Monday, April 9, 2007

Whose Your MVP?

I realize this might open up a can of worms, but I can't remember an MVP race where so many people are so unsure of who to pick. Someone has to win it, just like somone has to win the Eastern Confrence, but the makeup of candidates this year is hardly as clear cut as in years past. This is not the year 2000, where Shaq's dominance overrode everyone else's season. Nor do we have a situation like 1997 or 1998 where it was clear that Karl Malone and Michael Jordan were playing basketball at a level unlike anyone else in the universe. Nor does this year resemble last year's MVP race where there was a legitimate debate between those arguing for the scoring kings (Lebron and Kobe [and Gilbert?]) and those arguing for the more complete (offensive) statistics (Steve Nash) (though as we will see, I believe that Dirk was the true MVP last year). In those years there was an MVP tier, sometimes occupied by a single player, sometimes by two, and sometimes by many players for many different reasons. This year? I don't see anyone playing at a level so high that he just blows everyone else out of the water.

Most people are saying that the race is between Nash and Nowitzki, and this is likely the case. Those are the two best players on the two best teams and they are both having great seasons.

Dirk makes for an interseting case. I believed then, and still believe, that Dirk was last year's MVP, but because his scoring paled in comparison to Kobe's, and because he didn't have history on his side like Nash, he mostly got left out of consideration. This year, his scoring is down two points, but otherwise his stats are the same. If his stats weren't impressive enough last year (and I think they should have been), then you cannot argue that they are good enough this year. What Dirk has on his side is the best record in the NBA, the idea being that the best player on the best team has a certain right to the trophy. People make this argument every year, but how often is it the case? Every time the best player from the best team won MVP in recent history (Jordan in '96 and '98, Shaq in '00, Duncan in '03), they also hadthe benifit of truly being among the most dominant players in the league. Looking at the list of NBA MVP's ( I see no case in recent history when a player won it simply because of regular season success. Certianlly, team quality counts for something. The MVP doesn't, and shouldn't go to a player on a bad team (which is why #24 is absent in this discussion). But while team quality is always a factor, I don't think it is ever the factor in determining the NBA's MVP.

So what does Dirk have on his side? He is among the few players in the league (along with Shaq, Kobe, Duncan, and Garnet, and Arenas) who have displayed flashes of dominance that the MVPs of old possessed. Of the two main candidates, I think Dirk is the one who most fits the profile of dominance I outlined above. This, not the Mavs record, is what I believe the German has going for him. Dirk's offensive (and newly found defensive) abilities take over games much in the same fashion as Iverson did in 2001 or Garnett did in 2003. The difference between Dirk this year and those players in those years is that Dirk is not always the man on the court like they were, his team's offense doesn't always run through him. Still, 9 times out of 10, when he needs to, Dirk can provide moments of uber ball.

Nash's numbers are for the most part simliar to last year's, he's avereging one more assist, shooting slightly better from the field and slightly less well from the line. In general, though, the numbers are where they were the year before. Though I would argue that Nash is still getting better, the jump between last year and this year is not nearly as great as the jump between '05 and '06. Nash is having an MVP type season, yet for his supporters/detractors, the arguments have gone far beyond who is the best.
Scoop Jackson ( wants to aruge that Nash shouldn't win it for history's sake. I think that is garbage. The MVP is the MVP, let history sort itself out later. If the MVP truly means most valuble player, then Nash deserves the award as much as anyone. Numbers aside, no one is more important to the way his team functions as Nash. But I'm not sure 'valuable' is always the operative word in the voting process. As I've mentioned above, when I look back on recent MVPs, I picture figures who dominated the basketball realm. Much like the way Jordan did, or the great MVP centers of the past fifteen years (Hakeem, Robinson, Shaq). Duncan and Garnett were another pair whose numbers and game changing proformances were just so mind blowing, they practically took the award for themselves. I would argue that no matter what the pundits say, it is this sense of dominance that voters most look to when choosing the MVP. And the fact is, despite a handful of players who have moments of such dominance (like Dirk), I don't see a single player who has maintained that level of play for the entire season. If I am right, and the MVP is largly determined by a player's domination over the rest of the league, then I think we are witnessing a dearth of candidates.

Most of the league's best teams (including the Spurs, Mavs, Suns, Raptors, Pistons, Bulls, and Jazz) play truly unselfish ball. Some of those teams have a universally acknowledged "best player," (Duncan, Dirk, Nash, Bosh), but none of them have one guy who is 'the man' night in and night out. Why is this? I'm not sure and its certianly a question worth thinking about. But what this means is that when the media votes on its MVP this year, it will have to use a different paradigm than in years past.

So whose my MVP? Lets split the trophy in two and send half to Canada and half to Deutchland.

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