Tag Archives: Bill Russell

How to Choose an NBA MVP

As the NBA nears its regular season conclusion, end-of-the-year awards rise to the forefront of conversation, especially the award for Most Valuable Player. In many ways the late-season MVP race parallels the final weeks leading up to the Oscar’s. Pundits tirelessly discuss the hottest candidates, seemingly updating their rankings daily in response to each triple double, flashy ball handling display, or box office result. Inevitably, the campaigning thunders from all corners—players state their teammates’ cases, fans shower their stars with M-V-P chants, writers choose sides, and suddenly ubiquitous G.M.s vouch for their guys. I can just imagine Daryl Morey inviting the voters to a private screening of James Harden’s highlights then sending them home with gift baskets filled with Rockets merchandise, a Fear the Beard t-shirt, and a poster of the new King James.

The importance of campaigning must not be overlooked. The media frenzy that swooned over Derrick Rose during the 2010-2011 season carried him to the award win. The hype storm raged so torrentially that respected sports analysts were openly referring to Rose as the league MVP by January. I’m not saying that Rose didn’t deserve the MVP that season; I think that he did, although it was certainly debatable. In Rose’s MVP year, and virtually every season that features a competitive MVP race, the age-old question resurfaced: what is the actual meaning of “most valuable?”

The answer: not much. It’s simply the name that the NBA chose for its “player of the year” award. Other leagues use different names for the same honor. College football has the Heisman Trophy. College Basketball has the Naismith Award. The PGA Tour simply calls its award the Player of the Year. These are just different titles for the same award.

Would the NBA writers adjust their votes if the league changed the name of the award from MVP to Most Outstanding Player or Player of the Year? Of course not. The presence of the word “valuable” garners far too much attention. It was an arbitrary choice. The NBA execs probably opted to use the word “valuable” because they thought that MVP was the coolest sounding acronym. The bottom line: do not fixate on the word “valuable.”

With that said, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what makes a player the MVP. Since there are no specific criteria outlined by the NBA, I decided to create my own. My criteria consist of questions to ponder, classic pitfalls to avoid, and how to break the tie in an extremely tight race. Let’s begin with the questions.

If the MVP candidate was replaced with a serviceable player at his position for the entire season, what would be the effect on his team’s record?

This is the most important question and the one that determines which way many voters lean. In essence, this is what an MVP is all about. In a league obsessed with winning, the player who is worth the most wins to his team should always be one of the MVP favorites, if not the eventual winner.

If two knowledgeable NBA fans are drafting teams for a giant pickup game and every player in the league is available, who would be taken first?

I borrowed this idea from Bill Simmons. Hopefully he doesn’t mind.

I feel that this question needs to be included because it prevents us from voting each year for the best team’s best player and gives hope to a great player stuck on a bad team like Kobe Bryant was with the Lakers after Shaq left. Kobe carried truly pathetic supporting casts to 45-win seasons. Unfortunately, those are not the type of performances that MVP voters typically favor, which is why Mamba was twice beaten out by a Canadian with feminine hair.

What did the MVP candidate do to distinguish himself from the rest of the league/What stood out about his season?

This can be accomplished via a gaudy stretch of triple doubles (like Russell Westbrook’s recent run), by carrying the team on a historic winning streak (à la LeBron James in 2013), or by becoming so furious about not winning last year’s championship that you mercilessly massacre the rest of the league for an entire season, ultimately winning 72 games (Michael Jordan in ’96).

Upon review, most seasons feature a standout performer. In 2006, Kobe averaged 35 points per game, scored 62 points in 32 minutes, and recorded the second highest scoring game in NBA history with 81. In 1962 Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points per game for the entire season. That same season Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double. In 1987 Michael Jordan averaged 37 points per game and in 1989 he recorded seven consecutive triple doubles en route to averaging 32-8-8. These are some of the most acclaimed and memorable seasons in league history, yet none of them were deemed MVP worthy. I repeat: not one of these seasons resulted in an MVP for these players. (*Note* In 1962 players voted for the MVP, and they selected Bill Russell. Wilt scored 50 points per game, Oscar averaged a triple double, and Bill still won MVP. That’s really one of the greatest testaments to how revered Russell was by opponents. He was the exception to this question, and since he won 11 titles, I’ll give him a pass.)

While it seems impossible that none of these standout performances earned an MVP, there is actually a pretty simple explanation for how this happened: the voters had not yet learned about my criteria for choosing an MVP. It’s a real shame. Sadly, it’s mostly the kids studying old NBA seasons who suffer. They toss and turn all night as they attempt to fathom why Michael Jordan only won five MVPs (I may or may not have done this).

Once voters have contemplated the questions, they should review the common pitfalls to be sure that they are avoiding them. One of the most important things to remember is that the MVP vote should be based solely on the player’s performance this season. These are not lifetime achievement awards.

