This year’s NBA MVP race will be the closest it has been in a long time. If we look at previous winners of the award, we are able to better understand what really matters to those who vote for the award.
Obviously, The NBA’s Mose Valuable Player award should go to the player who has a league-best performance in that given season.
Sure, it could go to the most important player on the league’s best team as well. Or maybe it could go to the star player who has the most impressive individual stats? What about going to the player whose team would be damaged by his absence?
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Let’s look at it this way – the person who deserves the MVP is subjective, there is no real definition of what makes a player ‘the most valuable’ and the ideas of what does seem to change from year to year.
This can be said about this season where Giannis Antetokounmpo, the narrow Betway Sports favourite over James Harden, who will likely keep the contest the closest it has been in years.
Will Harden’s offensive brilliance make up for the all around game that Antetokounmpo? If you take a look back at the history of the award you can see what really matters when it comes to choosing the NBA MVP.
Let’s start with scoring.
If you are the league’s#1 scorer, historically has not been a prerequisite for MVP, but this has been changing.
In the last five years, four MVP winners led the NBA in points, with averages over 30 per game.
It is not all about points though.
Assists seem to be a bigger influence these days. Eight of the ten Most Valuable Players since 2008 have finished the season in the top 10 in assists.
It is fair to say that because of this, guards and ball-dominant forwards who receive most of the votes compared to centres and power forwards who dominated the MVP award in the 1990s and early 2000s.
If you look at the years 1993 and 2004, Seven of the 11 MVPs ranked top 10 for rebounds. But only point guard Russell Westbrook has reached that milestone since.
The MVP is awarded for the single season performance but it is also rarely handed to a player who has not been one of the best for multiple seasons.
For example, 14 of the last 17 MVPs had been voted into the All-NBA first team in the previous season. On top of that, all 14 were coming off a top-four finish in the MVP voting.
In the past ten years, it has been Player Efficiency Rating that has been the best indicator of the professional basketball league’s MVP.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ executive John Hollinger designed metric takes all players statistics and creates a single number that roughly comes down to the player’s average ability across fields.
Eight out of the past ten MVPs have led the league in PER.
Stats are important, sure. But the team you play for is also crucial.
If you play on the best team in the NBA, your chances seem to go up. Seven out of the past 10 winners of the award played for the team that finished the season with the best record.
Eleven of the past fifteen winners led their conference at the end of the regular season. Only 3 of the last 25 MVPS won fewer than 54 games (Karl Malone did this in the lockout-shortened 1998/99 season).
It is clear to see how Antetokounmpo has a big advantage in this year’s race.
At 7-feet tall, he lead the league in PER as the best player on the Milwaukee Bucks, a team who won 60 games in the regular season which made them the league’s best.
With more wins than the Golden State Warriors, Antetokounmpo is at a major advantage over James Harden, whose Rockets won 53 games in comparison which had them finishing third in the West and fifth in the NBA.
Sure, Harden led the league in scoring with 36.1 PPG and ranked 7th in assists but Antetokounmpo has also put up great all-round numbers and has the added edge of playing for a superior team.
The debate of course will continue, and no real factor can make you certain on who will win the NBA MVP, but, if history is anything to go by, the voters will almost certainly go with the Greek Freak.