Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's an MVP, anyway?

What the hell is an MVP anyway? No one really knows in any sport, but especially in professional basketball. Is it the player who had the most productive season of anyone in the league? Is it the guy who carries the most burden on his team, and thus, by the definition of the word, the most valuable? Is it the best player on the consensus best team? Is it the guy having a career year or the athlete with the best “story”?

Often, the hazy MVP criteria aren’t a problem because one player stands out from the rest so starkly that the choice is obvious. Take last year for example, when LeBron James put up a 30-9-7 on his way to one of the greatest regular seasons since the merger. How was he not the NBA’s most valuable player? But this year, we have a problem.

The MVP race is not as clear cut as before, and instead, we have several candidates that are all putting together terrific seasons. Thus, with the race so close this year, a veritable war of ideas and theories has erupted over the sports blogosphere as folks hype their own candidate and bemoan the others.

So again, what the hell is the MVP?

Forget the “most valuable” and “best player” stuff, it’s all about who’s scooped up by the media and rides the hype all the way to the end of the season. For the last two years it was LeBron James, who was the sport’s world’s darling before he obliterated any scrap of sympathy by announcing his “decision” on live television and subsequently holding a championship parade before the start of the regular season. The year before it was Kobe Bryant because everyone convinced themselves he deserved it after a decade of brilliant play and no trophy to call his own.

This season it’s Derrick Rose. Not only is he playing out of his mind, but he’s seen as a humble, blue-collar, hard-working basketball player. Not only that, but he worked his butt off over the off-season to develop a reliable jump shot and has completely bought into coach Tom Thibadeau’s system. Finally, his team is winning (a lot)—which may be the most important stat to the voters.

Dwight Howard has been steadily gaining steam in the blogosphere and among advanced metric lovers, but he hasn’t garnered nearly the attention Rose has amongst the mainstream media. Why? The Orlando Magic are struggling, BIG TIME, and have won eight less games than Rose’s Bulls. More on Howard in a bit…

LeBron James, unarguably the finest basketball player in the world, is also a legit candidate. And by legit candidate I mean he’s having yet another brilliant season and should probably win the MVP award for the next ten years in a row—just as Jordan should have. But remember that whole perception and media hype thing I droned on about? LBJ is a perfect example. Who wants to give the award to some jack-ass, spoiled athlete who has all the talent in the world over a guy who has improved across the board and developed an entirely new skill in one summer’s work?

Derrick Rose made the leap this season. He went from a solid young player with vast potential to superstar level status. Voters like that—everyone likes it. James has been putting up a 28-7-7 for the past seven years; we’re used to his brilliance by now. But Rose? This is new. We’ve got a new inductee in the “guaranteed to make SportsCenter’s Top 10 every time he plays” club along with LBJ, Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Durant. I beg your forgiveness for the following analogy, but remember when Taylor Swift won the “Best Album” Grammy a couple years ago over BeyoncĂ©? Swift won because she was young and fresh on the scene—full of potential. BeyoncĂ© has been pumping out A+ albums for a decade and is the favorite to win every time she releases something new. Of course the young, budding superstar won it—that’s human nature for you. It may be wrong, but it’s reality.

The NBA has done an awful job defining exactly what the MVP award is. Some stand by the belief the award is meant for the player whose individual efforts are most responsible for his team’s success. Others believe it should go to basketball’s best player. I.E its most skilled, most dominant, and most productive athlete. We’ve got several decades worth of history to pore over, and has the award EVER gone to the league’s most valuable? For God’s sake if we did that Steve Nash should win the award considering the Sun’s offense is a million times better with him on the floor than off. If we go by “most valuable” Kevin Garnett should have won the award in 2008 after he transformed the Boston Celtics with his intensity, defensive focus, and leadership.

Statistically Rose has been crucified for a poor shooting percentage (he’ll be only the second MVP since 1965 with a shooting percentage less than .450), and plus-minus numbers which indicate the Bulls defense is better without Rose on the floor. What that fails to recognize is how Rose carries the Bull’s offense nightly and is their ONLY athletic guard who can handle the ball, doesn’t have a legitimate ball-handler backing him up, and is the engine that makes Chicago’s offense hum.

You’ll never guess who the only other player to win MVP with a sub-.450 shooting percentage was. Prepare for your mind to be blown: Allen Iverson and his mark of .420—shocking, I know. There’s a whole army of people who don’t think Iverson deserved the award but that’s another thousand words. Suffice to say there were arguments against his candidacy. Iverson won the award because he owned the association that year. Everyone fell in love with the chippy, fearless, and sub-six foot point guard (he’s listed as 6’0 but there’s no way he was that tall). Should Shaq have won it for the second consecutive year after putting up a 29-13 and leading the Lakers to 55+ wins again? Probably, but AI captured the basketball watching worlds imagination like few before him.

The Most Valuable Player award isn’t merely given to the guy with the best stats, the player most valuable to his team, or the most productive player in the league. I’ll take a page from Bill Simmons, and ask: who owned the season? It may be the type of theory to make stat heads cringe, but many fail to realize that the MVP award encompasses more than sheer on-court production. When I’m a billionaire in 2025, bathing in a tub of gold, and kissing my miniature giraffe like the guy from those Netflix commercials, who do I remember from that 2010-2011 season? It won’t be Dwight Howard and his mediocre Magic team nor LeBron James and his putting-it-all-together Miami Heat, it will Be Derrick Rose and his borderline-juggernaut Chicago Bulls. I’ll remember how Rose quadrupled his three-point production in one offseason’s work, how he carried a beat-up Bulls squad for a large part of the year, how he continuously exhibited borderline Jordan intensity and edge, and how badly I wanted him to shave his little mustache.


  1. Blitzwish dude, nice article! Full of zest and panache without the F-bombs. Recommend you write an article comparing annual MVP award across the MLB and NFL and NHL and NBA. I bet you can get that piece published in ESPN magazine or SI or something else legit.

  2. Appreciate your continued readership and feedback...really, thanks for that. Don't get much of it so it's always nice to see a comment pop up below one of my posts.
    A comparison of MVP awards across sports is a really great idea. Guess that means I have to watch a baseball game...