Additionally, these are not Most Improved Player Awards. That vote is separate. Simply because a player exceeds expectations does not make him the MVP. We are so often wowed by the flashy player who is having a breakout season that we overlook the perennial MVP contenders. This is similar to the most frustrating pitfall of all—voter fatigue. The voters grow tired of selecting the same player year after year so they become tempted to choose a less qualified candidate merely because he is someone different. They must resist this urge.

Voters must also be wary of favoring an MVP candidate based on his team’s improvement. For instance, they should recognize that the Warriors have made a significant leap this season for a litany of reasons, only one of which is Steph Curry’s stellar play. Curry is certainly a viable MVP candidate; voters just need to be careful about showering him with praise because of the team’s win total this year. Many parties are responsible for the team’s progress.

Most voters would agree that this is the tightest race in years. When facing a difficult decision like voters will this season, the questions are pitfalls are not always enough.  Then the voters should look to the numbers. First, compare how many games the candidates have played. This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. In a close MVP race, the candidate who played 82 games has made a greater impact than the guy who played 72. This could be the difference maker. Despite how great Russell Westbrook has played lately, he has missed 15 games this season. That will severely inhibit his chance to win MVP.

If the games played numbers are equal or negligibly different, voters should turn to the most common advanced stats such as +/-, PER, and win shares. While it’s best to determine who deserves the MVP through mostly subjectively means (after all, it’s your own personal vote; of course it’s going to be subjective), an objective look at the key stats can be a helpful way to make that final decision.

What do you think? Follow Jared on Twitter (@JaredAndrews3) or leave a comment! Make sure to like More Than a Fan on Facebook!

Fixing the NBA Awards Voting Process

According to Kevin Durant, “[the media] really don’t know s***.” This was far from the type of graciousness that Durant normally displays when dealing with the media. Since entering the NBA in 2007, Durant has consistently been one of the most kind and polite players in the league. If he willingly delivered such a blunt affront—even one that when taken out of context sounds harsher than it was meant to be—it must be true.

At least on some level what Durant said was accurate. The reporter touched a nerve by asking Durant a leading question on Scott Brooks’ job security. KD went a bit too far in his response, certainly. Though for the most part the media grasps the goings on of the NBA, they are littered with biases and lightly researched opinions. The media knows more than Durant suggested, but not everything. So why should they determine which NBA brethren take home prestigious individual hardware each year?

Currently, the media is solely responsible for choosing the NBA’s, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, All-NBA teams, All-NBA Defensive teams, and MVP. The only honor not controlled by media vote is the All-Rookie teams, which are chosen by the coaches. That’s a tremendous amount of clout handed to the media guys and gals who—for the most part—do not re-watch game film, are not privy to game plans, and do not recognize the various idiosyncrasies in strategy that teams implement throughout each game.

The NBA needs to restructure its award voting processes to divvy up the power that is currently held entirely by the media. It’s not that the media as a whole is completely incompetent, they simply should not be handed such great power to claim all to themselves (aside from the 1 vote out of 125 that comes from a fan poll on nba.com that most people probably don’t even know about). No one entity deserves that type of influence. The select media members still deserve to play a role in the NBA awards voting process, just a smaller role.

In place of the current system, I suggest a new, balanced arrangement. The vote for each individual award and All-NBA team honor should be determined by vote from three separate parties: the media, the coaches, and the players. Each party would account for an equal 1/3 of the total vote. This setup draws from the three most relevant sources of insight on the NBA and would yield the most valid recipients.

The coaches and players deserve to contribute to the vote. After all, they are the ones responsible for creating the product, while the writers are merely consumers. The coaches and players spend countless hours devouring game film. They break down every opposing coach and player. They know the game inside and out. They have the answers. That’s why the sportswriters are always asking them questions.

When the NBA MVP Award was first given in 1956 and up until 1980, a vote from the players determined the winner. This created some discrepancies between the league’s MVP and the players elected 1st Team All-NBA, which were chosen by the media vote. On three separate occasions, Bill Russell was award league MVP, yet only made 2nd Team All-NBA (Wilt Chamberlain was 1st team each time). The media was awed by Wilt’s gaudy stats, while the players placed greater value on Russell’s intangibles and superior team success. Neither decision is necessarily right or wrong—they are simply different opinions. And that’s exactly what the award voting process needs.

This change to the process of determining NBA honors may not lead to many changes in the outcomes. However, it will serve to create a much needed balance, eliminate the monopoly that the media currently holds, and give players the voice that many of them crave.

Commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly stated that he is open to making changes in league policies.  He should add this to his list.

Players Not Shaking Hands in the NBA Shouldn't be a Big Deal

by Ryan Isley

Are we really going to do this again? Are we actually going to talk about a team and their best player not shaking hands with the competition after a hard fought game in the NBA? Yes. Yes we are.

When the Chicago Bulls defeated the Miami Heat 101-97 on Wednesday night to end the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, LeBron James set the Twitter world on fire when he walked off the floor immediately following the final buzzer, not stopping to shake hands or hug any members of the opposition. He was upset. Not only by the loss, but by the way the game was played.

