Culture of Hoops

NBA MVP Shares: Part One

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Back in mid-December I wrote an NBA MVP Power Rankings column. I don’t have any issue admitting that there were two major problems with that piece:

First, it came in mid-December. The season was barely a month old. That would be like watching Forrest Gump and making a substantial judgment on the movie before Forrest even goes to Vietnam. You have to at least find out that Jenny probably gave him HIV before you decide how you feel about the movie. Second, this column wasn’t in the format that I have used over the past three years to make my MVP pick. I’m going to right that wrong today.

Today marks the return of the MVP Shares. Here is how I described my MVP Shares idea back in 2012:

“What if instead of sports writers and experts voting on their top 5 MVP candidates, they instead used their collective knowledge and assigned 121 MVP shares (it works out as one for every voter) to as many players as they feel necessary? This would show the true value of every MVP award.”

Now if I can admit that this idea is drastic and totally unnecessary, then you need to admit it makes at least a little bit of sense. What’s that? You still don’t totally get the gist of MVP Shares? Allow me to explain MVP Shares using the 2011 MVP race. Derrick Rose won the award, and while he may have been a deserving winner, he definitely didn’t deserve 113 of the 121 first place votes, right? The margin between Rose and a select few others that season (LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, etc.) wasn’t that large, but for the rest of time it will look that way. Even if every voter narrowly gave Rose their first-place vote, we wouldn’t know this.

Ultimately, I want the MVP vote to capture two things. First and most importantly, we need to know who the best player in the league was in that particular season. That’s a given. Second, we need to put the MVP race into context better than we do currently. Even if you want to give Rose the MVP Award in 2011, he shouldn’t have gotten 113 of the 121 “shares.” Let’s say we gave Rose 30 shares, Dwight 25 shares, LeBron 20 shares, Kobe and Kevin Durant 15 shares, Amare Stoudemire (who on the sneak was awesome for the first half of the season) 10 shares and three each to Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki. Isn’t that a better representation of how close the MVP race really was during the 2010-11 season? Nod your head and we’ll move forward.

Since nobody has left mean comments over the last three years telling me to stop this idiocy, I’ll keep rolling with the MVP Shares in 2015. Today it’s the honorable mention candidates; guys who were great, but not great enough to earn themselves a share.

Marc Gasol (17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 blocks, 49% FG, 80% FT)
Pau Gasol (18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50% FG, 80% FT) 

Pau is having his best statistical campaign since his first full season as a Laker and that’s even after he endured a few long postseasons, one vetoed trade, never-ending trade rumors, three coaching changes, a couple of bouts with Vertigo, a litany of injuries and more “Maybe Pau’s best days are behind him” conversations than were probably necessary. When Chicago signed the elder Gasol he knew he would have an impact, but this sort of impact wasn’t on the radar.

Pau’s numbers might offer a slightly misleading look at his MVP candidacy and it’s tough to really gauge his value when it’s not even a sure thing that he’ll be closing every game, but his arrival in Chicago is right up there with Jimmy Butler‘s leap on the list of circumstances that have led to this being the best Bulls offense of the Tom Thibodeau era. Chicago no longer needs to be so reliant on Joakim Noah‘s ability to create for teammates or Derrick Rose iso’s, and that makes them a whole hell of a lot more dangerous than they ever have been.

Unlike his older brother’s MVP candidacy, Marc’s was expected. It wasn’t a secret that he would maintain a high level of defensive effectiveness each night and we knew his facilitation from the elbow and in the post would keep the Grizzlies at-times-plodding offense from being a total dumpster fire on a consistent basis. What we didn’t know was that Big Spain would address one of the perceived inadequacies of his game; a lack of aggressiveness on the offensive end that was more frustrating than it was endearing that a player of Gasol’s skill level could be so passive for long stretches of time. Even if the Grizzlies’ post All-Star Break malaise has soured some on Gasol’s MVP candidacy and Memphis’ title chances, it doesn’t change the fact that Marc and the Grizzlies are just as under-appreciated as ever before.

Kawhi Leonard (16.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 48/35/80 shooting splits) 

Sorry Doc, but DeAndre Jordan isn’t the Defensive Player of the Year. And sorry Draymond, it’s not you either. The Defensive Player of the Year needs to go to the most impactful defensive player in the world, and that’s Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. And while we are here, we need to make a rule going forward: when the clear choice for Defensive Player of the Year is in the midst of a breakthrough offensive season then he needs to be grandfathered into a spot as an MVP honorable mention choice, at minimum.

The harsh truth is Kawhi probably won’t even make the MVP ballot for a variety of reasons (too many games missed, not impressive enough statistically, the Spurs are perpetually undervalued, etc.), but nobody is more directly responsible for the defending champions finding their form over the last month and a half than Leonard is. San Antonio is 9-9 without Kawhi in the lineup this year and 46-17 with him, and that makes every bit of sense when you remember the development of his borderline unstoppable mid-post game, a recent re-acquisition of his touch from downtown and his defense, which is best described as destructive.

There is a difference between Kawhi and every other guy who can really dig in and lock down some of the best players in the league when they need to. Kawhi’s defensive efforts go beyond that. You really need to re-evaluate your life choices if you are planning on dribbling when he’s defending you or if you are going to throw a crosscourt pass with Kawhi lurking. It’s going to end with you sprinting down the court looking at the back of his jersey.

LaMarcus Aldridge (23.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 block, 47/35/85 shooting splits) 

The toughest cut from Part Two. In most seasons Aldridge would be the recipient of a few of these imaginary MVP shares. His numbers are similar to Anthony Davis‘ (save for the blocks, steals and PER, but whatevs) and he’s the best player on a division champion (sorry to burst the bubble of everyone who thought Lillard was Portland’s best guy; that’s just not the case), but the top six are just too good this year.

Still, Aldridge needs to be recognized here for being the second best power forward in the NBA, a shoo-in for 2nd Team All-NBA and one of the most uniquely talented big men in basketball right now, probably the best inside-out scoring option in the entire league. If Wes Matthews hadn’t torn his Achilles we’d be talking about Portland as a legitimate title threat and it would be warranted. Unless you’re the Spurs you probably need a top ten guy to contend for the title, and Aldridge is just that. He was last year and he has been again this year too.

The Atlanta Hawks Starting Five (72.7 points, 26.9 rebounds, 17.5 assists) 

If the entire Hawks starting five can win Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January, why can’t I cast an honorable mention vote for the entire Hawks starting five for league MVP? This is my column and my non-existent MVP vote and I can do whatever I want with it. Why stop with the starting five? I don’t mind giving Dennis Schroeder, Pero Antic and Mike Scott some love. Hell, I could even toss Michael Scott in this column if I really wanted to!

Michael Scott (Regional Manager of Dundler Mifflin, Founder of Michael Scott Paper Company) 

All I’m saying is, Michael Scott shoots roughly the same percentage from the free throw line shooting backwards as DeAndre Jordan does facing the basket. What do you have to say about that, Doc?

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Part 2 on Thursday. I’ll catch you guys on the flippity flip.

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