Welcome to America’s favorite gameshow: The NBA’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate! It’s the show where you, the MVP voter, have come to find the MVP of your dreams! Without further ado, let’s meet the eligible candidates!
Candidate #1 has had one of the most memorable seasons of the past decade. He finished the year having scored 28.1 points per game, tops in the NBA. But after his superstar teammate went down with an injury in February, Candidate #1 really turned on the jets, averaging 31 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds per game over the last 28 games of the season, recording eight triple-doubles in the process. In fact, he finished the year with 11 triple doubles, the most since Jason Kidd in 2007-08.
Candidate #1 was, without a doubt, the most thrilling player to watch in the entire league. It seemed like he was on SportsCenter every night, flying coast-to-coast with a ridiculous dunk, or getting his head caved in and finishing the game anyway.
What that? You think the MVP should be have to play well enough to single-handedly carry his team to the playoffs? And you think his defense was terrible despite leading the league in steals per game? I suppose that’s a fair assessment. Better luck next year, Candidate #1. Please don’t be mad.
You say you like defense, huh? Well you’ve come to the right place! Candidate #2 leads the NBA in blocks by a substantial margin. But he’s no one-trick pony! Thanks to his improved shooting skills, the all-around stats of Candidate #2 are so good that his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) this season has only been matched by three players: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Pretty good company, huh? Not to mention, Candidate #2 was so good that his team was able to surpass expectations and make it into the unbelievably competitive Western Conference playoffs!
Well, yeah, of course they were the eight seed. That’s still pretty good! No, nobody thinks his team is a legitimate contender for the title. I guess you’re right, that’s hardly any better than Candidate #1. I’m sorry, Candidate #2. You’ll have plenty of chances to woo voters in the future, I promise.
If you like good teams, you’re going to love Candidate #3. Candidate #3 has orchestrated the league’s third most efficient offense in the league since the All-Star Break. In fact, his team has only lost seven games since that point in the season. Candidate #3 does it all for his squad: he gets more assists than most point guards, more rebounds than most power forwards, and more points than all but two players in the entire NBA. This is nothing new for Candidate #3, since he’s been considered the best player on the planet since he came into the league in 2003 and has won the MVP award four times already.
You think he’s having a bad season? I suppose you might be on to something: this is the first season since 2008-09 during which Candidate #3 has shot under 50% from the field. And, yes, he did miss thirteen games. He is getting older, so maybe Candidate #3 has been saving his best work for the playoffs. It looks like your reign as king of the MVP is over, Candidate #3.
You want efficiency, huh? Well look no further! Candidate #4 might be the best shooter in the history of basketball. He’s led the league in made three-pointers, 50% of which were off the dribble — the highest such ratio in the league among players who made at least 1.5 three-pointers per game. He made 42.2% of those off-the-dribble three-point attempts, which is also best in the NBA. And the shooting stats just keep coming! Candidate #4 led all guards in true shooting percentage (which includes the value added by foul shots and three pointers) at 64%. The prolific shooting of Candidate #4 sometimes overshadows his excellent passing (he finished fourth in the league in assists) and much-improved defense (he led the league in steals). Thanks to the often mesmerizing talents of Candidate #4, his team has absolutely dominated the league’s most competitive conference, while ranking as the NBA’s second most efficient offense and leading the NBA in point differential, defensive efficiency, and, most importantly, wins.
Huh? You want to see what his stats were like two years ago? Why on earth… well, all righty then, if you insist. Here are the stats for Candidate #4 from this year and from two years ago:
Now that you mention it, they do look almost identical. Did he win the MVP two years ago? No, actually, he didn’t even make the All-Star Team. That’s a good point. I suppose it doesn’t make any sense to reward Candidate #4 for having such talented teammates, especially when it doesn’t seem like he’s improved at all.
Candidate #5 has not had nearly the same luxury of being able to rely on his teammates like our previous candidate could, and yet Candidate #5 led his team to the second best record in the entire NBA. Candidate #5 made the most out of his team’s depleted roster: of the four other starters on his squad, only one of them has stayed healthy the entire year. Candidate #5 is so important to his team’s success that they won 29 of 33 when Candidate #5 scored 30 or more points, and 24-22 when he didn’t. As a result, wound up leading the NBA in points scored, free throws made, minutes played, and total win shares.
