MVP Watch: What Are We Arguing About?

By: Dan Grant

The NBA never stops, does it?

With the Warriors barely crowned champions, already the focus has shifted to trades, draft picks and soon, free agency. Phil Jackson has grabbed the public consciousness by the short hairs, though as of this writing, Kristaps Porzingis remains a New York Knick. It’s wild to live in a world so tumultuous that a former MVP candidate (Dwight Howard) and the first overall pick in the draft have been traded in the past week, and they feel like little more than blips on the off-season radar.

The best part? More chaos is sure to follow. It’s all part of the fun of the NBA off-season.

But for now, I want to drag you back in time, so that we can finally go forward, if that makes sense.

The NBA’s first ever award show is next week!

Remember the NBA awards? Mostly for the regular season, that ended like ten weeks ago? Next week Drake is going to tell you who wins them! Fun stuff, amirite?

Look, shut up, it’ll be great. Come on! Remember how fiercely we all debated the regular season MVP? No, don’t worry about the fact that you haven’t thought about that for at least six weeks. Think about how it nearly ended close friendships and working relationships, due to the overwhelming belief certain factions had in each candidate! Harness that simmering bloodthirsty take-rage and join me!

For those feeling a little rusty, let me jog your memory: from December on we were on MVP Watch here at the Same Page. First, it was James Harden versus Russell Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard took a leap in his first non-Duncan season, and forced his way into the conversation as a legitimate third candidate. New villain Kevin Durant slipped in there for a bit, before his injury, while LeBron James loomed like a spectre over the entire conversation, providing a convenient canvas for a referendum on overall strategy in the NBA — can an MVP take games off? Do we just give it to the best player?

It was all happening. But it was also really hard for some to decide. Just when you thought you were confident, some new stat or performance went ahead and effed the whole thing up. It felt kind of like this:

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The question(s) became, as always: just what is the MVP award exactly?

You can read this excellent primer from Matt Moore of CBS Sports, which breaks down the 17 (!!!) things you need to ask yourself when choosing your own personal MVP candidate. It’s a great read, and I recommend it heartily.

No shade to Moore, but we should also fire the subject of it directly into the back of a slowly trundling garbage truck, right before it drives off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Remind me again, what the hell the point of having a regular season MVP is, anyway? Is it to give some sort of faux value to a season that’s becoming increasingly less important to both fans and players? To reward the player who is the best in the most meaningless games? Like the NBA’s 82 game schedule, it’s a broken system that only still exists because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’. The NBA, to their credit, has been the best professional sports league, in terms of trying to push through the stasis that such a mentality provides. They should do it here too.

Many people have tried to ‘fix’ the regular season MVP award over the years — Bill Simmons Book of Basketball is a pertinent example, where he breaks down every MVP award until 2008, and tries to figure out if whoever was voting (players or writers) did right by the players of that particular season.

A noble effort, but I want to go a step further. Let’s remake the award entirely. Luckily, I’ve also come up with a solution for how to do so. And nobody will argue, have differing opinions, or complain in any way. Perfect. Hey, what’s that you’re doing with your face?

lucille

 

Please, a little trust!

Here’s the formula for the Full Season MVP (FSMVP) award. No, it’s not called ‘The Wanda’.

The MVP should be given for the entire season, including both the regular season and the playoffs. One big kahuna winner, for the whole shebang. That’s our goal here.

Does it really make sense that we have a regular season MVP, skip three rounds of playoff games, and then have a separate Finals MVP? Does it make sense to give the award to a player eliminated in the first round, when other perfectly viable candidates are able to push their teams further towards ultimate glory?

The answer to the first question is no.

The answer to the second is… sometimes?

Check it out.

The Full Season MVP

I’ve gone back 40 whole goddamned seasons to figure out who would have been the Full Season MVP for each year. If you want to go back further, be my guest.

To honour our historical four-headed MVP race this season (Harden, Westbrook, Leonard, James), you need to have finished in the top four in regular season MVP voting to be considered. This only causes issues once or twice, as you’ll soon see — but they’re pretty major ones.

I’ve also left some little video treats for you to snack on throughout the process. Like this one:

If the year is in bold typeface, it means the Full Season MVP is different than the regular season MVP that was previously honoured.

