It’s nearly playoff time, which means that the MVP Race should be sorting itself out.
And to some degree, it is. While there’s a few players whose stats make a nice case, it’s really only down to a few. And then, the MVP really comes down to just what MVP means.
Still, the race has opened up maybe just a little. As such, I’ve broken it down into groups. The players on the outside track, those who are either just shy of being the MVP or are starting to fall out of the race. Then there’s the inside track, those who are – or should be – in the actual discussion.
What is that discussion, though?
In the past decade – from the 1999-2000 season until last season – no MVP winner had a PER of less then 22.0, or less then 10.9 Win Shares (both marks belong to Steve Nash, interestingly enough).
But on average, the MVP winner has a PER of 26.8 and 15.7 Win Shares.
A quick explanation before I jump in. PER takes skills like accurate shooting, offensive rebounding, turnovers and more adjusted for pace; Offensive Percentage takes what’s known as the four factors – offensive rebounds, turnovers, the ability to draw fouls and such – and gets a look at how many points per possession a player got. One relies heavily on more defensive abilities like rebounding, blocks, etc., while the other looks at how well a player can shoot or pass effectively.
What does it mean to be on the outside track? For my purposes, these are two players who maybe deserve mention as possible MVP candidates, but aren’t the MVP. Maybe they deserve to be on the ballot or maybe they’re falling away from the pack but aren’t out. They’re the players who make their team better, but don’t make that team great.
Chris Bosh, F, Toronto Raptors
8.7 Win Shares (<20th in NBA), 24.6 PER (fifth in NBA)
Why is Bosh so far back? Wasn’t it less then a month ago I had him a lot deeper? And not too long before that I called him a longshot to actually be named the MVP? In the immortal words ofÂ Mike LaFontaine, “Whaaa Happened?”
I don’t know exactly what happened, but it has something to do with injury a while back. Since returning, Bosh’s play has been a tad more erratic, a little less good then it was before the season. He’s driving less to the basket and settling for jump shots. Since he came back on March 7, the Raptors have gone 4-9, losing to teams like Golden State, Philadelphia and Sacramento.
When Bosh came back – March 7, against the Sixers – he had a quiet 12-point, 12-rebound game. The Raptors lost 114-101. That was the start of a five-game skid for the Raps, who also lost games to the Lakers, Sacramento, Portland and Golden State. In that stretch, Bosh averaged 20 points and eight rebounds. Still, Bosh is having a career year: per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 26 points and just under 11 rebounds, both career highs. His PER is also a career high.
But this isn’t a look at his numbers, this is a look at his advanced stats. His PER had dropped from the last time I wrote about him, from 26.3 (then fourth in the NBA) to 24.6 (fifth). He also has an Offensive Rating of 116, putting him behindÂ Andrei Kirilenko, Jose Calderon and JJ Reddick. What these mean is that his MVP stock is dropping; he isn’t playing as efficiently and his offensive presence isn’t as strong as it was before the all-star break. For example: since the All-Star break, Bosh had scored more then 25 points once, when he scored 36 in a win over the Nets. He had 28 games with 25 or more before the break.
These both play into his Win Shares. At the end of February, Bosh had 8.4 WS, sixth in the NBA. In a month, it’s only scantly improved to 8.7 and has dropped out of the NBA’s top 20. His window at a MVP trophy has basically shut.
Dwayne Wade, G, Miami Heat
Wade has not really been a trendy name in MVP talk, nor has he been part of an exceptionally great team. But he’s a big part of a Heat team that’s a playoff lock and no slouch – on Sunday, they mounted an 11-point fourth quarter comeback to beat the Raptors, in large part thanks to Wade. He played over 42 minutes, had 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists and led both sides in +/-. Not bad.
Yes, Wade’s still leading the Heat in scoring, minutes played, assists and steals, as he should. He’s not even that far back in rebounds. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 26.3 points on .471 shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
His play is a pretty big reason why the Heat have been so good going into the postseason. In the month of March they’ve only lost three games, two of them by eight points or less, and are have won eight of the last ten. This is a team that’s found it’s stride.
That stretch has contributed to some good stats for Wade, too: He has an offensive rating of 112 and a PER of 28.1, second in the NBA. His PER has actually risen a bit in the past month in a period where most player’s PER starts to drop. Likewise, his WS have improved too: he’s at 11.8, fourth in the NBA and an improvment of 3.2 wins. He’s moved up a spot, too.
Why should he be MVP? Well, how many other guards would be able to help their team as much as Wade helps the Heat? If he were replaced by somebody else – let’s say Jose Calderon Â - are the Heat still in playoff contention? I’d argue that no, they’re not. I’m not sure I’d vote for Wade over some of the players below, but I think he’s worth having in the discussion.
