NBA MVP Award: What It Takes To Win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy

John LorgeSenior Writer INovember 20, 2009

What does it take to win the NBA's MVP Award? Heart. Grit. Determination.

Every winner of the award has displayed the same immeasurable attributes throughout the coarse of the year, but those adjectives cannot be quantified—or can they?

Since Bob Pettit won the first NBA MVP Award in 1956 we have seen winners as tall as 7-foot-2 (Kareem Abdual-Jabbar), and some who've struggled to hit 6-foot (Allen Iverson). We've had once-in-a-generation athletes (Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, LeBron James), and some of the most skilled players to ever pick up a basketball (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Steve Nash).

There are similarities and differences all throughout the list but there is one thing that shines through in all 28 winners of the award, and that is they are winners.

Using the last 20 winners (from Magic in 1990 to LeBron in 2009), I have compiled the data to determine what it takes to win the NBA MVP Award. Let's take a closer look.

You Must Win Games To Win The Award

Everyone wants to point at points when picking the MVP, but it's not about points, it's about wins. Basketball is a team sport and the goal is to win games, if your team isn't winning games, you have no real value.

The lack of winning is the reason Dwyane Wade had no chance of coming away with the award last season and the reason Kobe Bryant didn't deserve it in 2006. 

Of the 20 MVP seasons I looked at all but three winners played for teams who won more than 70 percent of their games (see lest below).  That doesn't mean you can't be the runner-up if your team is floating just above .500, but it does mean you shouldn't expect to win the hardware.

OK, So Points Do Matter

I lied when I said the MVP isn't about points (or stats) because it is, but it’s about how your stats convert to wins.

To integrate wins and losses into a player's statistical production I have created the MVP Index, or what I call the MVPi.  To calculate the MVPi you look at the three major stat categories (points, rebounds, and assists) as well as the player's losing percentage, here is the formula:

[(PPG+RPG+APG) X 82 - (PPG+RPG+APG) X Games Missed ] / [82 X (1 - Winning Percentage)]

*Karl Malone's 1999 MVPi was adjusted for an 82 game season.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

The two things that will hurt your MVPi the most are missing games, and more importantly, losing games. 

Some would argue that steals, blocks, and threes should be accounted for or that assists should earn a higher value. The defensive stats tend to even out amongst elite players, threes are great when you need them but it has never been a prerequisite for MVPs, and if assists had more value we would see more point guards winning the award.

The top MVPi doesn't always win the award however, and this is because it matters how much better your team is than other teams and how much more valuable you are to your team than the second or third best player on your team.

Championships Matter

Ultimately you have the best chance of winning the award if you have the best record in the NBA, but having the best record in your conference goes a long way, and having the best record in your division is a must. 

Over the past 20 years all 20 winners won their division, 17 won their conference, 12 had the NBA's best record during the regular season. Although it doesn't come into consideration during voting, seven of the 20 went on to win the title—Michael Jordan accounts for four of the seven.

In 1999 the Utah Jazz ties the San Antonio Spurs for the Midwest Division when Karl Malone won the MVP in the lockout-shortened season. The Jazz also happened to tie the Spurs for the best record in the NBA that year.

The 1994 and 1995 MVP races are a perfect indicator of how championships come into play. David Robinson statistically had a better season in 1993-94 than he did in 1994-95, on top of that his Spurs beat Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets three of four times.  With the absence of Jordan there was no question who the two best players in the NBA were, and they were in the same division.

Houston went on to win the Division in 1994, they didn't win the Western Conference but Olajuwon went on to win the MVP. In 1995 Robinson went home with the award with lesser stats but the most wins in the NBA.


If you look at the bottom of the MVPi list you will see the three lowest scores belong to Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, and once again, Steve Nash. 

It's easy to see why people have such a problem with Nash winning the award twice, but there is some explanation.  The voters favor little men.

Nash and Iverson are the two shortest winners since Bob Cousy took home the second ever NBA MVP in 1957. While Nash's output was the lowest of anyone you also have to consider that Iverson missed 11 games (13.4 percent) during the 2000-01 season.  Both of these guys got a boost from the voters.

To their defense they did win their division, Iverson led the Sixers to the best record in the East, and in 2005 Nash's Suns had the best record in the NBA.

In 2006 the Suns only won their conference but picking the MVP was picking your poison, the division winners were New Jersey, Detroit, Miami, Denver, San Antonio, and Phoenix.  You can try to argue Dwyane Wade was the pick but with a 63.4 winning percentage his MVPi was at 99.1, only 4.5 points higher than Nash.


When you are talking about MVP candidates, you must narrow your list by potential division winners and teams winning more than 65 percent of their games (preferably 70 percent).  Only then are you talking sensibly about who can win the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnLorge .

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!