Scoring System:

4 points for Regular Season MVP, descending for first three runners up (3 for second place, 2 for third place and 1 for fourth place)

1 point for each playoff round win (3 max)

2 points for Finals win

1 point for Finals runner-up

1 point for Finals MVP

Maximum Possible Score: 10

Here’s an example:

1976-77

MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Runners Up: Bill Walton, Pete Maravich, Bob Lanier

Full Season MVP: Bill Walton (9)

Runners Up: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Pete Maravich (2), Bob Lanier (1)

Kareem won the original award (4 points) but lost in the third round (2 points) and so only posted 6 points. Bill Walton finished second in MVP voting (3) and his Trail Blazers won the title (5) plus he won Finals MVP (1) for a total of 9 out of a possible ten points. You do you, Mountain Man!

Here are the other 39.

1977-78

MVP: Bill Walton

Runners Up: George Gervin, David Thompson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Full Season MVP: Bill Walton (5)

Runners Up: George Gervin (4), David Thompson (3), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1)

1978-79

MVP: Moses Malone

Runners Up: George Gervin, Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Full Season MVP: Elvin Hayes (6)- wins tiebreaker with Gervin

Runners Up: George Gervin (6), Moses Malone (5), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3)

1979-80

MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Runners Up: Julius Erving, George Gervin, Larry Bird

Full Season MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (9)

Runners Up: Julius Erving (7), Larry Bird (4), George Gervin (3)

1980-81

MVP: Julius Erving

Runners Up: Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone

Full Season MVP: Larry Bird (8)

Runners Up: Julius Erving (6), Moses Malone (5), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3)

1981-82

MVP: Moses Malone

Runners Up: Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Robert Parish

Full Season MVP: Julius Erving (6)- wins tiebreaker with Bird

Runners Up: Larry Bird (6), Moses Malone (5), Robert Parish (4)

1982-83

MVP: Moses Malone

Runners Up: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Sidney Moncrief

Full Season MVP: Moses Malone (10)

Runners Up: Magic Johnson (6), Larry Bird (5), Sidney Moncrief (4)

1983-84

MVP: Larry Bird

Runners Up: Bernard King, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Full Season MVP: Larry Bird (10)

Runners Up: Magic Johnson (6), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5), Bernard King (5)

1984-85

MVP: Larry Bird

Runners Up: Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Full Season MVP: Magic Johnson (8)- wins tiebreaker with Bird

Runners Up: Larry Bird (8), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7), Moses Malone (4)

1985-86

MVP: Larry Bird

Runners Up: Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon

Full Season MVP: Larry Bird (10)

Runners Up: Hakeem Olajuwon (5), Magic Johnson (5), Dominique Wilkins (5)

1986-87

MVP: Magic Johnson

Runners Up: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale

Full Season MVP: Magic Johnson (10)

Runners Up: Larry Bird (6), Kevin McHale (5), Michael Jordan (4)

1987-88

MVP: Michael Jordan

Runners Up: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley

Full Season MVP: Magic Johnson (7)

Runners Up: Larry Bird (6), Michael Jordan (6), Charles Barkley (1)

1988-89

MVP: Magic Johnson

Runners Up: Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing

Full Season MVP: Magic Johnson (8)

Runners Up: Michael Jordan (6), Karl Malone (3), Patrick Ewing (2)

1989-90

MVP: Magic Johnson

Runners Up: Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone

Full Season MVP: Magic Johnson (6)

Runners Up:  Charles Barkley (5), Michael Jordan (5), Karl Malone (2)

1990-91

MVP: Michael Jordan

Runners Up: Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Charles Barkley

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (10)

Runners Up: Magic Johnson (7), Charles Barkley (3), David Robinson (3)

1991-92

MVP: Michael Jordan

Runners Up: Clyde Drexler, David Robinson, Karl Malone

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (10)

Runners Up: Clyde Drexler (7), Karl Malone (4), David Robinson (3)

1992-93

MVP: Charles Barkley

Runners Up: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (8) — wins tiebreaker with Barkley

Runners Up: Charles Barkley (8), Patrick Ewing (4), Hakeem Olajuwon (3)

1993-94

MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon

Runners Up: David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal

Full Season MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon (10)

Runners Up: Scottie Pippen (4), David Robinson (4), Shaquille O’Neal (2)

1994-95

MVP: David Robinson

Runners Up: Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing

Full Season MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon (6) (didn’t qualify!) — reverts to David Robinson

Runners Up: David Robinson (6), Patrick Ewing (2), Karl Malone (2)

1995-96

MVP: Michael Jordan

Runners Up: David Robinson, Anfernee Hardaway, Hakeem Olajuwon

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (10)

