This season’s race is the closest in years, but a look back at the history of the award reveals what really matters to MVP voters.
The NBA’s MVP should be awarded to the best player in the league.
Unless it’s 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. This Infographic from Betway tells the tale of what makes a true NBA MVP.
Let’s face it – the MVP race is hugely subjective, with the definition of what truly makes a player ‘valuable’ seeming to change every year.
That’s particularly true this season, with Giannis Antetokounmpo the narrow sports betting favourite over James Harden in what will likely be the closest vote in years.
If there was any doubt which player had the inside track to win the award, Giannis seemingly put that argument to rest with his statline to close out Detroit in Game 4 of their first-round series: 41 points, 12-23 FG, 15-20 FT, 2 3PTs, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks
The Freak is on to the second round.
Whether Harden’s offensive brilliance makes him more influential than Antetokounmpo’s all-round game is up for debate, but a look back at the history of the award reveals what really matters when it comes to deeming who is the 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.
It’s not all about putting up points, though.
Toughness matters too and James Harden had his on full display against the Warriors in Game 2. Harden suffered a brutal eye injury at Oracle Arena on Tuesday night, and it was tough to watch.
Harden got poked in the eye fighting for an offensive rebound after he missed a shot in the first quarter of the game. It was a clean play, rather than intentional contact, but it still was extremely painful, as you can see below.
Harden stayed down in the lane for a brief spell, then was eventually helped off the court, holding an ice pack over his left eye after he made his way to the locker room. The shots of his eye were pretty gruesome, as his eye was actually bleeding at one point, and you can see how red it was below.
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 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.
This advanced metric, developed by the Memphis Grizzlies’ executive John Hollinger, boils down all a player’s statistics into a single number.
Of the past 10 MVPs, eight led the league in PER.
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 – but 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 – and even beyond – the NBA awards, but, if history is anything to go by, the voters will almost certainly go with the Greek Freak.