With more than two-thirds of the NBA season is over, analysts and pundits everywhere are drumming up the argument for who the 2012-13 regular season MVP is.
There are two prevailing schools of thought.
One is that the award should go to the best player in the league, for which no one argues against LeBron James, as he is clearly in a class unto himself.
The other line of thinking says that the award, which by definition is the Most Valuable Player, should go to the best player on the team with the best record—generally thought to be more valuable because their team has the most wins.
Given the context of the two prevailing schools of thought, Kevin Durant is ruled out. He is considered by most to be the second best player in the league, yet his team presently has only the third best record—behind both the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat.
So, for argument's sake, we'll throw the second best player out of the discussion and focus mostly on LeBron James and Tony Parker.
Additionally, since there is no sense in arguing who the best player in the league—let alone the world—is, we'll only address the second line of thinking here.
The Most Valuable Player argument.
If you are a Charles Barkley fan, hanging on every word that comes from the mouth of the "Round Mound of Rebound," you probably heard what he had to say Thursday night during the telecast of the San Antonio Spurs 116-90 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
"This guy—first of all, he should be the MVP. Listen, LeBron [James] is the best player. Kevin Durant's probably a better player. But when we've been voting on the MVP the last 25 years, we gave it to the guy who had the best record on the best team. Tony Parker should be the MVP...If they finish with the best record—because you think of all the time that [Tim] Duncan and my man [Manu] Ginobili have missed—this guy's unbelievable. And just because he's down in San Antonio with all those big old women, he don't get the credit and respect he deserves."
This, in a nut shell, explains the mindset of those who give credence to the aforementioned second school of thought: give the award to the best player on the best team [record-wise].
However, this is a flawed way of thinking.
In most cases, the best player on the team with the league's best record will typically have the most statistical value with regards to the number of wins that his team produced. Generally, in such cases, the player in question is typically carrying the most weight on his team. LeBron's first two MVP awards with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a prime example.
San Antonio does not fit such a mold. While Parker is having a banner year, no one player is greater than the whole. The Spurs, coached by Gregg Popovich—arguably the best active coach in the league right now—have a system, and they have 12 players on their roster that fit and play within that system.
The proof is in the pudding.
On Thursday, November 29th, Coach Popovich made waves when he decided to sit Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green in the same game. It was their fourth game in five nights while on a six-game road trip.
The game just happened to be in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami against a healthy Heat squad. The Spurs played valiantly in a loss—losing only by five points (105-100).
San Antonio maintained a five-point lead for most of the fourth quarter. The Heat went on a 12-2 run in the final two minutes to win the game by five.
That single game alone should speak volumes to the effectiveness of the system and the depth of talent in San Antonio.
And, mind you, for all those who point to the Spurs record and say they're so much better than Miami, the Heat have only one more loss than them.
Parker's squad has has played five more games (five more potential wins) than James' Heat. So, pointing to the difference between 44 and 38 victories is quite overrated. If the Heat were to win all five of those contests, and both teams won the same number of their remaining games, finishing only one win apart, would you really punish LeBron for having one less win than Parker?
If that leaves you unsatisfied, then take a look a couple advanced statistics (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com).
Player Efficiency Rating. Probably the most popular among metrics that most people lean on to determine who the best player is. This involves a complicated formula that determines a player's per-minute productivity.
While Parker has a great PER, at 24.7 (fourth overall), LeBron James is king at 31.5.
If you look at their APER (Alternate PER), which is adjusted for actual assisted and unassisted field goals (last updated February 10th), Parker's efficiency jumps up to 27.04. However, as you might surmise, James' numbers curve upward as well. He tops out at a smooth 32.31
Win Shares. The estimated amount of wins that a player contributes to their team's win total.
Tony Parker, for as awesome as he has been, has a win share total of 8.8 right now (fifth overall). So, he is personally responsible for 8.8 of his team's 44 wins—that's 20 percent. On a per-48 minute basis, Parker is responsible for 23.6 percent (10.4) of his team's victories (sixth overall).
James, on the other hand, accounts for 13.1 total win shares (second overall), accounting for 34.5 percent of his team's victories. On a per-48 minute basis, he trends down to 31.4 percent (first overall)—still higher than Parker.
Plus/Minus When On/Off the Court. Most people are familiar with the concept of Plus/Minus stats. It shows how well a team performs (as it relates to the score) when a player is on or off the court.
A look at the Spurs plus/minus statistics reveals that they are +10.1 when Parker is on the floor, which is quite effective. However, they are still positive without him. When he is not on the floor, his team still maintains a plus/minus of +4.2. Granted, they are 5.9 points better with Tony than without, but [statistically] they are still winning games—even if he isn't playing.
The Heat are +9.6 with LeBron James in the lineup. In contrast, when he is not on the floor, they struggle to the tune of a -7.3 deficit. That's a swing of 16.9 points between when he is playing or resting.
Miami may have ONE more loss than San Antonio, but [statistically speaking] the Heat would be losing a lot more games were they without James.
There are many other statistics that one could look at, but to save you the time...
LeBron James outclasses Tony Parker in every advanced statistical measure save for one: assist percentage—the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the floor.
Parker ranks seventh at 40.9 percent and James ranks 17th at 34.6, which isn't shabby considering he spends nearly 24 minutes of every game playing the power forward position.
Both men still have a significant number of games left to play (25 for the Spurs; 30 for the Heat), so it can be said that anything can happen.
If the season were to end today, there is no measure by which one could reasonably argue that Tony Parker is more valuable than LeBron James. Period.