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Sunday, March 01, 2015

NBA MVP: Best Player in the League or Best Player on the Best Team?

My newest column for The Roar discusses the 2015 NBA MVP race:

NBA MVP: Best Player in the League or Best Player on the Best Team?

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:43 PM



At Sunday, March 01, 2015 6:46:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

LeBron James is the best player in the league; so of course he's going to be a strong candidate.

The mvp award doesn't have to go to the best player every year. There's at least two other worthy guys capable of being league mvp other than the best player in the game.

The other candidates besides LeBron are Westbrook, Harden, and Curry.

If I'm not mistaking the Warriors have the best record in the league.

Harden has been leading the Rockets all season long with Howard missing over 25 games.

Westbrook has not played in enough games to win mvp.

I dont believe these guys fit the criteria of a feel good story because all of them are top players in the league.

If guys like Marc Gasol or Kyle Lowry got mvp consideration throughout the season because of there team's record in the respective conferences, then that would be an example of a feel good story.

While I dont believe league nvp has to be given to the best player every year, I feel it should go to a guy that's mvp calibur. A guy that's one of the best in the game. All of the current candidates are in that category.

At Sunday, March 01, 2015 9:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with most of that. The MVP often goes to the 'best story.' Though I disagree that Harden/Curry aren't good stories. The Rockets are 22-10 with Howard, and 19-8 without him. Percentage-wise, HOU is doing better without Howard. This can be a bit misleading, but it says that Howard really isn't that great, at least anymore, and more importantly that Harden is really that great. However, HOU will need his services if they are to go far in the playoffs. Harden's doing great, and has a good cast now, but some of the other West teams are just better. GS hasn't been relevant for decades, and now they're the best team in the league. That's a tremendous story. Curry at least deserves some MVP consideration based on that alone. I think Curry will eventually win because his team is the best, and his game is aesthetically pleasing to watch, unlike a lot of Harden's game, which is unfair, but just the way it is.

James has missed 11 games, and Westbrook 15. While not that great of a # of games missed, it's a huge difference to Harden missing 0 and Curry missing 1. James only has a chance to be the best player when he actually plays hard all the time, which he doesn't always do. He's been coasting even through a lot of reg. season games the past few years. Harden/Curry have out performed him so far this year, maybe only because they've played more games, but that still counts. If Westbrook hadn't missed more than 5 games or so, I'd take him for MVP. He's playing better than anyone else in the league when he does play.

I don't understand why the best player isn't the MVP every year. People just like making up 'MVP' definitions, which can change every year. And they often go with the argument about best most valuable player to your team, which isn't entirely correct. The MVP is mvp of the league, not of a particular team. And also, let's just say for argument's sake that James is the best player in the league when he does play. However, he's missed 11 games. If Harden ends up playing 11 more games than James, that should elevate Harden more relative to James, if it's close.

At Monday, March 02, 2015 6:09:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

I believe the mvp should go to the guy who is having the best year. It doesnt always have to be the best player in the game. As I said though, the recipient of the award should be one of the best in the game.
Harden and Curry are both two of the best players in the game. So its not a feel good story if they win it.

To me a feel good story is if a guy gets strong mvp consideration because of his team's record and he's not a mvp calibur player or one of the best in the game. However some players can take a huge leap in one year.

Billups in 2006 would have been a good example of a feel good story had he won mvp. He got consideration for it because the Pistons had the leagues best record at 64-18 I believe.
He was not a mvp calibur or a top ten player. Probably not top 15.

At Monday, March 02, 2015 11:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the 'guy who is having the best year' would then be the best player, at least for the reg. season, right? If you're the best player in the game then you should be having the best year.

I guess you don't believe in 'feel good stories' then, which is fine. Can you name me one player who won MVP who wasn't a very good player on a very good team? Usually the MVP comes from the best player on a top 4-5 team. Sure, Billups may have had some MVP consideration and he deserved some of it, but he had no chance to win it. We're talking about actually winning the award primarily or having a legit chance of winning it. Billups was 2nd all-nba in 2006.

