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.