Questioning the MVP (Award)

Let me begin this post by congratulating James Harden of the Houston Rockets for winning his first ever Most Valuable Player Award.  He is an insane talent and a joy to watch play the game.

That being said, a friend of mine, who is by no means a LeBron James fan, sent me this infographic the other day.

Before we get into this discussion, I want to be clear.  This is not a debate over whether James Harden, LeBron James or anyone else should, or should not, have won this year’s MVP.  Harden has been a near miss for several years, finishing top five in MVP voting three of the last four seasons.  This year, he once again put up video game-like numbers, leading his Rockets to the league’s best regular-season record.  For anyone paying attention to Harden’s progress, and the way voters had been voting, it was only a matter of time before Harden took home the hardware.

Not all that long ago, there was a time when Michael Jordan reigned supreme.  While Jordan has (only?) five MVP awards to show for it, he was arguably the best player in the league for far longer than that.

Similarly, LeBron James has four MVPs.  He has been the best all-around player in the league for well over a decade.

Back when Jordan wasn’t hauling in MVPs year after year, many of us questioned why he wasn’t being given the award.  We chalked it up to the logic that not only was he competing against other players in the league but also what he had done before.  If he couldn’t top what he had already accomplished, voters HAD to give the award to someone else.

Jordan won his first MVP trophy in the 1987-88 season.  Here’s a list of all those who won it from then up until he retired, for the second time:

87-88 Michael Jordan

88-89 Magic Johnson

89-90 Magic Johnson

90-91 Michael Jordan

91-92 Michael Jordan

92-93 Charles Barkley

93-94 Hakeem Olajuwon (Jordan out of league)

94-95 David Robinson (Jordan returned to league but only played 17 games)

95-96 Michael Jordan

96-97 Karl Malone

97-98 Michael Jordan

In all but one of the years listed above, Jordan led the league in scoring, which is what James Harden did this year.

There are no set rules for determining a Most Valuable Player.  Nation-wide media members vote who they feel was the best player that season.  That can mean the most statistically dominant, who they perceive was most valuable to their team or any other random factor they deem appropriate in determining a player’s worth to his team and the league.

Media members vote for their top five players assigning them 10, 7, 5, 3 and 1 point respectively depending on where they fall in that voter’s rankings.  This year, James Harden and LeBron James were the only two players to receive first place votes, with Harden winning 86 of those votes and James winning 15.  James received the bulk of the second-place votes.  In other words, it wasn’t all that close.

One could certainly make the argument that Harden was better than James this year.  Obviously, many did, hence the new trophy that adorns Harden’s mantelpiece.  After all, Harden’s Rockets gave the Golden State Warriors a far better run for their money in the Western Conference Finals than LeBron’s Cavs did in the Finals.

One could also make the argument that Harden played with far superior talent.  It’d be nice to say that players who have done the most with the least generally receive the award, which is why Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo all received votes and why Curry and Durant might never win another as long as they’re playing in Golden State.  But Harden won it over James and all other those guys with far more talent so you can throw that argument out with the baby’s bathwater.  What’s done is done and Harden is your MVP.

The NBA MVP award is as coveted as an individual award as there is.  Players that’ve won the award and haven’t won a championship would gladly trade it for a title but that doesn’t change the fact that there haven’t been all that many MVPs in NBA history.  Only 33 different men have won the award since it was first given after the 1955-56 season.

When it comes to measuring one’s greatness over time, MVPs won is a measuring stick (except of course when it comes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which is surprising considering he has more NBA MVPs than anyone who played the game, not to mention three college titles, yet is rarely mentioned in the conversation).  For those of you who consider MVPs the end-all be all of sports arguments, keep in mind that two of the greatest players of the last generation, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan only have one regular season MVP award each.

I guess my point is, if the MVP isn’t given to the league’s best overall player (this year’s NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant finished 7th in voting!), doesn’t that devalue the award itself?

What it boils down to is this: Voting for the MVP Award is an inexact science.  That’s what makes the award so great and so flawed.  It is simultaneously the right and the wrong way to measure history.

James Harden is a great basketball player.  He is not the best player in the league and might never be.  But in 2017-18, he was voted most valuable.  Take it for what it’s worth.

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22 Replies to “Questioning the MVP (Award)”

  1. Look at who we have adjudicating these awards to begin with . If it were left to the ordinary fans it’d be even more of a joke . At the end of the day, it’s hard for the writers to show their impartiality to begin with .


