There’s nothing quite as polarizing as the MVP debate.
For years voters have tried to define what the award truly means — is it the best player overall, the best player on the best team or the best story taking elements from both of the latter arguments?
The rise of advanced statistics further complicates matters and sets up the kind of old guard vs. new guard scenario we saw in baseball a decade ago portrayed best in Michael Lewis’ classic Moneyball.
Those who rely on advanced stats favor Dwight Howard due to a season that most advanced metrics say was superior to Derrick Rose’s year, although even Howard’s own coach has known Rose would become the MVP for weeks as he eventually did on Tuesday.
John Hollinger wrote an extensive analysis of “The Derrick Rose Story” and how voters have become conditioned to vote for the most valuable story rather than the most valuable player.
Even the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard piled on by writing, “They should just rename the MVP trophy The We Didn’t Expect To See Rose Sitting Atop LeBron In The Standings Award.”
All this is pertinent to a Suns audience because Hollinger names Nash’s 2005 and 2006 MVP awards as situations in which writers voted the story.
The Phoenix Suns earned 29 victories in 2003-04 and then suddenly won 33 more games the following season with the addition of Nash before their exhilarating 62-win campaign. Such a surprise season made the Suns the team of All-Star Weekend, Mike D’Antoni the Coach of the Year and Bryan Colangelo the Executive of the Year.
And, of course, it made The Steve Nash Story the MVP of the league.
The Suns were the best story of the league by far in 2004-05 (well, at least up until the conference finals). Their revolutionary style focused on fast breaks and three-pointers helped usher in a new era of open court basketball as the league’s hand checking rules changed.
Steve Nash was the face of the 2004-05 season playing for the “it” team playing the “it” style. When you think of the 2004-05 regular season, you think of Nash.
That’s where this debate becomes difficult. If you crunch all the numbers and put a team of statheads on the case (and to many, even if you don’t), Shaq probably should be the year’s MVP.
Even looking back at the last seven years as a whole, Nash has been right around if not better than the 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game he accrued during his first MVP campaign with 50-43-89 shooting. Hell, statistically speaking his first half of this season with 16.8 points, 11.3 assists and 52-41-92 shooting to go with fantastic plus/minus numbers are just as good if not better than Nash’s MVP season from a statistical perspective.
The biggest difference between 2004-05 Nash and pre-All-Star break Nash was his teammates and the fact that he was willing a mediocre team to a .500 record rather than lighting up the NBA with a dynamic lineup.
The Steve Nash Story was so overwhelming in 2004-05 he earned an MVP yet it was so underwhelming this season he got All-Star Weekend off.
Michael Jordan won five MVP awards although he probably deserved double-figure MVP honors. But it isn’t fun to vote MJ year after year after year, so when Charles Barkley became the story one season for the league’s best regular season team he stole one from MJ and Karl Malone later did as well.
LeBron James may be headed for MJ MVP territory, so this season he had to be seen as an overwhelming underdog for the award considering his back-to-back MVPs and the negative national perception of James after he took his talents to South Beach.
That’s why The Kevin Durant Story started off the year as the favorite for the award based on all the goodwill he built up during his dominant World Championship run before The Derrick Rose Story took over for a Bulls team missing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for sizable chunks of the year.
With as ambiguous of a name as the award currently possesses (what does most valuable mean anyway?) it’s no surprise that different voters take it to mean different things and so often the best story has won the trophy just as the the coach of the team that overachieves the most often wins Coach of the Year.
Even if we were to make the award based on the best statistical season, so many advanced measures can show differing top players that we may just find ourselves with a new argument to this same problem.
Unlike a postseason in which the top teams advance by a concrete measure of winning more games than their opponent, there is no cut and dried formula for the MVP, and perhaps there shouldn’t be.
It’s up to the voters to decide whether to side with advanced stats and Howard, the most talented player in James or the player that defined the season in Rose.
There is no perfect criteria for selecting a Most Valuable Player, so perhaps the award itself is most valuable for stirring up the kind of debate that has caused us to evaluate why we favor a Rose or a Howard or a James.