Runners Up: David Robinson (4), Anfernee Hardaway (4), Hakeem Olajuwon (2)

1996-97

MVP: Karl Malone

Runners Up: Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, Tim Hardaway

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (9)

Runners Up: Karl Malone (8), Tim Hardaway (3), Grant Hill (2)

1997-98

MVP: Michael Jordan

Runners Up: Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal

Full Season MVP: Michael Jordan (10)

Runners Up: Karl Malone (7), Gary Payton (4), Shaquille O’Neal (3)

1998-99

MVP: Karl Malone

Runners Up: Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson

Full Season MVP: Tim Duncan (8)

Runners Up: Karl Malone (5), Alonzo Mourning (3), Allen Iverson (2)

1999-00

MVP: Shaquille O’Neal

Runners Up: Kevin Garnett, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone

Full Season MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (10)

Runners Up: Alonzo Mourning (4), Kevin Garnett (4), Karl Malone (2)

2000-01

MVP: Allen Iverson

Runners Up: Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber

Full Season MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (8) *wins tiebreaker

Runners Up: Allen Iverson (8), Tim Duncan (5), Chris Webber (2)

2001-02

MVP: Tim Duncan

Runners Up: Jason Kidd, Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady

Full Season MVP: Shaquille O’Neal (8)

Runners Up: Jason Kidd (7), Tim Duncan (5), Tracy McGrady (1)

2002-03

MVP: Tim Duncan

Runners Up: Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady

Full Season MVP: Tim Duncan (10)

Runners Up: Kevin Garnett (3), Kobe Bryant (3), Tracy McGrady (1)

2003-04

Pistons title, Ben Wallace (7th), only one who received a single MVP vote

MVP: Kevin Garnett

Runners Up: Tim Duncan, Jermaine O’Neal, Peja Stojakovic

Full Season MVP: Kevin Garnett (6)

Runners Up: Jermaine O’Neal (4), Tim Duncan (4), Peja Stojakovic (2)

2004-05

MVP: Steve Nash

Runners Up: Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan

Full Season MVP: Tim Duncan (7)

Runners Up: Steve Nash (6), Shaquille O’Neal (6), Dirk Nowitzki (2)

2005-06

MVP: Steve Nash 

Runners Up: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Brytant

Full Season MVP: Dirk Nowitzki (6) *wins tiebreaker with Nash

Runners Up: Steve Nash (6), LeBron James (4), Kobe Bryant (1)

2006-07

MVP: Dirk Nowitzki

Runners Up: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan

Full Season MVP: Tim Duncan (6)

Runners Up: Steve Nash (4), Dirk Nowitzki (4), Kobe Bryant (2)

2007-08

MVP: Kobe Bryant

Runners Up: Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James

Full Season MVP: Kevin Garnett (7) *wins tiebreaker with Kobe

Runners Up: Kobe Bryant (7), Chris Paul (4), LeBron James (2)

2008-09

MVP: LeBron James

Runners Up: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard

Full Season MVP: Kobe Bryant (9)

Runners Up: LeBron James (6), Dwight Howard (4), Dwyane Wade (2)

2009-10

MVP: LeBron James

Runners Up: Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard

Full Season MVP: Kobe Bryant (8)

Runners Up: LeBron James (5), Dwight Howard (3), Kevin Durant (3)

2010-11

MVP: Derrick Rose

Runners Up: Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant

Full Season MVP: LeBron James (6) *wins tiebreaker with Derrick Rose

Runners Up: Derrick Rose (6), Dwight Howard (3), Kobe Bryant (2)

2011-12

MVP: LeBron James

Runners Up: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant

Full Season MVP: LeBron James (10)

Runners Up: Kevin Durant (7), Chris Paul (3), Kobe Bryant (2),

2012-13

MVP: LeBron James

Runners Up: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul

Full Season MVP: LeBron James (10)

Runners Up: Kevin Durant (4), Carmelo Anthony (3), Chris Paul (1)

2013-14

MVP: Kevin Durant

Runners Up: LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Joakiam Noah

Full Season MVP: LeBron James (7)

Runners Up: Kevin Durant (6), Blake Griffin (3), Joakim Noah (1)

2014-15

MVP: Stephen Curry

Runners Up: James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook

Full Season MVP: Stephen Curry (9)

Runners Up: LeBron James (6), James Harden (5), Russell Westbrook (1)

2015-16

MVP: Stephen Curry

Runners Up: Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook

Full Season MVP: LeBron James (8) *wins tiebreaker with Curry

Runners Up: Stephen Curry (8), Kawhi Leonard (4), Russell Westbrook (3)

2016-17

TBD

As you can see, the Full Season MVP changes a whopping 21 of the past 40 NBA MVP’s. Before we go crazy about that though, let’s look at how it broke down.