  2. Try this on for size…

    In this piece, you say Harden is not the best player in the league. I just posted a piece in which I assert LeBron is not the best player in the league. Obviously these thing are all subjective.

    What if we took an objective approach?

    FACT: The Golden State Warriors have one three of the last four championships.
    FACT: The one they didn’t win was the one where Steph Curry was not healthy.
    FACT: There’s monetary value in winning championships.

    From that, can we not use Aristotlean logic to discern Steph Curry is the most valuable player in the league?

  3. Most definitely that’s the case. LBJ apologists are now blaming the officiating for the series’ loss. I’m surprised they’re not throwing in Ambien as the root cause of the idiocy seen.

  4. MVP stands for most valuable player, not best player. The best is not always the most valuable to his team in a particular season. Like in football where the best eligible player available is not always selected due to team needs, balance, etc.

  5. Your thoughts on the body (dead body) found in the home of New York Giants’ player Janoris Jenkins ? Apparently the player was not at the scene at the time the body was found and it’s not believed that he was in any way involved in the victim’s death.

  6. Harden scored far more points than LeBron per minute played (about 16%) (and same number of assists per min.). He also had the most PPG in the league this year, and shoots substantially higher free throw %.

  7. Those #’s are crazy.
    Harden gains a CP3, LBJ loses half his roster.

    ….And still, it’s OKC who’s the biggest loser in this whole scenario.

  8. Other than making for conversation it’s a useless exercise. Boston is better when Horford’s on the floor. SA was better when TD was on the floor. Cavs were better when Bron was on the floor. NO was better when AD was on the floor. Pick your next team / guy… we all know great players when we see them. I don’t count awards – I know Game changers when I see them. Mic thrown on the floor. Peace out

  9. Dubs….

    Where does that leave Durant? Were it not for Durant, some of those Cavs-Warriors matchups might have been a little closer.

    That being said, I’m all for listening to an argument that defends Curry as the league’s number one.

  10. Al…

    I didn’t realize Roseanne was an official in that series nor would I want to see her in any black and white stripes.

    I think we all know who to blame that series loss on.

    His name is JR Smith.

  11. Todd…

    Which is why those teams who choose not to pick the best player available end up choosing high in the draft the following season.


  12. Todd…

    If you’re going to base your MVP Award on free throw percentage, then per Dubs’ point, you’d have to give it to Curry every year. Guy’s a freak from the line.

    Again, giving it to Harden this year was a no-brainer. I’m not suggesting LeBron should have won it. I’m just questioning the overall Award and it’s place in measuring greatness over time.

  13. Beautifully stated, Moose.

    I’m not a huge fan of the NBA’s +/- but let’s look at who led the league in that stat this year, shall we?

    1) Eric Gordon +576
    2) Robert Covington +534
    3) Third in your heart but first in your MVP voting, James Harden +523
    (That’s probably what won him the award)
    4) Harden’s teammate Chris Paul +500 (Whoops, that adds a wrinkle, doesn’t it?)
    5) PJ Tucker +496
    6) Steph Curry +484

    Durant was 23rd and LeBron was not in the top 50, which probably lost him the award.

    Cleveland struggled for most of the season while Houston never skipped a beat, which also probably kept Bron Bron from winning MVP. Can’t really give it to a guy on a shitty team #Andre Dawson..

    Harden says Houston doesn’t need to adjust their roster to beat Golden State. It’ll be interesting to see if they tinker with the roster at all.

  14. So 4 of the top 5 +/- played on the same team. Which lost to #6 player on the list.

  15. Free throw % is incredibly important but just one factor. Any player that shoots less than 70% should be forced to do it underhand a la Rick Barry. Also, given the physical Curry is by FAR the best player lb for lb.

  16. Todd…

    I would dare to venture that no NBA MVP Award has either been won of lost based on someone’s free throw shooting.

    Keep in mind, Shaq won an MVP award.

  17. Game over . It’s done. The Golden State Warriors just lowered the book and torpedoed the rest of the NBA by signing DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins to one-year $5 million deal. All of these Lakers’ fan have now seen their world turned upside down.

  18. Al…

    The more I see Golden State compile talent, the more I sympathize with Bleed.

    How the hell did that Paul to the Lakers trade get vetoed and why is no one stepping in to stop what Golden State is doing?

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