Nowitzki Receives MVP, Nash and Bryant Round Out Top ThreePerhaps the worst kept secret in the NBA was revealed today when Dirk Nowitzki was officially announced as the 2006-07 NBA regular season MVP. Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks went 67-15, one of the best records in the history of the NBA, and he played a key role in that success, leading Dallas in scoring (24.6 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg) while averaging a career-high 3.4 apg. He shot .502 from the field, .416 from three point range and .904 from the free throw line, joining Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Steve Nash as the only players to exceed .500/.400/.900 for an entire season; each of those shooting percentages represent career-highs for Nowitzki. He did all of this in 36.2 mpg, his lowest amount of playing time since his second season (1999-00), a reflection of his team's dominance (i.e., he was sitting out at the end of a lot of blowouts).
Nowitzki received 83 first place votes, 39 second place votes and seven third place votes from a 129 member media panel; Steve Nash, who won the two previous MVPs, finished second (44, 74, 11) and Kobe Bryant finished third (2, 11, 65, plus 30 fourth place votes and nine fifth place votes). Points are awarded on a 10, seven, five, three, one basis, so Nowitzki had 1183, Nash had 1013 and Bryant had 521. Others who received at least 100 points include Tim Duncan (286), LeBron James (183) and Tracy McGrady (110).
There is no denying the elephant that sat in the room alongside Nowitzki, Dallas owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Coach Avery Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern during the MVP press conference: in the first round of the playoffs, Dallas became just the third number one seed to lose to an eighth seed since the current playoff format began in 1983-84 and the first one to do so in a seven game series. Obviously, that is a disappointing way to end the season but the recent backlash against Nowitzki being this season's MVP is tasteless and ridiculous. This is a regular season award: it is clearly labeled as such and that is why the voting is done before the playoffs even start. So, what happens in the playoffs is completely irrelevant. Until this year I don't recall that there was ever this much talk about whether or not a regular season MVP deserved the award based on what he did in the playoffs. The closest comparison would probably be 1994-95, when San Antonio's David Robinson won the award and then Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon, the 1993-94 winner, torched him head to head in the playoffs--but that involved direct competition between the two leading contenders for that year's MVP. Perhaps that was not entirely fair either, but the stark contrast in the head to head showdown certainly lent credence to the idea that Olajuwon should have been a repeat winner. Maybe if Steve Nash outplayed Nowitzki head to head in this year's playoffs then a case could be made against Nowitzki but they in fact met just last year and Nowitzki was the best player on the court as his team eliminated Nash's Suns and went on to the NBA Finals.
The NBA MVP is meant to recognize the best individual regular season performance in a given year. Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were the story of the 2006-07 regular season. I don't hear the people who are complaining about Nowitzki's MVP saying anything about the conspicuous lack of championship hardware on Nash's mantle. Did you know that Nowitzki has a higher career playoff scoring average (25.2 ppg) than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett? Nowitzki ranks 13th all-time and he also ranks 22nd all-time in career playoff rebounding average (11.1 rpg), ahead of Karl Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, David Robinson and Dennis Rodman, among others. There is no question that Nowitzki and Dallas did not perform well in this year's first round--but it is wrong to say that this nullifies what he did over an 82 game regular season or that this proves that he is a subpar playoff performer overall.
Yet, people are talking about changing the system and doing the voting after the playoffs. That is stupid--since 1969 there has been a Finals MVP to acknowledge postseason greatness. Also, it makes no sense for the NBA to award a single MVP after the Finals that encompasses the entire year--regular season and playoffs. That is a bad idea because what do you do if, for instance, Baron Davis leads Golden State to the championship? He was nowhere near the best player during the regular season and his team was mediocre for 82 games. Does it make sense to give him an award for all of 2006-07 when he only performed well for a few weeks? If Davis and the Warriors win the title then he will be a very deserving Finals MVP winner.
Voters could quit worrying about which is the best team and who is the best player on that team and simply give the award to the regular season's outstanding individual player. I've said all along that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league and I think that, ironically, there would be less backlash if he had won the 2006-07 MVP. He is widely acknowledged to be the league's best player but for some reason many people shy away from recognizing the best player if his team did not win a certain number of games--but the reality is that we have not had a regular season MVP whose team won the championship that year since Tim Duncan in 2002-03, so the award might as well go to the outstanding player from the regular season. That said, if the premise that most voters used was to select the best player from the best regular season team, Nowitzki certainly fits that bill in 2006-07 and it is not right to criticize him or the voters for that; Nowitzki had a great season and the voters cast their ballots based on that performance.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:26 PM