This year two of the NBA’s elite stars, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, are engaging in the closest race for the scoring title in the history of the league. In any other year one of them would also most likely be crowned the league’s MVP, but this year both players will come away empty-handed.
The MVP has always been an ambiguous and hotly debated award, largely due to the fact that there is no language that dictates what the world “valuable” precisely means. Some think that it’s the player whose absence would most greatly affect his team. Others think it’s the player who puts on the greatest individual performance on both ends of the floor. But for all intents and purposes the MVP, at least in my lifetime, has tended to go to the best individual player in the league on a top-five team. And by best individual player, of course, I mean the best offensive player.
But times, they are a-changin’.
Despite the objections of
old fogeys basketball purists, advanced stats are becoming commonplace in the NBA, which is putting what it means to be a “valuable” player in a whole new perspective. By incorporating previously irrelevant stats like shooting percentage, turnovers, and plus-minus, the stat geeks have been able to come up with a magical number called a PER, or player efficiency rating.
What the stat attempts to do is basically add up all the good things that a player does on the court and subtract all the bad things, leaving us with a number to gague just how “valuable” a player is to his team.
Which brings us to a young gentleman named LeBron James. In case you are unaware, LeBron is good at basketball. In fact, according to stat geeks, he’s having one of the best statistical seasons of all time (cue Kanye). After going back and retroactively assigning PER’s to all of the NBA’s best statistical seasons, the geeks found out that LeBron is actually right near the top. Michael Jordan‘s 1987-88 mark of 31.89 is the highest since the league started recording individual turnovers, blocks, steals, etc., and it’s the number that LeBron has been ahead of for a good chunk of the season.
LeBron’s PER has slipped to 30.80 (at press time) due to a stretch of “bad” games a few weeks ago, but it’s still the highest in the league by a good margin (the next three players, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Durant, are all in the 26s).
So the point of all that nerd talk is that we now have a quantifiable way to decide how “valuable” a player is, and we can use this to say that LeBron will most certainly win this year’s MVP Award—and rightly so.
But why do we have to ignore a season like Durant’s or Kobe’s? Why can’t we come up with another award, the Offensive Player of the Year, to reward a player who has been an absolute scoring machine, regardless of any other factors?
The NFL has an Offensive Player of the Year separate from the MVP. The MLB has the Hank Aaron Award, given to the best hitter in each league…no matter how fat and terrible at defense he is. And if the NBA has a Defensive Player of the Year, shouldn’t it logically have an Offensive Player of the Year as well?
The problem is that the MVP, post-Bill Russell, generally went to the best offensive player every year. The old thinking was, “we have the Defensive Player of the Year for defense and the MVP for offense.” For some reason we’re just now seeing the flaw in that logic, and starting to give the award to players who are valuable to their teams on both ends of the court (and by “just now” I mean this year—Derrick Rose won last year with a PER of 23.62, good for 9th in the league).
So let’s take that old MVP award, rename it the Offensive Player of the Year, and just watch LeBron win the new, efficient, MVP for the next ten years.
That will also take the human element out of it. Let the voters worry about things like character, leadership, and attitude with the MVP. The Offensive Player of the Year is based solely on statistics.
That way when a player has a ridiculous scoring year like Kobe’s 2005-06 campaign (35.4 ppg, 28.1 PER), he won’t have to worry about whether voters consider him a ball hog. He can sit back with his Offensive Player of the Year award while he watches Steve Nash collect his sappy, sentimental MVP trophies.