As the NBA regular-season winds down we are faced with the same question every year: Who should win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award?
It’s a race that starts at the very beginning of the season with projections and commentary, and often comes down to the last couple of games with very strong consideration for at least two or three candidates.
But in the end, the voters always tend to use the same generic formula—pick the best player on one of the league’s most competitive teams.
That makes sense…sort of.
What I don’t get though, is why call the award something it’s not.
If you’re a very good player on a team close to 60 wins you’re probably going to be in contention, but does that really mean you are the most valuable on your team.
Part of the problem is the league doesn’t exactly define what most valuable player is supposed to mean. It’s constantly open to interpretation.
Some voters go with the standard best player on the best team approach. Others simply pick who they feel is the best player in the league during season or the player who has had the best statistical season.
But if you really look into the meaning of the word valuable you have to understand it goes deeper than just stats or records.
You can’t penalize a player who greatly impacts his team but doesn’t have a great supporting cast around him, and likewise you can’t reward a player from overly benefiting from great teammates.
You have to pick a guy that does the most with what he has—and then some.
With that being said, my set of criteria include the following: over the course of the season the player has to be consistent, reliable, and absolutely vital to his team.
Consistent, in the sense that every game you know what to expect from the player. He performs game in and game out, and plays the same way whether his team is winning by twenty, or losing by twenty.
Reliable, meaning that in those make-or-break moments that occur at some point during the season this player shines the brightest.
And most importantly, the player must be vital: he must be essential to his team’s success. Whether his team is 20 games under .500, or 20 games over .500, an MVP is the difference maker that the team can at no point afford to lose.
Some can’t accept this philosophy because they believe an MVP should make those around him better to the point that his team has a strong record.
But just because a team might have an average or below-average record, this doesn’t mean an MVP-type player isn’t making those around him significantly better.
If a team were to finish 42-40 with a certain outstanding player, but without him finish something closer to 22-60, isn’t that player extremely valuable to his team?
If he makes a what would be bottom-dweller into a respectful franchise, how can this player not be in MVP consideration?
With that said, this year’s race is interesting because most voters are already locked in on LeBron James, and understandably so.
But before you gift wrap the award to The King consider the criteria above with relation to players like Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Brandon Roy, and Deron Williams.
These players may not have the impressive record that LeBron’s Cavaliers have, but remember this is not a team award.
Individually the players above have carried their respective teams for virtually the entire season with little help from those around them.
They’ve all performed in the clutch, with numerous buzzer-beaters and game-winners between them, and have come through in brilliant moments of transcendence.
Though none of them will likely be in serious contention for a title this season, ask yourselves this: Where would their teams be without them?
If your initial reaction was similar to mine, you too should understand why they should also be in serious MVP consideration.