Candidate #5 has shown remarkable consistency in his young career, improving his game little-by-little every year. Last season, while he made small strides strides in his shooting efficiency and his passing, Candidate #5 was ridiculed incessantly for his embarrassing lack of effort on defense. This year? No too shabby! In fact, he set a career high in steals and blocks.
Holy cow, you’re picky. You want your MVP to stand out in all areas of the game? “Not too shabby” isn’t going to cut it? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Candidate #5, it looks like you’re going home empty-handed.
I bet most of the viewers at home didn’t think we’d get this far, but here we are! Meet MVP Candidate #6, whose name rarely gets mentioned in these conversations. In fact, he’s not even listed among the favorites in the Las Vegas betting lines for the NBA MVP. But don’t let that fool you; he may truly be the most valuable player of all.
Let’s start with his defense. Candidate #6 has ranked in the top ten in steals per game every single year he’s been in the league, finishing first in that category six times. This year, he got fifth place. That’s pretty good. Yes, I know, calm down, I realize that Candidates #1 and #4 both have him beat in that category, and that Candidate #5 is right behind him. But getting steals is only one aspect of playing defense. Many steals come from jumping into passing lanes, an aggressive move in which you abandon your own man to try to intercept a pass. This is a major risk, the downside of which is not captured by the “steals” statistic, so strictly looking at steals is a severely incomplete measure of a player’s impact on defense. But other than blocks, typical box score stats have no way of telling us how well a player does at other important aspects of defense.
That’s why we have to look at more advanced statistics. According to a study by a bunch of nerds at Harvard, Candidate #6 was the best defensive point guard in all of basketball in 2013-14 at preventing his assignment from scoring. They used SportsVU player tracking data to calculate how often a defender’s assignment attempted a shot, and how often that attempt went in, compared to how that player normally shoots. When they’re guarded by Candidate #6, players take fewer shots than they normally do and makes a worse percentage of those shots. I’d say that pretty well sums up what you’re supposed to do on defense, right? Candidate #6 stops his man from scoring better than any player at his position.
How about his offense, you ask? Well, the box score does a much better job of describing offense than it does defense, so we’ll take a look at some traditional stats.
Traditional Stats: points per game (PTS), rebounds per game (REB), assists per game (AST), turnovers per game (TOV), steals per game (STL), blocks per game (BLK), field goal percentage (FG%), three point percentage (3P%), free throw percentage (FT%)
So Candidate #6 doesn’t stand out in points, but makes it up with his assists. What? Oh, is that so? You think he sounds like the typical ball-dominating point guard. You think he gets all the assists because he never lets anybody else touch the ball until there’s two seconds left in the shot clock. Well, just cool your jets for a minute while I explain something. Being ‘ball-dominant’ is a criticism because bad things happen one player has the ball in his hands for too long. Those bad things usually take the form of turnovers, forced shot attempts, and/or generally inefficient offense. If those bad things don’t happen, there’s nothing wrong with having the ball in your hands more than your teammates’ hands. Now just sit back and relax while I demonstrate that these bad things don’t happen when Candidate #6 dominates the ball.
Candidate #6 just don’t turn the ball over. Period. He led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (AST/TO) this year for the third year in a row, and the fifth time in the last six seasons. He’s never finished outside the top three in any of his ten seasons in the NBA. In fact, Candidate #6 might be the best point guard in the history of basketball according to this measure. Among the players ahead of him on all-time assists leaderboard, the closest anybody comes to approaching Candidate #6’s career AST/TO is John Stockton at 3.72. This year, Candidate #6 is even stingier than usual with his turnovers, coming in with a AST/TO of 4.41. Just compare his turnover totals to the other MVP candidates. Candidate #6 blows them out of the water?
As for the notion that dominating the ball leads to bad shots, let’s take a look at Candidate #6’s shooting numbers compared to our already-eliminated MVP candidates.
