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Can Tony Parker win MVP?

 

Could Tony Parker really win the MVP? I scoffed at Arturo when he said this to me as his simulations ran. I ran to Twitter to mock such a claim:

 

And then I went and did the research. You see, Arturo has the Spurs winning a lot of games. Since the arrival of Duncan the Spurs are used to winning in the mid to high 50s. Arturo has them in the 60s. It's possible they could go even higher, like mid 60s to 70! And if that happens, then guess what? The top scorer from that team will win MVP. Here's a brief history:

History of NBA teams finishing a season with 65+ Wins

Wins Season Team MVP
72 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
69 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls Karl Malone
69 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
68 1966-1967 Philadelphia Warriors Wilt Chamberlain
68 1972-1973 Boston Celtics Dave Cowens*
67 1985-1986 Boston Celtics Larry Bird
67 1991-1992 Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan
67 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O'Neal
67 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki
66 1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
66 2007-2008 Boston Celtics Kobe Bryant
66 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James
66 2012-2013 Miami Heat LeBron James
65 1986-1987 Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson
65 1982-1983 Philadelphia 76ers Moses Malone
65 2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James
Note: players in bold did not play for the listed team.

Wins = MVP

Of the 16 times a team has been able to win 65+ games, they've taken home the MVP title 12 times. That's a pretty fantastic hit rate. Now, there are a few exceptions that we'll get to. And there's one out that may prove me right against Arturo. Regardless, it seems like Tony Parker is a much more viable candidate than I thought.

Rival Teams, Voter Fatigue, and Better Scorers

In 1972, 1997, and 2009, a 65+ team lost out on the MVP. In all three of these seasons another team won more than 60 games (the Bucks, the Jazz, and the Cavs, respectively). Additionally, the teams countering with 60+ wins all had better scorers (Kareem, Malone, and LeBron).

In 1997 and 2009, the player also "unseated" the previous season's MVP. Of course in 1997 and 2009 the previous season's MVP would go on to win another title. So it's possible the voters wanted a narrative that another star could compete. In 1972 Kareem actually repeated, but it's important to note that in the 70s the players picked the MVPs, not the writers.

Dave Cowens

In 1972 Dave Cowens took home MVP, but he was not his team's top scorer; he finished second behind John Havlicek. However, he still managed over 20 points and 16 boards a game. With Parker sharing the court with Tim Duncan, this is one scenario that might hurt his chances. In his prime, Duncan might have hurt Parker's case, but since Parker will likely lead the Spurs in both points and assists, I leave him as the favorite.

The Kobe-shaped monkey wrench!

I was scared Arturo had a much better shot of being right on this. The one major outlier is 2007-2008, when Kobe took the MVP. There's a few things to consider. First, the Boston Celtics won a ton of games, but none of their players hit over 20 points per game. Doc Rivers actually did a fairly good job limiting his players minutes: no Celtic cracked over 36 minutes per game. On the other hand, Kobe played a lot of minutes and scored lots of points. Is there a shot another player does this to the Spurs this season? Here were a few names I came up with.

  • Kevin Durant
  • Kevin Love - Doubt Wolves get enough wins
  • LeBron James - Voter Fatigue
  • Paul George
  • James Harden

My bet? If the Spurs win in the mid 60s but the Thunder win in the 50s and Durant wins the scoring title, he'll take it. I think LeBron is out and that Love and Harden are unlikely. Paul George is definitely an intriguing pick at the moment, but that involves the Pacers keeping up this wild pace, which I don't see.

What do you think?

This is a cool list (the teams that won 65+ games). The factors that drive MVP voting have long intrigued me.

The Durant bet is a good one, especially since people have wanted to give him one for a couple of years.

On an encouraging note, it looks like the national media is finally starting to realize that Kevin Love is awesome at basketball (only took them four extra years). If the Wolves finish in the top 5 in the West (possible) then maybe he becomes the cool, chic pick a la Derrick Rose in 2011 (except, you know, deserving of the award).
An old quote from 2012 on ESPN.com.

"LeBron, to me, is the (MVP) favorite every year," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said last week. "If he doesn't win it, it's because people are tired of voting for him."

So yeah voter fatigue has set in on Lebron.
Paul George is looking like he wins the award right now. His team has a great record, he's a young up-and-coming star, and doesn't have that "other" star who could steal votes.

Love would be a good candidate, but as mentioned in the article, its doubtful the Wolves get enough wins to sway voters.

Nobody wants to vote for LeBron anymore.

After last year's playoffs, I think voters now realize how important Westbrook is to both the Thunder, and Durant's stat-line. Could pull votes away from KD.

The public is also souring on Harden because they realized he doesn't play defense, and his flopping seems to bother them. Dwight's presence pulls even more votes away.
Westbrook isn't as valuable as one high variance sample I meant playoffs implies. Any team can get hot in the playoffs. The best team doesn't always win.
Andrew,

I think we should say Westbrook isn't "necessarily" as valuable as one playoff series may indicate.

However, I think he is. Nobody on OKC could create any real offense except Durant. The drive/kick game that nets Sefalosha/Ibaka all their points dried up, and when Durant tried to do it all, he was swarmed.

Westbrook is incredibly important to OKC's limited Offense, which bears out in some of the +/- variants.
They had and they have Reggie Jackson who is another "creator" if that's what you like.
I've long thought Parker should get much more credit for what he does on the Spurs but the problem as always is with the voters. Parker will not be sniffing the scoring title and every single player you mentioned there outside of Magic was a top scorer. Unless his assists double for the rest of the year the voters who only look at the box score aggregates will not be impressed with him. I think that if you want to be considered you either have to be a top 3 scorer on a super successful team or score over 20 and be in the top 3 in rebounds or assists AND have a story that the voters like telling.
Reggie Jackson creates his OWN shot, but that isn't really valuable. The trick is to create offense for the team, the most effective being drive and kick techniques.

When Westbrook goes crashing towards the basket, he draws almost the entire defense, which leads to a lot of open looks for Martin/Ibaka/Sefalosha.

Jackson just didn't command that attention on his drives, and while that did lead to an impressive TS%, he just didn't shoot enough for it to make up for Martin/Ibaka/Sefalosha falling of a cliff.

You forgot Chris Paul. Many people (including you!) think he's the best point guard in the NBA. If the Clippers win many games, he will be MVP. I don't think Parker will ever be MVP. I'm french, but I'm not a homer.
Yeah, Paul's definitely a gray-horse candidate. He's put up some incredible games already, he plays for what ought to be a pretty successful team in a big market, there are already stories about how he compares to HoFers like Stockton, and he's a WP monster. If they end up around 57+ and he keeps his assists per game above 10, I'd bet that the voters pick him over Love, even if Love keeps playing like this the whole season.
What's important here is perception versus reality. We all understand that Westbrook is not as effective as people think, but because players hold those same perceptions the defense reacts to him as if he were. In that way, he is valuable on a team level, even though he doesn't individually produce well enough to justify it. Put a Chris Paul or Damien Lillard in the same spot, and you'd have the same effect.
But if Reggie Jackson or any other guy who isn't getting minutes plays enough he may or may not become a "double team guy."
I thought about the missmatch between perception and reality for players themselves a lot. But wouldn't such a perception bias be fed back into the system? I.e. if people think Westbrook needs to be doubled then his assist rate already shows that since it would be even lower if he didn't have that double team / drive and kick action thingy? I could however definitely see this perception bias as something that could easily be exploited by a front office that is aware of it. A player such as Melo might not be the most productive, but he could lure other Stars or productive "role" players to a team (see Garnett, Bosh, afterPeak Kobe). And it would also benefit them because it would not become so obvious that they are exploiting inefficiencies. And finally such a player would be comparatively easy to trade. (If the public thinks Melo regresses he would probably still command more value then if say Tyson Chandler got the same impression, or think about what some GM's might trade for Kobe...)

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