Pop quiz, hot shots: When was the last time the NBA’s Most Valuable Player was on a team that didn’t finish with at least the fourth-best regular season record in the league? It was Michael Jordan in 1987-88, in what was arguably his greatest individual season — he averaged 35.0 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, had a .535 field goal percentage and his PER of 31.71 was the highest of the modern era. The Bulls finished with a 50-32 record, tied for the seventh-best in the league that season.

Apparently, it takes a historical season to have a shot at winning the NBA MVP award if you’re not on one of the top four regular season teams in the league. If we narrow it down to the last 10 winners, you should really be on one of the top two teams if you’re going to expect to be taken seriously by the voters.

2009-10 LeBron James Cavaliers First
2008-09 LeBron James Cavaliers First
2007-08 Kobe Bryant Lakers Third
2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks First
2005-06 Steve Nash Suns Fourth
2004-05 Steve Nash Suns First
2003-04 Kevin Garnett Timberwolves Second
2002-03 Tim Duncan Spurs First
2001-02 Tim Duncan Spurs Second
2000-01 Allen Iverson 76ers Second

Whether or not this qualification is right or fair is sort of beside the point when it comes to who will actually win the MVP award each season. The sportswriters and broadcasters who vote for the winner quite clearly fixate on players who stand out among the teams that finish with one of the top two regular season records. In 2007-08, the Celtics and Pistons had better records than the Lakers but those were clearly “team efforts” while Kobe’s excellence stood out because Pau Gasol was only on the team for 27 games — of which the Lakers won 22. We can safely assume Kobe would have been considered much less valuable by the voters if that heist of a trade had never taken place.

Steve Nash’s MVP awards look less credible every time I consider them. The Suns’ 33-win improvement from the 2003-04 season to the 2004-05 season certainly made his selection seem like a no-brainer to many at the time, but how would the voters have explained the fact that the Mavericks actually improved their win total by six in the season after he left? As for his 2005-06 award, Tim Duncan was the better player on a team with a better record so that was just flat-out laziness by the voters.

This brings us to the increasingly raging debate about who should win this season’s MVP award. Theoretically, the leading candidates are Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Realistically, the award is Rose’s to lose. Where things get interesting is that the Bulls are far from a lock to finish with a top-two or even a top-four regular season record. The Spurs will most likely finish with the best record, but nobody is winning MVP on that team for reasons I assume I don’t need to get in to. After the Spurs, we have the Bulls and Lakers tied at 53-20, the Mavericks at 52-21, and the Celtics and Heat tied at 51-22. Any one of these teams could end the season anywhere between second and sixth place.

Here is the meaty question buried under this daunting lead-in: Does Derrick Rose deserve to win the MVP award if the Bulls end up with the fifth- or sixth-best record? Actually, I take it back — that’s not a meaty question, it’s a stupid question. But it appears to be an important qualifier for who gets to win the award. That is, of course, unless enough of the voters have already bought into the “Rose as MVP” narrative and what happens for the remainder of the season has no effect on their decisions.

Believe it or not, the purpose of this post is not to call Rose’s MVP bona fides into question. I’ve been on the “Dwight for MVP” bandwagon for a little while now but I recognize the futility of that platform at this stage of the season as the Magic currently have the eighth-best record. What I’m calling into question are the critical thinking skills and impartiality of the MVP voters. Are most of them going to automatically write off Dwight Howard because of his crappy supporting cast? If the Heat finish with the second-best record in the league, will the majority of the voters refuse to acknowledge LeBron’s contributions for the sole reason that he’s a douchebag?

Most of you know the answers to these questions, wherever your MVP allegiances stand. So now we get to the REAL question: Why do we get so worked up about this award when the people who vote on it might not understand who is truly the most valuable player as much as the players who have to face them?

Marcin Gortat wasn’t trying to disrespect Derrick Rose with the tweet he sent last night, he was speaking from the experience of actually facing off against those players. Without question, there are a number of other players who would counter that Rose deserves to be MVP. But Howard would at least get some first-place votes from his colleagues. I fear that he won’t get any outside of Orlando from the real voters.