The Bulls physically beat up James and the Heat, but mostly James. Their game plan was to make LeBron know that they were there and not give him any easy layups or dunks that might shift momentum in the game. The most obvious example of the Bulls plan was when Kirk Hinrich tried to tackle LeBron on a drive in the first quarter as if he was a safety and the three-time NBA MVP was headed for a game-winning touchdown.

Here is the thing – I don’t have an issue with how the Bulls played. I see no problem with it whatsoever. If the officials are going to let the two teams play – which they should – then the Bulls game plan might be the ultimate blueprint on how to beat the Heat. It was like something out of the NBA TV vault – two teams being allowed to play without being called for every little hand check and without the offensive player being bailed out on every possession. This was old school basketball. The kind of basketball we all grew up watching before superstars (and semi-stars) starting dictating the way the games were called. I can only imagine that Chuck Daly was watching this game from heaven with a grin that stretched ear to ear.

But if we are going to be fine with how the game played out, we also can’t fault LeBron for doing something else that was old school – taking the game personally and wanting to beat the daylights out of his opponent so badly that afterwards he didn’t want to be friendly with them.

Somewhere along the line, we have become a society that is so worried about sportsmanship and what we define as being such that when players don’t want to shake hands after a game – win or lose – we call them bad sports and sore losers. We say that they should be punished and scolded publicly for their lack of sportsmanship or in some cases, class. Unfortunately we have become so fixated on worrying about everyone’s feelings that sometimes we forget that there are winners and losers. The NBA isn’t some fourth grade league at the local YMCA. There aren’t trophies awarded at the end of the season for participating so that nobody walks away upset.

This is the part of sports I have grown to despise. Forgive me if I don’t have a problem with a player not wanting to shake hands with players that he just spent the last three hours trying to beat into a pulp. This isn’t just about LeBron, either – it goes for every athlete on every team. And after the game on Wednesday night, I tweeted as much. During the Twitter conversation, I was tweeted the following from Anthony Gabriele:

Tweet about NHL

He makes a great point. This was one of the only examples in which I could would be upset if the players didn’t shake hands. The post-series handshake line is one of the greatest NHL traditions that still remains to this day. But you don’t see players shaking hands and hugging after every regular season game or even every individual game in the postseason.

The other example I came up with was after a round in a golf tournament. It is golf etiquette to remove your cap and shake hands with the person you played with that day, whether it is just a friendly round at the local course or a major championship on the PGA Tour. But if you watch most handshakes in golf, they are done just for that simple reason – it is proper etiquette. They aren’t shaking hands and hugging or laughing it up on the 18th green. Most times it is a simple and cordial handshake, the way it has always been.

And that brings me back to the NBA. The NBA hasn’t always been a league where guys exchange pleasantries following a game. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell weren’t hugging at half court after they went to battle with each other. I am pretty sure the Bad Boy Pistons and the Michael Jordan’s Bulls weren’t friendly with each other after games. Even the Knicks and Heat in the 1990s had the feel of two teams who just simply didn’t like each other.

Personally, I preferred that NBA over the one we have today. Players back then didn’t play AAU ball together growing up and didn’t have friendships that overshadowed their rivalries. They didn’t want to join other superstars to win a title – they wanted to beat other superstars to win the title. And yes, I know this is a LeBron issue as well – it is the one thing I still hold against him.

So forgive me if I am not upset with LeBron for walking into the tunnel without going over to hug Carlos Boozer or share a laugh with Kirk Hinrich. Just like you forgave me when I supported him for not shaking hands and having a good time with the Orlando Magic in 2009. Even in this age we live in, I still think sports should be about beating your opponent – not becoming best friends with them.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]

The Greatness of LeBron's Postseason Shouldn't be Overshadowed

by Ryan Isley

You can love LeBron James or you can hate him – it doesn’t really matter. But the one thing that everyone should definitely do is appreciate what the reigning NBA MVP did in the 2012 NBA playoffs.

The one thing that has kept people from realizing just how great LeBron was over the past nine weeks is their blind hatred for the three-time NBA MVP. And that is not just a shot at Cleveland fans – it is a shot at all fans across the country who have not shown any appreciation for what LeBron accomplished once the regular season ended. With all of the hate towards LeBron, it has been easy to overlook exactly what he did in this postseason and to not think about the historical significance of what we saw from him each night.

The problem has been that every time that LeBron had a great game or helped Miami win, there was still criticism that either he didn’t score enough in the fourth quarter or he missed a free throw or he shouldn’t have taken that jumper. That or the Heat only won because the officials gave them all of the calls. The excuses against him went on and on and on.

As the Miami Heat wrapped up the NBA Championship on Thursday night, LeBron did something that nobody has ever done in an NBA postseason. Not Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. Not Oscar Robertson. Not Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. Not Kobe Bryant. And no – not even Michael Jeffrey Jordan himself.

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