I think certainly KD’s mom would have to be the first recipient of that because…

Mack and Pat: She’s the real MVP!!!

Mack: We all know that, I mean KD’s mom, Jessica Durant… I don’t know if that’s her actual name.

Pat: Gladys Durant. Bernadette.

Mack: It’s actually Kevin.

Mack and Pat: (Laughs).

[Editors’ note: Her name is actually Wanda Pratt. Sorry about that, Ms. Pratt!]

Mack: If we don’t add these other awards, then the NBA just really needs to come out and define what “Most Valuable Player” means.

I sense that the current, unspoken definition includes a bunch of things. It’s the guy who 1) had unbelievable stats, 2) was most important to his team, 3) had the ability to captivate and drive the media into a frenzy, 4) was a marketing machine, and 5) led his team deep into the season. That at least helps clarify things a bit.

Pat: Exactly. I think the league is definitely afraid of defining the award. They think writing the words in stone could mean there’s a scenario where the “real MVP” doesn’t get it for some reason. If they added more awards, there would be clearer definitions, and therefore a more apparent choice for MVP.

More awards would be a plus because it’s recognition of good basketball. The Hawks deserve an award for the brand of unselfish, team basketball they played this past season.

Mack: And how about the Spurs from the season before?

Pat: They were team personified.

Mack: Right. If you come with an award that’s “Best All-Around Team”, that could be cool. The one caution I have about introducing all these different awards is that it could sort of dilute their value. That’s my one concern.

But I think, to sort of wrap things up here because we’re already at forty minutes… That’s a lot of transcribing to do, by the way!

Pat: That is a lot of transcribing.

[Editors’ note: It was a lot of transcribing.]

Mack: I think in terms of the MVP award, we can conclude several things.

First, we believe the name doesn’t match the unspoken, existing definition.

Second, the NBA needs to come forward and clearly explain their criteria for selecting the winner of the MVP. This would alleviate some of the confusion, as well as comments like “Oh, Iguodala shouldn’t have won.”

Third, we feel that who gets to vote for the winner needs to be re-examined. Although we didn’t touch on this much before, it’s crucial to our discussion about the MVP.

Until the 1979-1980 season, players would select the NBA MVP. Now, sportswriters and broadcasters vote. It’s here that we find a problem. Under the current system, each media member can have his or her own criteria for and/or interpretation of the award.

That means one voter may go in thinking that MVP means most valuable to the team, while another believes MVP means best player in the NBA. It devalues and, as you said before Patrick, taints the award. There should only be one set of criteria for each award to ensure consistent and fair results.

I say, bring back the player vote for MVP. Players know what it’s like to take the floor with a LeBron, or a Curry, or a Harden every night. They know how good those guys are, and how much they mean to their respective teams. And it’s because they understand basketball value, they should be at the heart of the voting.

The step that I wouldn’t want the NBA to take is to let the fans choose. It ruins everything.

Pat: That’d be terrible!!

We are not trying to get rid of or discredit a Steph Curry or Andre Iguodala performance. We would just rather the award be called something else. I keep going back to that 1969 Finals because I really think that they got it right by choosing Jerry West as the award winner (who played on the losing team). Even though his team didn’t win the championship, he was recognized for being the most valuable.

And also to add a fourth item to our list above, create more awards! We love the idea of having “Best Player of the Year” and “Rising Star of the Year” awards. Even “Best Team of the Year” would be great. That way, everyone who deserves recognition would receive it.

Mack: So, where does this leave us?

We have our issues with the award. We presented ways of changing it. Now, it’s the NBA’s turn to acknowledge that problems exist and to properly address them.

Pat: The NBA needs to stop acting like a business for once, worrying about the risks of taking a stance, and be the caregiver of the basketball league we love so much.