As for LeBron, he’d probably get screwed either way, but I doubt he’ll lose any sleep over it. Every MVP award a healthy and active Michael Jordan didn’t win in his prime was a farce. All too often, the hot storyline — in this case, the rejuvenation of the Bulls franchise — overwhelms any semblance of common sense. This should really be the most hotly-contested MVP award decision in years but the voters are much more likely to steer this story to the conclusion they find personally satisfactory rather than, you know, voting for the guy who actually deserves to win.

Comments (10)

  1. First MVP article I’ve agreed with.

  2. I’m with Sean. This was a great article.

  3. “If the Heat finish with the second-best record in the league, will the majority of the voters refuse to acknowledge LeBron’s contributions for the sole reason that he’s a douchebag?”


  4. Great work. I agree completely. I’ve come to look at the MVP award not necessarily (though it sometimes is) as validation of who’s actually the best player in the NBA over a given season, but as recognition of the best offensive player on a top-5 team, that has exceeded expectations, and has the most media-friendly story. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. Everyone laments the lack of consistent criteria for winning the award. It’s not lacking- that is kinda it.

  5. Good article… Still, you get worked up about it too…

    I’m shocked how little sense some arguments make (“Kobe has only one MVP!”), how people mostly try to root for someone rather than analyse it, and how it is never settled if it’s “most talented player” (i.e. James), “player of the year” (i.e. Rose) or “most useful player” (i.e. Dwight). Everyone understands this award differently, so why even give a care?
    I’m also shocked how writers try to figure out people won before to determine who will win… You decide, don’t just repeat the same mystakes!

    I mean: do people actually care about MVPs when evaluating a player’s worth?
    Your MVP ccandidacy is relative to the other MVP candidates.
    The 2nd guy on that awesome statistical year Jordan had must have been awesome too… Prolly better than Nash.
    When Nash got crowned, there wasn’t much challenge, except for Kobe and his terrible team.

    That’s it!
    All-NBA teams, playoff history, Finals MVP or even pure numbers will tell you more about a player’s worth than an MVP award that is usually a “player of the year” award, but not all the time (i.e. 1999 Malone for life-accomplishement)… It’s only about one player, and he doesn’t receive it for the same reasons every year. That just proves it means nothing.

    People don’t look at MJ’s MVPs to determine what he’s worth (and since everyone seems to agree he should have more, that kinda proves it), same goes for Jabbar, Magic, Bird and others… The only way to properly eveluate a guy is watching+numbers… That’s it.

    But I guess if there has to be a “best player” kind of award, it should be delivered by the players.
    Until then, I don’t really give a sh**.

  6. breyzh: That’s why I used “we” in the title. I’m one of those fools who cares about this award, even though I know I shouldn’t.

  7. There is a legitimate reason to care about this award. When history looks back on this era, number of MVPs will be one of the ways to rank players. That’s important, like it or not.

  8. Compare Howard and Rose this year. If you took each of them off of their respective teams, which team would be in better shape? I bet most people who are going to vote for Rose would say Chicago. I’m not saying that invalidates the Rose for MVP argument, but it just emphasizes that there’s no science at all in this debate. When MJ left for baseball, the Bulls were still pretty good and were arguably a blown call away from advancing in the playoffs. Does that mean MJ wasn’t the real MVP of the league all those years? I doubt it. One of the problems is that there’s no agreement on what the award means. Best player or most valuable to their team? It’s not the same thing. Nash’s awards are more justifiable if you define it the latter way than if you define it the former way. In the end I don’t really give a damn.

  9. The MVP, in my opinion, should be determined by the amount of games a team loses when a particular player is out, with an injury for example. Tim Duncan is a Hall of Famer, but the Spurs can still win with Ginobili and Parker on the court. If Dwight goes out for 10 games, how many wins does Orlando get? Same with Kobe, Rose or James. If a player never goes out, who’s to say the bench could not have stepped it up? Maybe I’m not making sense, and by this rational, if every star player stays healthy all year, it should be based on stats. But if one star goes out, and another stays healthy, why award it to the player who who missed games only to prove his team needs him the most?

    That is why I think the MVP should be taken out and simply keep the Scoring Title.

    But since it still exists, I say Rose should get it.

  10. [...] regular season winds down to a close, the MVP debate rages on. Earlier this week, Scott Carefoot gave his take on the voting protocol for the award and the internet is ablaze with arguments for or against the [...]

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