10 point seasons 

Michael Jordan – 4

Larry Bird – 2

LeBron James – 2

Tim Duncan – 1

Magic Johnson – 1

Moses Malone – 1

Shaquille O’Neal – 1

Hakeem Olajuwon – 1

These are the cream of the crop — the only way to score a perfect 10 was if your team won the title, you won the original MVP award and the Finals MVP. Out of 40 seasons, this happened 13 times. These are unquestioned awards that need no adjustment.

9 point seasons

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 1

Kobe Bryant – 1

Stephen Curry – 1

Michael Jordan – 1

Bill Walton – 1

Happened five times, and leads to our first three MVP ‘changes’. Kareem keeps his 1979-80 award, only missing a perfect 10 season because of rookie Magic Johnson’s transcendent series-clinching Game 6 performance in the Finals (Kareem sat Game 6 with an injury, but was still arguably the more valuable player in the series). Curry unsurprisingly keeps his first award, from 2015.

Jordan submitted his 9 pointer after eviscerating Karl Malone in 1997 Finals, when Malone stole an MVP award to which he had no right. Kobe Bryant takes the 2009 award from young LeBron, fitting, since he also loses his 2008 award. And back to our original example, Bill Walton quite rightly takes away Kareem’s 1977 award, after leading his ‘Breaks of the Game’ Blazers squad to their only NBA title.

8 point seasons

Magic Johnson – 2

Shaquille O’Neal – 2

Larry Bird – 1

Kobe Bryant – 1

Tim Duncan – 1

LeBron James – 1

Michael Jordan – 1

The first takeaway from the nine separate 8 point seasons are that we had our first two tiebreakers, with Magic taking Larry’s 1985 award, and Jordan reclaiming Barkley’s 1993 trophy, both of which make sense in retrospect, given that the Lakers and Bulls won the title in those years, with their stars vanquishing the original MVP winners in the Finals.

The second is that under these rules, both Shaq and Kobe garner two extra MVP’s; Shaq taking Allen Iverson’s from 2001 (albeit in a tiebreaker) and Tim Duncan’s from 2002, while Kobe takes another of LeBron’s trophies in 2010.

7 point seasons

Tim Duncan – 1

Kevin Garnett – 1

LeBron James – 1

Magic Johnson – 1

Only four 7 point seasons occurred in winning efforts — weirdly, there were 6 runners up that managed 7 point efforts but ran into one of the more legendary seasons listed above. What’s more interesting is that they all happened in seasons where the MVP awarded was different from the FSMVP determined here, and rob a lot of original first time winners.

Magic takes the 1988 MVP from Michael Jordan, MJ’s first real life victory. Duncan takes Steve Nash’s first MVP award in 2005, while Kevin Garnett takes away Kobe Bryant’s in 2008. Finally, LeBron James takes Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP.

6 point seasons

Tim Duncan – 1

Julius Erving – 1

Elvin Hayes – 1

Kevin Garnett – 1

LeBron James – 1

Magic Johnson – 1

Dirk Nowitzki – 1

David Robinson – 1

Eight of the final nine winners submitted just a 6 point season — these were usually hotly contested awards, though they happened for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, like in 1979 and 2004, no member of the Finals winning team had a player who qualified for the award. Other times, like with Moses Malone in 1982 (who’s Rockets didn’t make the playoffs), the award was given to a player who was completely undeserving, when we consider team success as a factor. This formula undoes the injustice of stripping Dr J of his only MVP award (as we did earlier) and gives him the 1982 award instead.

Voters in 1979 also gave the award to Malone, who was the king of the gaudy rebounding box score, while this system gives the award to the equally dubious Elvin Hayes, who famously disappeared during the later stages of his Washington Bullets 1979 Finals victory, but qualifies because he finished fourth in regular season MVP voting. Voters in 2004 gave the award to the statistically dominant Kevin Garnett, and that was confirmed.

