Nerdnumbers avatar

Who Stands a Shot at the MVP?

Realistically the entire list in image form.

 Let's lay some truth down. There are implicit criteria to the NBA MVP award. While the "analytics revolution" may one day change things (I'm not holding my breath) we still exist in an era where to win the NBA MVP requires

1. Being on a winning team. A player has not won the MVP without being on a top 4 team (meaning top four in wins in the entire NBA) since Michael Jordan's award in 1988! In short, you have to be on one of the best teams in the NBA or do something statistically unprecedented. MJ for reference was 5 points per game better than the second best scorer and won Defensive Player of the Year.

2. Scoring a lot of points. The only player to win MVP since the voting was given to the media without scoring twenty points per game or better was Steve Nash in 2005 and 2006. He still scored over 15 points a game while also leading the NBA in assists both seasons. He also had two important narratives. First, he joined the Suns, who were a 29 win team the season before. They turned into a 60+ win team. The next season he improved his scoring, and the Suns stayed competitive with Amare Stoudemire going down injured.

3. Playing lots of minutes. No player has won the MVP with less than 2,500 minutes since the voting was given to the media.

4. Possible having a narrative to overcome "statistical deficiencies." As you may notice with 1 and 2, part of the MVP race is narrative driven. Now, it's not enough to shake the voters away from top scorers or top teams, but it can get them to ignore people (like LeBron and Shaq after changing teams) or be a little more forgiving (Steve Nash). This may come up this season.

When doing an "MVP Watch List." you don't even need to bother with ten names. Let's break down who stands a shot at MVP this season as things sit now. As mentioned, the MVP is likely going to a top four NBA team. And unless the voters completely blow my mind, it will be. Right now the Warriors (84.6% Win/Loss), Spurs (78.9% Win/Loss), Rockets (77.5% Win/Loss) and Cavaliers (75.7% Win/Loss) are the only teams I'm considering, especially as no other teams are really in striking distance as of this article. There's one more possible player, and it'll be pretty obvious why when I get to him.

James Harden

Of the best teams in the NBA, Harden is the best scorer. What's more, he's leading the NBA in assists as well. Given that the Rockets improved after losing Dwight Howard and James Harden has taken an increased role, he's currently the natural favorite for MVP. If the Rockets lag a bit, though, I could see him falling. He is currently top three in the NBA in Wins Produced, and the top Wins Producer on a contender. So, for now, we agree with conventional wisdom. 

Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi came in second in the MVP race last season to Steph Curry. He's leading the Spurs in points per game. What's more, he's improved his scoring output by three points per game from last season. Tim Duncan retired and the Spurs, are staying competitive. I think he stands a solid shot at the award depending on how Harden and the Rockets do. He ranks twelth in the NBA in Wins Produced (both total and per minute, minimum 380 minutes) So we don't really think he should be the MVP this season. We've been a big fan for a while though, so we, won't complain if he gets it. 

LeBron James

The only MVP candidate from the East! LeBron's numbers are staying great (and that means being pretty close to what he was last season) despite playing tons of minutes. I think he's got a good shot at the award. Getting five MVPs would tie him with Michael Jordan. I don't know if that will help or hurt his case. If the Cavs stay competitive and LeBron stays healthy, he'll have a great shot at the award. He's a top ten Wins Producer, so we won't complain, but I don't think he should get it this season. 

Kevin Durant

Durant is crushing it this season on Golden State. He's currently having his most efficient scoring season (barely) That said, he has pretty much no shot at the award. Shaq and LeBron James changing teams have pretty shown the voters will not give the award to a player "forming a super team" the season after they move. What's more, the Warriors will likely not improve from last season. Finally, Durant's per-game scoring is actually down from last season. An impressive season, and Durant is a top ten Wins Producer in total wins and per-minute. That said, even we don't think he should win it this season.

Russell Westbrook

Alright, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double and leading the NBA in points per game right now. That's absurd! He's also on the Thunder, who lost Durant to a super team. As a result, I think he has a perfect narrative to win this award despite having almost no shot at being on a top four team. However, it'll require the Thunder at least seeming competitive, I'd say fifty wins. Also, he'll need to actually maintain the triple-double average. The Thunder would win 48 games at current rate. An outside shot, but it could happen. We think Westbrook is an elite player and just around the top ten for Wins Producer, so we wouldn't complain about this MVP but he wouldn't get our vote.

