Will the real MVP please stand up?
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
If the playoffs counted in the NBA MVP voting, Dirk Nowitzki certainly wouldn't have won last year.
We constantly hear that team success trumps individual accomplishment. A championship ring is the accepted measure of excellence. Yet when it comes to awarding the MVP, the decision is based solely on a player's regular-season performance.
Success is measured in titles won, not in successful regular seasons. Players who perform well in the regular season but don't perform well in the playoffs get criticized something fierce, and rightly so. So are mixed messages being sent when the criteria used to determine the Most Valuable Player don't include a player's performance in the playoffs? I realize there's a Finals MVP award as well, but that's an afterthought, and it doesn't hold nearly as much weight as the league MVP does.
Imagine if last season's award had been given out after the Finals; Dirk Nowitzki would have gotten no closer to the MVP award than watching someone else receive it on television. As it was, he was the best player on the team with the best regular-season record, and he won the MVP. But when Nowitzki and his 67-win Dallas team lost in the first round to eighth-seeded Golden State, it made a mockery of the award, not to mention Dallas' season.
The NBA MVP award has become a political marketing ploy that has nothing to do with who the most valuable player really is, but has everything to do with the "politicking" that goes into choosing each year's recipient.
What's the true meaning of the phrase "most valuable player," anyway? Are we talking about the game's most valuable player, or the player most valuable to his respective team? Many times people confuse the phrase "most valuable" with the word "best" and assume the award defines the best overall player in the game. Clearly the terms carry different meanings.
Discussion about this year's contenders has been especially intense. Fans of Kobe Bryant are talking up his candidacy as a "lifetime achievement award." Supporters of Garnett say that using the criteria of the past few years -- the best player on the team with the best record -- means that KG should get the award. Those who embrace CP3 say that Paul is so valuable to his team that if you took him off the Hornets, they would be hard-pressed to make the NIT, much less the NBA playoffs. LeBron's people look at his numbers and simply ask, "Can I get a witness?"
Supporters of each candidate have a valid argument to make, but shouldn't they have the benefit of being able to consider postseason performance in making their determination?
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Kobe seems to have the most momentum in this year's MVP race.
Statistically, Kobe had better scoring seasons the past two years, but you can't give the MVP award to a player on a No. 7 seed. Since the 2005-06 season, Kobe's scoring average has dropped from 35.4 points per game down to 28.3 this season, but his assist average has only risen from 4.5 per game to 5.4. I realize you can't just reduce his overall impact to statistics, but the ball don't lie. The real reason for the Lakers' success this season has been the emergence of Andrew Bynum, before he was injured, and the Lakers' midseason trade for Pau Gasol, which not only took some of the load off Kobe but also opened up more space for Lamar Odom to shine. Kobe's been consistently stellar ever since he's taken over the team in the aftermath of the Shaq trade to Miami. But it's not so much that Kobe has gotten better, or even that he's figured out how to involve his teammates more this year -- it's that, for the first time, the players around him are much better, and the team has benefited.
As for LeBron, his numbers this season were incredible. The man averaged 30 points, 7 boards and 7 assists. The only other players who have done that are Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan. But LeBron finds himself in a similar position to that of Kobe last year. It's hard to make an argument for a guy whose team finishes the regular season as a No. 4 seed in a much weaker conference. If LeBron pulls off what he pulled off last season and gets the Cavs to the Finals, which is highly unlikely, he'll have made a strong case for winning the award. But as it stands, I'm content to say that LBJ is the "best" player in the game, but not this season's MVP.
Kevin Garnett, the recently announced Defensive Player of the Year, doesn't have the offensive numbers to match the other candidates. But he is the primary reason for the revival of one of the league's most storied franchises. KG, the only one of this year's four contenders to have won the award previously, in some ways deserves it based solely on the passion and energy he brings to the court every night. But he does have the luxury of playing with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two other All-Stars. KG has benefited to the extent that the league feels the need to promote a revived Celtics franchise, but the real truth lies in how far his team goes in the postseason. If Garnett can bring pride back to "The Green," he should be rewarded. But we'll never know, because the award winner will have been determined long before the championship is decided.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Chris Paul has flown under the radar, but he's had an incredible season.
Now, if all the public conversation about this year's MVP and the "lifetime achievement award" idea has any traction, then Black Mamba will be the recipient. I can't really argue with this, nor can I support it. But if I had a vote, it would go to CP3.
However it goes down, though, the award is really not all that important to me right now, because of the current criteria. Again, it's all about politics. Jordan probably should have won the award more times than he did, but there was often a sense that because MJ was the undisputed best player in the game, maybe they should spread the wealth and reward other players. More recently, voters have used the "best player on the best team" argument. If this thinking were to benefit KG this year, it would only be fair, considering the past three award winners.
Regardless, whatever happens this year, the MVP award remains flawed because it doesn't involve performance in the postseason, and it's in the postseason that we truly separate the platinum from the white gold. To paraphrase Biggie Smalls, "On the road to riches and diamond rings/real [players] do real things." For me, "the road to riches and diamond rings" is the road to winning a championship. To exclude that road from the evaluation that goes into selecting the MVP is to undermine the credibility of this most distinguished award.
Dr. Todd Boyd, a columnist for Page 2, is an author, media commentator, and The Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at USC. The paperback edition of his "hip-hop history" of the NBA, "Young, Black, Rich and Famous," is now available.