NBA MVP: An Early Look Highlights Four Leading Candidates
Thursday I wrote the NBA MVP race is a two-man competition between the New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire and the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili. The general response I received basically stated I was off and the Maurice Podoloff trophy would surely go to a more popular star.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take an early, in-depth look at all of the candidates and gauge the likelihood of each one winning the award. First, we'll take a look at history just to identify some trends.
Of the past 10 MVP Award winners, nine have represented the team with the best or second-best record in the league. The average number of wins per an MVP's team is 60.
The only anomaly in this trend is Steve Nash's win in 2006. That year the Phoenix Suns had the fourth-best record in the league at 54-28 despite playing without Stoudemire, who missed the entire season recuperating from knee surgery. Rightfully impressed voters controversially gave Nash his second consecutive award.
Since the NBA-ABA merger, no player from a team with fewer than 50 wins has ever won it except for Moses Malone, who did it twice. Malone's 1979 and 1982 Houston Rockets squads finished with 47 and 46 wins, respectively.
In short, it's unlikely the MVP winner will come from a squad that doesn't represent one of the top three teams, record-wise. However, as Malone proved, it's not impossible.
How about top scorers? In the past decade, only one player has led the league in points per game and taken home the MVP (Allen Iverson with 31.1 ppg in 2001).
Position? Only 12 awards have gone to guards since 1977. Eight of the 12 were won by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, both of whom were uncharacteristically big for their positions during their time (Jordan was weighing around 220 pounds in his 30's).
Height? Iverson and Nash are the only players under 6'5" to win MVP since the 6'1" Bob Cousy did it in 1957.
Right off the bat, it's apparent the odds are stacked against Derrick Rose because of his size (6'3") and the likelihood the Chicago Bulls won't sniff 60 wins. For him to win it, the Bulls need to continue playing well without Joakim Noah and hope Carlos Boozer stays upright. February will be really tough for the Bulls, who have mostly had a cake December schedule.
The 6'3 Deron Williams probably won't win it either although, like Rose, he's certainly deserving of the recognition and votes. Between the two, we'd have to give Williams the edge simply because the Jazz will most likely win more games despite playing in a tougher division (the Bulls play in the weakest division in the league).
Kevin Durant is currently the league's leading scorer at 28.1 points per game, but teammate Russell Westbrook has arguably been just as good, if not better, this season. The 6'3" point guard is averaging 22 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds per game.
How about the usual suspects, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James? Hurting both are their nearly equally valuable teammates. Pau Gasol is averaging six points per game fewer than Kobe, but is matching him in assists (4.4 vs. 4.0) while leading the team in rebounding (11 per game) and blocks (two per game). Numbers-wise, Dwyane Wade is neck-to-neck with LeBron (except in assists) and has gone nuts as of late (28 ppg on 54 percent shooting in December).
Way I see it, if it's not obviously clear player A is even the best player on his team, how can we say he's the best in the league? Statistically, Durant/Westbrook, Kobe/Gasol, LeBron/Wade all certainly seem like toss-ups right now.
How about the Boston Celtics' Big Three, er, Big Four. In 2008, the Celtics won 66 games, seven more than the next closest team, and the championship, yet, Kevin Garnett finished a distant third in the voting. Who's their best player now? Some will argue it's Rajon Rondo.
Then there's Dwight Howard. Hmm... let's see:
If the Orlando Magic don't finish with one of the top three records, and Howard's numbers stay consistent with those of years past, what reason is there to believe he'll be this season's MVP?
This cuts our list down to the following candidates:
Dirk Nowitzki: The best player on the team with the third-best record; averaging 24 points per game on career-best .55/.40/.88 shooting percentages. In the four games since his injury and absence, the Mavs have gone 1-3.
Chris Paul: The league leader in Win Shares, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), assists and steals. The Hornets' starting four alongside him are David West, Emeka Okafor, Marco Bellinelli and Trevor Ariza, and yet, New Orleans is 20-14 despite playing in the toughest division.
Stoudemire: second in the league in scoring; at the center of the revival of New York Knicks basketball.
Ginobili: The best player on the team with the best record; the Spurs are on pace for 72 wins, and Ginobili is averaging a career-best 19 points per game.
Much can change between now and season's end, but as of this second, these four players must be considered the favorites.
Considering what it took for Nowitzki, a somewhat under-appreciated all-time great, to win the award in 2007—67 wins—I don't see him repeating the feat again.
And Ginobili, as much as I love him and feel he's Hall of Fame worthy, just doesn't seem popular enough of a choice to garner enough votes.
In addition to size and team wins, working against 6'0" Paul is his team's bleak future; New Orleans might not have a team next season, which means CP3 could be on his way out of town any second. However, his incredible individual accomplishments keep him in the hunt and give him the edge over Rose and Williams.
In the end, we're left with Stoudemire, whose only strike against is the unlikelihood his team will win enough games. Then again, the Knicks are on pace to win a more-than-respectable 47.
If this happens, and Stoudemire keeps up his torrid pace and finishes with the most fourth quarter points—he's currently the league leader—the hype and frenzied energy emanating from the world's marketing capital should be enough to push him over the edge.
(note: we'll revisit the MVP race around the All-Star Break).
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