Shooting Stats: Makes, attempts, and percentages from various distances from basket
|<5 ft.||5-9 ft.||10-14 ft.||15-19 ft.||20-24 ft.||25-29 ft.|
|RW||4.6-8.6 (53.3)||0.6-1.3 (41.1)||1.2-2.7 (42.4)||1.7-4.4 (37.5)||0.8-2.8 (29.7)||0.6-2.0 (28.7)|
|AD||5.1-7.2 (70.4)||0.8-2.0 (39.6)||1.0-2.2 (46.3)||2.2-5.3 (42.3)||0.3-0.8 (35.7)||0.0-0.0 (33.3)|
|LJ||4.8-6.9 (69.2)||0.7-1.6 (40.7)||0.6-1.7 (31.9)||0.9-2.3 (40.1)||1.1-2.7 (41.4)||1.0-3.1 (32.5)|
|SC||2.5-3.9 (65.6)||0.4-0.9 (40.3)||0.6-1.1 (52.9)||0.7-1.7 (43.9)||1.6-3.6 (44.1)||2.4-5.5 (43.0)|
|JH||3.8-6.7 (56.3)||0.3-0.9 (31.0)||0.4-1.0 (41.8)||0.8-2.1 (36.0)||1.4-3.6 (38.6)||1.4-3.8 (36.0)|
|#6||1.1-1.9 (59.9)||0.5-1.0(49.4)||1.3-2.4 (52.8)||2.1-4.2 (50.1)||1.0-2.2 (43.7)||1.0-2.5 (37.8)|
Overall, I’d say Candidate #6 stacks up pretty well. He excels at the mid range shots, beating out the others by a large margin from 5-9 and 15-19 feet, and finishing just a fraction of a percent behind Candidate #4 from 10-14 ft. From all the other distances, Candidate #6 more than holds his own.
So we’ve established that when he’s got the ball in his hands, Candidate #6 doesn’t turn the ball over, and he doesn’t take bad shots. What about his teammates? How well do they do when Candidate #6 gives them the ball? You mean the league leading assists isn’t proof enough that Candidate #6 does a good job of setting up his teammates? Fine.
Remember how I mentioned that Candidate #4 plays for the team with the second most efficient offense in the NBA? Well Candidate #6’s team is the most efficient: they score almost 1.1 points per possession, best in the league. Could that be a result of having better teammates? Let me ask you this: who’s the better offensive player, J.J. Redick or Klay Thompson? Klay. Matt Barnes or Harrison Barnes? Harrison. Blake Griffin or Draymond Green? Griffin, but not by a lot. DeAndre Jordan or Andrew Bogut? Bogut, by a lot. So the Warriors’ starting lineup, minus its MVP candidate, is probably superior on offense to that of the Clippers.
What about the bench? OK, Jamal Crawford or Andre Iguodala? Toss up, I’d say. Spencer Hawes or David Lee? Lee, duh. Glen “Big Baby” Davis or Marreese Speights? Speights. Austin Rivers or Shaun Livingston? Livingston. Hedo Turkoglu or Leandro Barbosa? Neither, really, but anybody is better than Turk.
So Candidate #6 has worse teammates, and yet his team’s offense is more efficient. Is it all because of Candidate #6? I’m glad you asked. If you could be so kind as to take a look at the offensive win shares stat as listed in the table below, that would be wonderful.
Advanced Stats: player efficiency rating (PER), games missed (DNP), offensive win shares (OWS), defensive win shares (DWS), total win shares (WS), win shares per 48 minutes played (WS/48), true shooting percentage (TS%), wins above replacement (WAR)
You’ll notice that Candidate #6 has more offensive win shares than any other player in the NBA, which means that, according to this measure, he has contributed more to his team’s offensive success than anybody else has for their team. In other words, Candidate #6 the most valuable offensive player in the league. And, hey, wait a minute, didn’t we already establish that he’s the best defensive player at his position? So he’s the best at defense and at offense? Toss in the fact that he’s the only one of our MVP candidates that didn’t miss a single game this entire season, and, well–
What’s that? You’ve made your choice? I’m glad to hear it. Ladies and gentlemen, this years’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate is…
No, no, not you, Cliff.
That’s right! Chris Paul! Well, that’s all for our show. We’ll see you next time on The NBA’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate!