This season’s race for NBA MVP is the closest in years, but a look back at the history of the award reveals what really matters to MVP voters.
No doubt about it, whoever gets the NBA’s highest individual honour should be awarded to the best player in the league.
However, you can also consider the most important player for the league’s best team. Or the star with the most impressive individual statistics. Or the one whose team would be the most affected by his absence.
Let’s face it – the quest for the MVP crown is quite a subjective one, with the definition and perception of what truly makes a player ‘valuable’ changing year after year.
And that’s the case during the 2018-19 season, with Giannis Antetokounmpo the narrow sports betting favourite over James Harden in what will likely be the closest vote in years.
Whether Harden’s offensive brilliance makes him more influential than Antetokounmpo’s all-round game is up for debate. However, let’s take a look back and see how this award revealed what really mattered when it came to the factors decided who was voted as the league’s MVP.
Scoring is a good place to start. Being the league’s top scorer hasn’t historically been a prerequisite for an MVP, but that has changed in recent years. Four of the last five winners led the NBA in points, all of whom averaged over 30 per game.
But it’s not solely about putting up points on the board game after game.
Being a team leader and getting one’s team-mates involved has become much more important in the past decade. Case in point, with eight of the 10 MVPs since 2008 having ranked inside the NBA’s top 10 in assists.
Which explains the trend of centers and power forwards dominating the award during the 1990s and early 2000s. Now the guards and ball-dominant forwards receive most of the votes.
Seven of the 11 MVPs between 1993 and 2004 ranked inside the top 10 in the NBA in rebounds, but just one has reached that mark since then: Russell Westbrook in 2017; and he was a point guard.
While the MVP is supposedly a single-season award, it is rarely handed to a player who hasn’t been one of the best players in the league for a sustained period of consecutive or non-consecutive seasons. Of the last 17 MVPs, for example, 14 had been voted into the All-NBA first team in the previous season, and all 14 were coming off a top-four finish in the MVP voting.
Over the past decade, one individual statistic has been the clearest indicator of who will be the NBA’s MVP: Player Efficiency Rating (PER). This advanced metric, developed by John Hollinger, a front office executive with the Memphis Grizzlies organization, the PER manages to efficiently boil down all a player’s statistics into a single number.
Of the past 10 NBA players who were named MVP, eight led the league in PER. As important as statistical brilliance is the team you play for is a crucial factor.
Being part of the best team in the NBA is a major factor, with seven of the last 10 winners having played for the team with the league’s best record. Of the last 15 winners, 11 topped their conference at the end of the regular season, with just three of the last 25 MVPs winning fewer than 54 games (one of which was Karl Malone in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season).
It’s for that reason that Antetokounmpo has a major edge in this year’s race. The seven-footer – who also happens to lead the league in PER – is clearly the best player for the Milwaukee Bucks, who won 60 games this season, three more than any other team, before they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Winning more games than the Golden State Warriors puts Antetokounmpo at a major advantage over Harden, whose Houston Rockets won 53 games, finishing third in the West and fifth in the NBA.
Harden’s statistical excellence is clear. He led the league in scoring in the regular season with 36.1 points per game and also ranked seventh in assists. Antetokounmpo has also put up great all-round numbers and has the added edge of playing for a superior team.
The debate will continue up until the moment the MVP is announced at the NBA awards. And the discussion and debate over who won or who should have won the MVP award will go on for months and years afterwards. If history is anything to go by, the voters will probably cast their ballots for the Greek Freak.
For more information and odds go to Betway Basketball .