That's the list! Being realistic and excluding Durant there are only four names and Russell Westbrook is definitely a darkhorse. I'll be excited to see how it turns out!


So would Harden get your vote or someone who doesn't meet the criteria to be in contention?
Alright, obv. w/ some subjectivity and IF season ended today.

1. Harden. Leads NBA in Wins Produced.
2. Giannis.
3. Gobert
4. Chris Paul
5. Russell Westbrook (yeah, yeah, the triple-double average gets me too!)

Considering that the normal talking heads are talking about the success of OKC I think a lot of people will talk themselves out of Westbrook which would leave the award to Harden. Of course, that could change depending on both teams' records in the coming months but if I had to put money down right now I'd go with the Beard.
It is Lebron vs the field. The only question is whether the field will split the votes or will the media be able to wrap around a single non-Lebron guy in time to consolidate votes.
I was going to add CP3 if he gets back and the Clippers really turn it on and return to a Top 4 team.

But, naaaah, I don't see it.
One thing I really hope never gets over-looked is CP3's ability to make Deandre SO good. I know this site loves DJ, but what might get lost is how these hyperathletic, non-ball-handling bigs rely on a really great distributor. Think Andre Drummond, Gobert, Tyson Chandler.

Yeh, grabbing rebounds, dunking the ball, and blocking shots are great for your team, and it really helps your WP/48 numbers. But what gives teams the ability to use these players to only their strengths? After Drummond was thrust into more of an offensive role, his WP/48 dropped. It's still really good, but from ~.34 to ~.23 is a noticeable decline. Chandlers had his best season when someone ball dominant ran the pick-and-roll with him. DJ 's turned into a freak of nature ever since Chris Paul came to town.

The most compelling CP3-MVP argument is what would happen if you replaced him with, let's say, Derrick Rose. Clips are below average team then right? Even with Westbrook, I don't think he could possibly use the players around him in a way that makes them the most effective.
Pau had a nice game in a blowout over the Lakers. 22 points on 9 shots with 9 rebounds and 6 assists. 9/9 shooting and 4/5 from FT. Couldn't crack 10 rebounds, but it must be hard to get some offensive rebounds when the team shoots 60%.
Boban had another terrific game last night in limited minutes. It's hard to see him and Drummond spending much time together on the floor. What was SVG thinking and could a trade be in the works?
SVG was probably thinking that $7m / year is super cheap for a player like Boban.
I frequently hear commentators on tv and podcasts saying that they favor Westbrook over Harden in spite of the difference in team records because Harden has so much more to work with in terms of talent on the team. These same "analysts" mostly picked the Thunder to finish ahead of the Rockets in the standings this year. The Rockets do have some talent on the squad, but it can't be overlooked that many of those players are having career years in part because Harden is making everyone around him better. That said, LBJ is the best player and should win MVP.
"One thing I really hope never gets over-looked is CP3's ability to make Deandre SO good."

That makes intuitive sense, but I don't know if it holds up empirically. Look at DAJ's numbers with CP3 on the floor and without, and there isn't any consistent difference. For example, DAJ has actually played better this season without CP3 on the floor. Same in last year's playoffs. On the other hand, DAJ was better during last years regular season with CP3, but the year before there wasn't much of a difference.
@AI_S how big is the sample size of those on/off numbers? If you got a link i'd love to see em.
.34 to .23 might be a big drop but that's still higher than the WP of players who are considered as "superstars"
Creating shots off the dribble, going one on one with your defender are all well and good plus it helps your case into being selected as an all star but what allows these players to be even more effective? A bunch of 3 point shooters and alleyoop scorers because without them then 24/7 he'll receive constant double teams, effective screen setters (I.e. pindowns for perimeter shots, back screen in order to be able to cut to the basket and get an easy lay up) and of course having an effective screen setters allows you to have mismatches such as big vs small in the low post or a small vs big in the perimeter.
Durant drafted in 07 by Seattle
Westbrook drafted in 08 by Seattle
Harden drafted in 09 by OKC (aka Seattle)

Seattle = no team. OKC = no titles. Sad

Sign in to write a comment.