Is the MVP Award in the NBA Flawed?

MVP, or Most Valuable Player, is the award given to the player that had the best season, or so it’s supposed to be. In the NBA, this award is generally given to the best player on one of the best teams of the respective season. The problem with this is that a player that has a great season, but is on a below average team, virtually has no chance of winning the award.

The Caveman Era of MVP Stats: John Hollinger

In the early 2000’s, John Hollinger created a statistic called Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The point of this statistic is to calculate a player’s performance per-minute, while factoring in the pace of play. It has generally been recognized as the best representation of how well an athlete played that season. As a reference, the league average for PER is 15.0, a unanimous All-Star is 22.5, a strong MVP candidate is 27.5, a runaway MVP candidate is 30.0 and a historic season is 35.0.

With that being said, of the last 16 seasons, there were only seven seasons where the MVP winner also had the highest PER. Those seasons being: 2003-2004 (Kevin Garnett), 2008-2010 (LeBron James), 2011-2013 (James), 2013-2014 (Kevin Durant) and 2015-2016 (Stephen Curry). The other nine seasons where the player with the highest PER didn’t win MVP, will be the ones I choose to focus on.

The Breakdown of the Breakdown:

Out of these seasons, there was only one season where the MVP’s team had a worse record than the team of the player with the highest PER (2005-2006). The other eight seasons the MVP’s team either had the same or a better record and in five of the seasons, the MVP’s team had a significantly better record, thus proving players on a bad team have no chance of winning MVP. Those five seasons include: 2002-2003 (MVP: Tim Duncan vs. PER: Tracy McGrady), 2004-2005 (Steve Nash vs. Kevin Garnett), 2006-2008 (Dirk Nowitzki vs. Dwyane Wade & Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James) and 2014-2015 (Stephen Curry vs. Anthony Davis). In 2003 and 2015, McGrady and Davis posted 30.3 and 30.8 PERs respectively, which based off the reference numbers, the two should have easily won MVP but in both cases their teams didn’t finish much above 0.500. In the ’04-’05 season, Steve Nash had one of the worst statistical years for an MVP and put up a 22.0 PER, which according to the reference values, would only make him an All-Star. Garnett blew him out the water with a 28.2 PER, but because the Timberwolves only finished 44-38 that season, he only managed to finish 11th in MVP voting.

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After all the number crunching…

This leaves three remaining seasons of the original nine: 2000-2001, 2001-2002 and 2010-2011. In ’00-’01, Shaquille O’Neal led the league with a 30.2 PER compared to Allen Iverson’s 24.0. This is another case of when, in theory, the PER leader should have easily won MVP. LeBron had a 27.3 PER compared to Derrick Rose’s 23.5 in ’10-’11 and had better points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game averages than Rose as well. So that leaves the ’01-’02 season where O’Neal led the league yet again with a 29.7 PER compared to Tim Duncan’s 27.0. This year the Spurs and Lakers both finished at 58-24 but this is the ONLY season of the original nine where the MVP winner had better numbers in at least three of the main five statistical categories (Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks).

And so on and so forth…

In conclusion, in this day of age, the MVP award is generally given to the best player on one of the best teams, not necessarily the player that had the best season. The Player Efficiency Rating statistic was created to determine a player’s individual performance and is arguably the best representation of who the best player was in the respective season. Of the past 16 seasons, there were nine seasons where the MVP didn’t lead the league in PER, eight of which the MVP was statistically out played by the player with the highest PER

*All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com 

SportsAlec Bose