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.
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.
Rockets superstar James Harden is one of the toughest guards in the NBA, and he showed that on Tuesday night.
Harden suffered a brutal eye injury in the first quarter of the game, which forced him to get medical attention in the locker room. His eye was even bleeding, according to Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, and it was a pretty gruesome injury.
But Harden showed how tough he is, returning to the game late in the second quarter, somehow, when many others would’ve missed the remainder of the contest. And just a few minutes after he returned, he pulled off a highlight-reel play. Check out the moves Harden put on Andre Iguodala to put the Warriors veteran on skates, then he calmly drained a three-pointer.
A thing of beauty.
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.
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.
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.
Winning more games than the Golden State Warriors puts Antetokounmpo at a major advantage over Harden, whose Rockets won 53 games, finishing third in the West and fifth in the NBA.
This Infographic from Betway tells the tale of what makes a true NBA MVP.
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.