Over the past few months, I've read dozens of articles proclaiming who the NBA MVP should be, which is kind of ridiculous considering that the season isn't even over yet. Right now, most "experts" are leaning toward Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, but other potentials include Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and even Gilbert Arenas. I wouldn't be surprised if guys like Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan got a little buzz before it's all said and done.
Since the MVP is a highly arbitrary award -- what does "most valuable" really mean, anyway? -- there's always a lot of whining and crying from 1) the fans of the players who don't win it, and 2) the anti-fans who, for whatever reason, love to hate the player who did win it. The NBA has never adequately defined the specifics of most valuability, and so the MVP is determined by a voting process that includes both 125 members of the local and national media (radio and television announcers, newspaper reporters, and hopefully Borat).
The final result seems to piss almost everybody off. Take last year, for instance. When Steve Nash was named MVP, a river of silicone-laced tears flooded out of the greater Los Angeles area. Many people defiantly believed that Kobe Bryant deserved the MVP, and others just thought Steve Nash didn't deserve it...especially since he'd won it the year before (when a lot of people thought Shaq should have gotten it). And so the debate rages anew: what is truly valuable? Is the the ability to score 81 points in a game, or the capacity to score 20 points and dish 20 assists? Should the MVP be a scorer or a facilitator? And how does winning factor into it?
Well Sherman, let's hop into the WABAC Machine and look at the actual history of the MVP award. The NBA has handed out 51 trophies to 25 different recipients. Of those 51 awards, the MVP went to a player on one of the top two or three teams in the league (based on won-loss record) 46 times. The five notable exceptions include:
1. Bob Petit in 1956: This was the inaugural year of the NBA MVP award. Bob's team was 33-39, which was "good" for third place in their division and seventh place in the league. Did I mention there were only eight teams in the NBA at that time? Yeah. This was clearly a case of the "best player" (statistically speaking) winning the award: Petit averaged 25.7 PPG and 16.2 RPG that season).
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1976: This was Kareem's first year in Los Angeles, and, with Magic Johnson still in high school, the Lakers went 40-42. The team finished fourth in their division and didn't even qualify for the playoffs. But Kareem's impressive stat line -- 27.7 PPG, 16.9 RPG, 5.0 APG -- swayed the voters.
3. Moses Malone in 1979: Malone's Houston Rockets compiled a 47-35 record, which gave them a second-place finish in their division and seventh in the league. They had homecourt advantage in a first round playoff mini-series, but they were swept 2-0 by the Atlanta Hawks.
4. Moses Malone in 1982: The Rockets finished with a record of 46-36, third-best in their division and ninth overall. They made it into the playoffs, but they were promptly dispatched by the Seattle Supersonics in a first round miniseries.
5. Michael Jordan in 1988: I refer to this one as Michael's "pity MVP." The Bulls notched a respectable 50-32 record, but they were still third in their division and eighth in the league. The award probably should have gone to either Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, but the media was starting to get a little tired of heaping praise and awards on those guys. Plus, the press wanted to reward Michael for his statistical brilliance since the consensus opinion at that time was that he would probably never win a championship. Seriously.
And that's it. Five out of 51 times the MVP went to the best statistical player. The rest of the time, the award was given to the best player on one of the best two or three teams in the league. So, in the absence of any specific qualifiers, there is -- at the very least -- an historical precedent. And based on that, we can eliminate most of the supposed MVP candidates:
The Not MVPs
Gilbert Arenas: I love this guy. He represents everything I love about professional basketball: he genuinely enjoys his job, goes out of his way to give back to the fans, and he puts up great numbers. But...his team's slightly above average record (30-21), his recent spat with coach Eddie Jordan, and his wagging tongue (guaranteeing a 50-point game against the Blazers then only scoring 9 in a blowout loss) have doomed Agent Zero's MVP bid.
Chauncy Billups: He's the heart and soul of the best team in the Eastern Conference. But if you noticed the words "Eastern Conference" at the end of that last sentence, you already know why he doesn't have a doughnut's chance at a cop convention of being the MVP.
Kobe Bryant: He was a legitimate candidate back in December, when the Lakers played 15 of their first 20 games at home. But after starting out 15-6, the Fakers have gone 15-19. They've lost six straight overall and five straight at home, and three of those home losses were agaisnt sub-.500 teams. You can blame injuries and long road trips all you want, but the bottom line is this: his team isn't winning enough to justify including him in the MVP discussion.
Tim Duncan: The Spurs currently have the third best record in the league, so Tim has a legitimate shot at the MVP. But the Spurs have been on cruise control for most of the season, and everybody knows it. That'll count against him when the votes are cast. "Hunger" is one of those intangibles that means something to the media. Not that Duncan cares; he's already won back-to-back MVP awards. He's more concerned about being ready for the playoffs.
Lebron James: The King just hasn't been himself this season. The numbers are there, but neither he nor the team has really improved from last season. In fact, they've gotten worse. And James, for his part, has become more of a scorer than a facilitator, and his teammates are suffering for it. He just doesn't have "it" this year.
Tracy McGrady: The Rockets have very quietly compiled the league's fifth best record, and it's all because of McGrady. Ever since Yao Ming went down with a broken leg, T-Mac has raised his game and done a good job of transforming a pretty below-average group of guys into a cohesive, winning team. The problem is, there's very little chance of the Rockets actually claiming one of the top three spots, their slow-down/grind-it-out style is painful to watch, and McGrady hasn't really taken over the league at any point. I can't see him pulling off the upset.
Dwyane Wade: The Heat are 26-27 right now (and they'll probably be 26-28 after playing Dallas tonight). Sure, he's held the team together in the absence of Shaq and coach Pat Riley, but his team still has a losing record, and now it looks like he'll miss six weeks of action due to a dislocated shoulder. No amount of freethrow attempts will make him the MVP this season.
It's a two-man race between Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash right now. Dirk has the advantage because 1) his team has the best record in the league, and 2) Nash has already won the last two MVPs and the press will probably want to give it to someone new. Unless Dirk gets injured and/or the Mavericks go on a disastrous losing streak, der Mann aus Deutschland will be the NBA's next MVP.