The Most Important, Valuable, Irreplaceable, Memorable and Statistically Remarkable Player

Judge using his gavel

Debate over the naming of this season’s MVP has grown increasingly active and contentious over the past few weeks. Opinions have been flying in from every direction. Arguments have been made for Derrick Rose, against Derrick Rose, and for Dwight Howard. Even Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry and Russell Westbrook have had their names pop up. There have also been thousands of words written trying to clarify the boundaries of the debate. I’ve been working to codify my own opinion on the matter and, nearly there, I thought it was time to wade into the discussion. Luckily very few people actually read this site, so I won’t really be adding any fuel to the fire.

Judging by the media coverage, the MVP race seems to have been pared down to just two players; Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. One of the main arguments from Rose’s supporters, against Howard, is that an end-of-game offensive liability shouldn’t be considered the league’s Most Valuable Player.

According to 82games.com, Rose has scored 43.2 points per 48 minutes in clutch situations (defined as the last five minutes of a game or during overtime, with neither team ahead by more than five points). That’s a gargantuan number, and one that dwarfs Howards’ 25.0. However, that number doesn’t cover efficiency in any respect. I took the numbers from 82games and did a quick conversion to points per possession (Pts/(FTA*0.4)+FGA+TO). The entire spreadsheet can be viewed here. By this measure of efficiency, the tables are completely turned. In clutch situations, Howard averages 1.37 points per possession, the 15th best mark among the 164 players 82games has statistics available for. Rose scores 0.87 points per possession in clutch situations, the 116th best mark.

Granted, Howard has accomplished this on a much smaller sample size, just 38 total possessions, by my calculations, compared to 126 for Rose. His efficieny would almost certainly decline with more clutch opportunities. Still, the numbers seem to indicate he could shoulder more of a load, and still be a reasonably efficient offensive option.  It seems that the Magic avoiding Howard in the clutch is as much about fear as it is about actual results.

Now, I’m about to make an argument that I don’t normally stand behind: These numbers I’ve presented don’t really matter to this discussion, and neither do any others. There is no consensus on the criteria which defines this award. Therefore, there is no way to offer definitive evidence in support of any candidate.

That’s not to say that the discussion isn’t worth having. In fact I think the ambiguity of criteria is precisely what makes this argument so interesting. The race for the league lead in PER hasn’t generated any attention, mostly because it doesn’t provide any room for subjective opinions. The PER leader is determined by a mathematical formula, with the weights for each statistical component pre-determined.

The fun of MVP discussions is that each person gets to create their own qualitative and/or quantitive evaluation method, assigning relative weight to, or ignoring completely, each piece of information. It’s a lot like disagreeing about which is best: New York style pizza or Kurt Vonnegut novels. That’s simply not an argument that can be won, but I’m sure it would lead to an interesting exchange of ideas.

I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice, but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with the vocal minority who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard.

Argue your belief, passionately and completely. However, acknowledge that someone else may do the same and reach a perfectly reasonable, albeit different conclusion from your own. Enjoy the discourse and exchange of ideas. There is no wrong answer in this discussion. Except of course for Kobe Bryant. That guy is terrible.

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5 Comments

Filed under Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, NBA, Orlando Magic, Statistical Analysis

5 responses to “The Most Important, Valuable, Irreplaceable, Memorable and Statistically Remarkable Player

  1. Chicago Tim

    Do you have a problem with the vocal minority in the media and blogosphere who have been arguing that it is a travesty if Rose does win? Because I think what gets on the nerves of Bulls fans is the idea that this year all previous standards should be tossed out the window in favor of pure, statistical standards, preferably without regard to team record. That’s not how it has ever been done in the past, so why this year?

    I disagree about any consensus as to the alternative to Rose. I think that’s another weakness in the anyone-but-Rose argument. Hollinger argues for Howard, but others argue for James or Bryant or even (among the true purists) for Paul or Love.

  2. Matt

    Tim,
    What gets on the nerves of non-Bulls fans is that Rose isn’t such a clear choice, yet he was essentially awarded the MVP with 8 weeks left in the season. Thats bound to lead to backlash.