As the name would suggest, the inside track players have the inside track to the MVP award. There’s a favorite, yes, but these are the players who don’t just deserve to be on the ballot but maybe a vote or two. They’re showing that not only are they among the best players in the NBA, but they’re making their team among the best in the league.
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
It’s getting hard to overlook the Magic. They’re the second team in the East to clinch a playoff spot and their Simple Rating System score – a measure of how much better the Magic are then their opponents – is second highest in the NBA. In both respects, they’re only just behind the Cavs.
And a lot of this goes to Howard. Of course he’s leading the team in points, blocks and rebounds and free throw attempts. But he’s started all 74 games this season and played nearly 2600 minutes, even with all the punishment he takes down low (and one doesn’t lead the NBA in free throw attempts without taking a lot of punishment). Besides getting to line more then anybody else, he’s leading the NBA in rebounds and blocks.
His advanced numbers continue make a good case for Howard. His PER is sixth in the NBA at 24.2. His Win Shares are third-highest, at 12.1. As you’ll recall from above, those are pretty close to average for a MVP.
But his resume goes a little deeper then that. He leads the NBA in True Shooting Per Cent, a stat that weighs total shooting efficiency, free throws and otherwise. If you’re a believer that defense wins titles, remember that Howard leads the NBA in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Rating, a look at points allowed per 100 possessions.
One could certainly make a far worse choice for MVP.
Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
25.5 PER (3rd in NBA), 13.8 Win Shares (2nd in NBA)
The Thunder are basically one of the most exciting teams in basketball right now, in large part thanks to Durant, who may be the best pure scorer in the NBA. He’s leading the league in points, is right behind LeBron in field goals and has made the most free throws in the NBA. So why are the Thunder still only one game ahead of San Antonio and the eighth seed in the NBA?
As a commenter pointed out last time, he it’s not so much that he’s carrying the team as it how he doesn’t have a second banana on the Thunder. That’s a good point.
Take the Thunder’s loss to the San Antonio on the 22nd. Durant went off for 45 points and eight boards, but only had three other players score more then 10 points (and none with more then 16). It’s a bit of a problem for the Thunder. They have other players who step up every so often – Westbrook, for instance, has had a couple of 30-point, 12 or more assist games – but nobody is able to do it on a regular basis.
The Thunder are hardly alone in that respect. Toronto doesn’t have a true second either – sometime’s it’s Bosh, sometimes it’s Hedo. Once it was Sonny Weems. Most teams don’t usually have somebody else who can score like their star on a regular basis, so it’s hardly a knock against the Thunder.
Still, in spite of this, Durant is blossoming. In the past month, his PER has slightly increased to 25.5 while his Offensive Rating is 116, both of which show how important he is to his team’s offense. His Win Shares have gone up too, to 13.8, second in the NBA. Consider how often Durant can get to the line, too: only LeBron gets to the line as often as Durant.
At this point, playing in a small market doesn’t hurt his chances either. WhenÂ Bill Simmons is doing a running diary of a Monday night game featuring your team – and calls him his favorite non-Celtic player – you’ve probably arrived as a viable MVP candidate.
LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
The other day, Shaq called LeBron the MVP. I can’t say I’d argue.
He’s leading the league in PER and Win Shares, by a good margin in both. His Cavs are the best team in the NBA right now and were the first team to clinch their division. If you look at the average numbers for a MVP, James has already passed both of them. Really, what more can I argue for his case? That he’s tied for the league lead in point per game? That he’s got his highest shooting percentage ever? That he’s already set a career high for assists and points per 36 minutes? That he’s the only player to be in the top 10 for Offensive Rating and PER – meaning that he’s excelling in two different regards.
How about a look at his advanced numbers. Since the end of last month, his Win Shares have increased, while his PER has stayed above 31; in the past 20 seasons, only Michael Jordan had a PER that high.
There’s a few things one can take away from James. At a glance, his team looks very good – there are four regulars with a PER of 15 or more. Of the Cavs starters and sixth man (the five with the most starts and the player with the most minutes not on the starters), the average PER is 18.54.
That average is higher then that of any other MVP candidate’s team (for reference Orlando’s average is 16.78; the Thunder’s is 16.65, Miami’s is 17.57 and Toronto’s is 16.77). How much of that is due to James? Certainly some of it is… but he’s only one player. His contribution to the Cavs can’t be that much larger then Durant’s is to the Thunder. If anything it shows how much a player like Wade or Bosh mean to their team – they’re the only player on each of those teams has a PER significantly higher then that average.
Then again, another way to look at those averages is that James makes his team that much better. That’s also another way to define what the MVP is, isn’t it?