The most interesting season to me, is David Robinson’s 1994 victory, which is famous for being an award that defending MVP Hakeem Olajuwon thought he deserved. The two met in the Western Conference finals, with Hakeem submitting an all-time performance and doing everything but beating Robinson over the head with the trophy. Hakeem’s Rockets went on to repeat as champions, with Olajuwon taking home Finals MVP for the second straight year. Unfortunately, he finished fifth in regular season MVP voting, so doesn’t qualify for our award! Otherwise he’d have submitted a 7 point season, and taken it for the second straight year.

5 point seasons

There’s just a single 5 point season to date — Bill Walton’s default MVP award in 1978. His Blazers began their title defense 50-10, with Walton dominating the league. He then broke his foot, beginning a harrowing saga of injuries that would haunt the rest of his career. Walton was given the MVP anyway, even though his Blazers were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs (after a first round bye). This was largely aided by the fact that perenniel candidate Abdul-Jabbar missed extended time after breaking his hand on Kent Benson’s face.

That is, until this season.

Our four way MVP race this season, with nary a Golden State Warrior in sight, means that the highest scores are greatly truncated off the hop. Russell Westbrook lost in the first round of the playoffs, meaning 4 is his highest possible score, and would be the lowest FSMVP score of all time. Harden lasted just a round longer, meaning he can get to a 5 at best. Ditto for Leonard. LeBron, in theory, could post an 8 — but only if he wins the actual award, which seems pretty unlikely.

That’s kind of the point of this award. Is there any doubt, after watching this season in its entirety, that LeBron James is the most valuable single entity in the NBA? How can there be, after led the first-ever comeback from a 3-1 deficit in league history a year ago, and this season managed to push the most stacked team of all time harder than anyone else could?

What is the point of honouring Westbrook, the most annoying guy in your pickup game, or Harden, who disappeared when the moment loomed largest? Both had amazing seasons, but gun to your head, would you pick either over LeBron if you were trying to win a title? I just can’t believe that, setting asides personal biases and tastes, anyone could try to justify that.

Even if the MVP voting this year goes with some combination of Harden and Westbrook as first and second, Leonard third and LeBron fourth, the FSMVP formula will still award LeBron 5 points, and the tiebreaker of team success will push him past either Harden or Westbrook. It’s still the closest race in the history of the award, but to my mind, it rewards the correct player.

Kevin Durant becomes our second 94 Olajuwon — if he finished in the top 4 in MVP voting (and he surely would have, had the voting happened after the post-season), he’d have posted a 6 point season and taken the award, which is probably the right outcome. This will forever be the KD to the Warriors season. The MVP award should reflect that.

The thing I like the most about this system the most, is that rather than stripping people of their awards entirely, in a lot of cases it simply redistributes the awards to the seasons when the player should have won it.

Here are the final FSMVP winners and their total awards:

Michael Jordan – 6

LeBron James – 5 (with his sixth likely coming next week)

Magic Johnson – 5

Tim Duncan – 4

Larry Bird – 3

Shaquille O’Neal – 3

Kobe Bryant – 2

Kevin Garnett – 2

Bill Walton – 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 1

Stephen Curry – 1

Julius Erving – 1

Elvin Hayes – 1

Moses Malone – 1

Dirk Nowitzki- 1

Hakeem Olajuwon – 1

David Robinson – 1

The big losers are Karl Malone and Nash, who both lose both their awards. Barkley and Iverson both lose their only trophies as well. But other than that, things even out nicely. Jordan wins the six he absolutely should have won, instead of five. Shaq gets three instead of the comical one he actually received. Duncan gets credit as one of the best players of all time with four awards instead of two. Moses Malone gets properly cut back down to size, still being rewarded with an MVP for all-time season in 1983, but no longer sporting a somewhat absurd three MVP victories. We don’t lose one time honourees such as Nowitzki, Erving, Curry or Olajuwon. And mostly importantly, we still have one travesty to be enraged about, in Elvin Hayes.

It’s the perfect storm.

Thus concludes our MVP watch for this insane 2016-17 NBA season. I guess, after all this, I should make a prediction.

I think James Harden will win the award next week, which will probably cause NBA Twitter to implode on itself.

I think LeBron James should win the award instead, which would probably cause NBA Twitter to implode on itself.

And I think Kevin Durant would have won the award, were the FSMVP formula embraced in reality. Which, needless to say, would have caused NBA Twitter to implode on itself, and maybe just shut down for all-time, forcing us all back the the My Space/MSN Messenger era.

So choose your candidate, strap in and get ready to taunt your closest friends and family; NBA awards season is upon us.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thanks for reading this season.

 

 

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