    And simply stating “thats how its always been done” in regards to Rose’s candidacy is pointless. People grow more intelligent, we learn from our mistakes, and we introduce new ideas. You could use the past as an example to continue billions of awful practices.

    The difficulty this season is that, as you mentioned, there isn’t ANY clear cut choice. Thats why its ridiculous to hand the award to a guy who’s no more deserving than potentially 5 other players prematurely.

    To me, the MVP is Howard. As Abbott/Hollinger like to say, the first 46 minutes matter just as much as the last 2. So, the fact that Dwight can’t sprint down the court and chuck jumpers shouldn’t hinder his campaign, nor should his missed free throws detract voters any more than Rose’s low FG% and high turnovers should.

  3. Tim – I tried to allude to it, but obviously didn’t say it forcefully enough. I don’t think it’s a travesty if he does win and I do think people should stop acting like the sky is falling over this. I don’t think the argument is completely clear-cut statistics vs. story. There is disagreement about each player’s statistical elements and what is most important. There is also disagreement over the elements of each player’s narrative. For example the idea that Rose has basically led this team with very little help seems to be as hotly contested as his statistical resume. What I was trying to get across is that there are no rules for this. It can’t be a travesty either way.

    Matt – I do agree that the perception that Rose has already locked up the award rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I would point out though that most of the people assuming Rose has already locked up the award are nobodies like me who don’t have a vote. It’s the silly blogosphere cycle where hype is created from nothing, then a big backlash follows from the same sources that created it. It’s a little like that Celtic symbol, the snake which eats it’s own tail. I can’t remember what it’s called.

  4. Ian –

    First off, I believe you’re thinking of the Ouroboros symbol.

    As for the MVP argument, I think Rose winning the MVP is a foregone conclusion for a majority of the media, not just the “nobodies” like us that can’t vote. He will get about 80% of the first place votes, I think. But I agree with the other comments here – he IS a deserving winner, but the race should be closer than it is.

    While your metric conversion to points per possession to quantify ‘clutch’ value makes sense in theory, you have to question using any metric that lists Landry Fields and JJ Redick in the top 3 of that particular list. I understand what you’re saying about Howard’s efficiency in comparison to Rose, but it’s a really tough sell using that conversion factor. I understand the value of “glue” guys and that they impact the game in many ways that we don’t necessarily notice, but to me that list loses credibility in any argument when Joel (not Carmelo) Anthony is ranked #8 (Melo at #83).

    As for my take on MVP, I think there should be some sort of filter or criteria set for MVP candidacy as opposed to the arbitrary listing of various factors that voters have been doing. That is, everything that SHOULD be considered MVP qualities should be listed in order of importance, and an MVP should be determined thereafter. Something like this..

    1. Player shall be on a legitimate championship contender (because that’s generally who is ultimately rewarded, even in All-Star voting for the most part). Quantify that how you would want – I would suggest a player need be on a top-6 team (the top 20% of the league, so to speak).
    2. Player shall be the undisputed go-to guy for the team. As a way of quantifying this, if the player is in the top 5 in PER, he cannot have a teammate within 5 spots on the PER rankings. This would rule out guys like LeBron (who has Wade), Durant (Westbrook), and Kobe (Gasol). Obviously there may be exceptions for deserving alpha dogs who may have highly efficient teammates who greatly benefit from their presence (e.g. Jordan with Pippen), but the lack of a second fiddle should be accounted for.

    I go into gory details when narrowing down the field on my blog post, though that post was about the MVP debate through 50 regular season games when I had Dirk as my MVP (http://t.co/z2YE8cD if you’re curious). With the Mavs limping toward the finish, and the Bulls poised to take the 1st spot in the East, it’s hard to argue against Rose. But to add to the case for Howard – he has NOBODY else on his team within the top 50 in PER (Ryan Anderson is 52nd). That’s impressive. Rose is no slouch as an alpha dog either, as his main supporters are Boozer (32) and Noah (41), who have been in and out of the lineup.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but this is a very interesting debate and as we all mentioned, should be more debateable than it is.

  5. Pingback: Five NBA MVP’s | sportsattitudes

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