The MVP Race: How Important is the Team Record
This is a topic that seems to pop up nearly every season.
We see it all the time - a player puts together a magical season filled with gutsy performances, clutch moments and eye-popping highlight reels. They lead the league in multiple statistical categories, and perhaps they drag their team to a fringe playoff spot even if they have no business being there. Naturally you would assume these players would be at the center of the MVP conversation but unfortunately their average team record always seems to hold them back.
But why is a team’s record so important when it comes to deciding on the league’s most valuable player?
Surely, the most valuable player of any given season is the player who makes the biggest difference between his team winning and losing games, and surely (especially given the number of metrics that are catalogued in 2016) the value added by a player should be easy to quantify.
Unfortunately, as is with most things in life, it is not that simple.
It seems like every person has their own criteria when it comes to the NBA Most Valuable Player. Some people believe it is the best player on the best team, others think it should go to the most outstanding player of the year. There are people who take a more literal approach and give their vote (whether legitimate or fictional) to the player who adds the most value to his team, and some even think the award should go to the man who is perceived as the best player in the league.
But the importance of the team’s record tends to polarize voters.
On one side of the argument you have those that claim stars on teams in the lower half of the playoff seeding are more valuable to their team because without them, that team will likely miss out on the playoffs altogether. On the other side you have those who say a player can only be considered the most valuable player if he puts his team in a position to contend and play meaningful postseason basketball.
Historically, however, voters tend to place a lot of importance on team record. Of the previous 30 MVPs 24 of them were given to players with the 1st seed in their respective conference (when Karl Malone won the award in 1999, the Utah Jazz were technically the 2-seed but were tied for the best record in the league) and 5 were given to players with the 2nd seed. The only player in the last 30 years to win MVP without a top 2 seed was Michael Jordan in 1988; the Bulls were the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference that year.
This just goes to show that with all of the celebration over players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Anthony Davis this season, without a competitive seeding these players will either have no hope of winning MVP or they’ll have to make history to do it.
1. James Harden (27.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 11.8 APG, 27.8 PER) The Rockets are now the third seed in the Western Conference and are on pace to win 61 games this season. James Harden continues to put in one ridiculously good performance after another and unlike last season, this year it’s resulting in wins for the Rockets. The team is amidst a ten game winning streak that began with a win in Oakland over the Warriors and in that same stretch Harden has been averaging 25.8 PTS, 11.6 AST, 8.4 REB and 1.8 STL.
2. Russell Westbrook (30.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 11.0 APG, 29.0 PER)
The triple-double drought only lasted 3 games in which the Thunder went 1-2. Then on Saturday night’s game against the Suns, Westbrook exploded for 26 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds. His usage rate continues to edge closer to an inhuman level at 41.3%. To put this into perspective, no player in NBA history has shouldered the load that Westbrook is this year. Unfortunately, slipping down to the 7th seed in the West doesn’t do him any favors as far as league MVP is concerned.
3. LeBron James (25.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 9.0 APG, 26.4 PER) The Cavaliers have looked much better since their surprising 3 game losing streak earlier this month. Since then, the Cavaliers’ only loss came against the Grizzlies on a night where LeBron, Kyrie and Love all sat out for rest. They’ve won their last 5 games that LeBron has played in by a margin of 20.2 points and over that span LeBron has looked a lot more aggressive, averaging 29.0 PTS, 7.2 REB, 8.4 AST, and 2.4 STL. For the record, the Cavs are now 0-2 in game that LeBron rests this year.
4. Kawhi Leonard (24.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 27.2 PER)
Kawhi’s individual numbers have taken a small hit recently, but it’s not due to poor performance. The Spurs have been blowing teams out so easily as of late that Kawhi has only played an average of 30 minutes over his last 5 games. He’s still the best perimeter defender in the league, something Jimmy Butler (13 points, 28.6 FG%) and Andrew Wiggins (11 points, 41.7 FG%) found out the hard way.
5. Kevin Durant (25.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.7 APG, 28.0 PER) Durant’s unbelievable production had started to slow down before he decided to put on an offensive clinic for the Trailblazers. In just 30 minutes of action Durant posted 34 points on 85% shooting from the field. The Warriors ended up winning that game by 45 points, something the rest of the Western conference better get used to. He’s looking more and more like a perfect fit with the Warriors, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.
6. DeMar DeRozan (28.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 25.9 PER) Somehow the league’s third highest scorer, who plays for the number 2 seed in the East, flies completely under the radar. But although the media buzz surrounding DeRozan has calmed down recently, he has continued to scorch the rest of the league. He has scored 30+ points in 4 straight appearances, shooting a combined 61% from the field over those games. DeMar has the Raptors on pace to win 58 games and they’re currently only 1 game behind the Cavs for the number 1 seed in the East. He deserves some serious MVP recognition.
7. Chris Paul (17.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 9.4 APG, 27.2 PER) The Clippers continue to provide inconsistent play at both ends of the floor and it has resulted in some unnecessary losses in recent weeks. One thing that hasn’t been inconsistent for them has been the play of Chris Paul. Over the last 5 games Paul has averaged 17.4 PTS, 12.4 AST and only 2.0 TOV. The Clippers are still on track to win 59 games and they’re a team that can catch fire at any time to put together a lot of wins in a hurry. Don’t sleep on them just yet.
8. Gordon Hayward (22.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 22.6 PER) The Utah Jazz have won 11 of their last 13 games which includes a loss to the Warriors in which Hayward did not play and a 1-point loss to the Miami Heat. Over that stretch Hayward has averaged 24.5 PTS and an average net rating of PLUS-13. Hayward’s production has gone somewhat unnoticed this season due to him missing the first 6 games of the year and the Jazz being a rather pedestrian team thus far, but if they continue to win games and Hayward continues to produce, he’ll likely be looking at his first career all-star selection.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 6.0 APG, 26.9 PER) Giannis continues to produce like a superstar and the Milwaukee Bucks continue to wallow in mediocrity. He’s one of those young players that seems to improve by the game and because of that he’ll likely receive his first (of many) all-star selections this year. He continues to be active on the defensive end and is currently on pace to become the fourth player in NBA history to average 2 BLK and 2 STL per game for an entire season (David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Gerald Wallace were the others).
10. Marc Gasol (19.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.1 APG, 21.6 PER) After a rocky start to the season, Marc Gasol has finally had his minute restriction lifted and has the Grizzlies in the thick of the playoff race out West. With both Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons missing significant time with injuries, Gasol has kept the Grizzlies competitive with some outstanding all-around play at the center position (21.6 PTS, 7.7 REB, 4.6 AST, 1.1 STL, and 1.4 BPG over his last 10 games). Once everyone is healthy, this team has the potential to make a deep playoff run with Gasol leading the way.