The NBA MVP Debate: Keep it Simple

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Born and raised in Miami, Florida. I used to play baseball for a living; I walked a lot and didn't hit enough. Now I write words for a living and drop absolute bombs every Sunday for my men's league team.

The Sopranos is more groundbreaking than it is good.

We’re firmly entrenched in the annual debate over who should win the NBA MVP award. This means a few things…

  1. LeBron is in said debate.
  2. The Knicks are seen as a future destination for every player in the running.
  3. Basketball pundits become philosophers, attempting to discern the intricacies of the term “valuable,” and what it means for each player contending for the award.

Every year. LeBron James chasing the award. Photoshopped images of star players in Knicks jerseys. “Value” debate. Book it. While I understand the first two, due to the prolonged excellence of LeBron James and the prolonged delusion of Knicks fans, I just can’t get behind the annual dissection of the word “value.”

Enough. The damn award is about who the best player was this past season.


NBA philosopher pondering the true meaning of “value”

I curse the person that decided to call this award the “Most Valuable Player” instead of “Most Outstanding Player” or something that makes more sense, because the latter is what they actually meant. It is to be given to the “best performing player of the regular season.” That’s it. Best performing player. There is nothing else to consider.

But ohhh how they love to consider other things.

Team Hypotheticals

One of the games basketball smart guys like to play is analyzing how good or bad a player’s team would be if he wasn’t on it. “The Bucks would be an 8-seed at best without Giannis.” “The Lakers would miss the playoffs without LeBron.” “The Clippers would still be elite without Kawhi, just look at the Raptors.”

I’m sorry, are we analyzing the player’s performance or his teammates’ performance? Does the MVP depend on how well the player performs or how poorly his teammates perform? Because, based on this argument, the better your teammates are, the worse your MVP case is. This is ironic, considering your team usually has to win for you to be considered. Winning is greatly facilitated by having good teammates, from what I’ve heard.

It doesn’t matter how valuable the player is in the context of his specific team.

What matters is how valuable the player is in the context of how well he plays basketball, period.


Another classic, ridiculous element thrown into these debates is the narrative surrounding players. “LeBron is having a historic season for a 35-year-old and has secured the #1 seed for his third different franchise.” “Giannis is determined to deliver the first NBA title to the city of Milwaukee since 1971.” “Kawhi has his sights set on taking over the city of Los Angeles.”

None of this should matter in the debate over which basketball player basketball-ed the best this season, but it does. It’s the reason guys like Derrick Rose win the NBA MVP occasionally; a well-liked, great player who enjoyed a career year and finished above the superior-but-despised player on a superior-but-despised team, in this case, LeBron James and the Miami Heat of yesteryear.

This should have nothing to do with “value.” Forget that stupid word, it allows for too many interpretations. The NBA MVP is meant to be given to the best performing basketball player in the NBA regular season, regardless of who his teammates are or what the storyline surrounding him is.

Who is better in terms of counting statistics? Who has the best numbers from an analytics perspective? Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves as we decide who wins the Maurice Podoloff trophy.

The 2019-2020 MVP

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. LeBron, Kawhi, and everyone else in the running have been a notch or two below. Sorry.

It doesn’t matter how awesome LeBron is at the age of whatever, or that he happens to play with another star player in Anthony Davis. It also doesn’t matter that the Greek Freak is the only superstar on a team with the best record in the NBA. What matters is what they themselves do on the court, and we have lots and lots and lots of numbers and footage to turn to in order to make the right decision based on that. That stuff is, you know, real evidence as to who the best player is.

Giannis Antetokounmpo should be the 2019-2020 NBA MVP. He has the best numbers overall, and has been the most “valuable” (i.e. excellent) player in the NBA this season, which has nothing to do with the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks or his character arc.

Take the skull off your desk, NBA philosopher. Let’s keep this debate simple.

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