At Monday, March 02, 2015 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Given your "best player" definition, I was a little surprised not to see no consideration of Anthony Davis, who's having an extraordinary year by any standard, and who's kept an otherwise bad/ordinary team, with a bunch of injuries, in playoff contention in the West, at least until recently.

In a single-season draft, I'd take Lebron, so I don't quibble with your ultimate conclusion. But I think it's pretty close between them, and I'd take Davis ahead of Westbrook (who's also terrific).

At Wednesday, March 04, 2015 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Totally agree that anybody other than Lebron has no business winning the MVP this season.

That said, Curry probably will.

If Harden wins, I'm going to drink a lot of whiskey.

At Wednesday, March 04, 2015 6:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Anthony Davis is having a very good season. His numbers are actually similar to Chris Bosh's 2009-10 campaign (though Bosh averaged fewer blocks and more assists). My article was more about why the best player should win and why James is the best player than about listing every possible MVP candidate.

At Friday, March 06, 2015 4:00:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

I think MVP should go to player playing his best and especially being crucial to teams success. As such LeBron who's coasting even being the best player in game doesn't quite qualify imho. He doesn't seem to do everything to help his team, so his value is a bit diminished when it comes to MVP.
Considering my criteria I see only one player deserving it this season, Westbrook.

At Friday, March 06, 2015 4:26:00 AM, Anonymous Don said...

MVP should be performance based, and should go to the player who performed the best throughout the year. James is of course the best player, but this year's best performance did not come from him.

Now, how we measure performance is where we will have our debates. Should we include team performance? Should we base it purely on stats? How about advanced stats, PER, winshares, offensite/defensive rating, etc? How about the "eye-test"? The intangibles? Leadership?

My point is, MVP is a yearly award. So the MVP should be judged on the year's performance, and other years should be disregarded.

At Friday, March 06, 2015 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree Don. However, if James is the best player, but not based on this season's performance, how is he in fact the best player? If we're only looking at this season, and you agree that James hasn't been the best this season, then why do you(and you're not alone) say he's the best player? Forget the entire past, because that's irrelevant to the 2015 MVP. People want to cite voter fatigue hindering James this year, but in fact, his past is helping him more than anything.

I think most would say Durant had a better 2014 reg. season than James, though people were still saying James was the best player. And then we saw Leonard, a glorified role player who's never made an AS game outplay him in the finals. So, it's been nearly 2 years since James was indeed the best player. And now we've seen other players like Harden, Curry, and Westbrook outplay James this season so far. Why do we keep pumping this guy up more than he deserves? CLE is still only the 4 seed in the East. Would they even make the playoffs in the West? He switches teams last offseason for greener pastures again, and now he has the best cast in the league again, and so far has greatly underachieved.

At Monday, March 09, 2015 5:36:00 AM, Anonymous Don said...

You got me thinking there, anon. I really don't know the exact measure or reason how LeBron came up as the undisputed best player in the L. Maybe we know what he can do, maybe he's the most versatile player, maybe he's the best all-around player. But that's not really the point of this discussion. This is about how we name the NBA MVP, and I standby on what I commented last week.

I really want to hear what David thinks of my stance, since I really respect his views and analysis.

At Monday, March 09, 2015 9:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I don't think that the MVP should be selected purely based on statistics. Statistics can be affected by a player's role within the overall team structure; for instance, a player may be a great passer but not accumulate a lot of assists because he makes the right pass that then leads to the assist pass. A player may be a great rebounder but on a particular team his role may be to box out the other team's best rebounder (as opposed to chasing the ball) or his role may take him away from the hoop, limiting his rebounding opportunities. Michael Jordan always put up good rebounding numbers but during one stretch when Dennis Rodman was suspended Jordan's rebounding numbers shot up. If you watched Jordan play, you knew even before the Rodman suspension that he was a great rebounder (based on timing, positioning, anticipation, strength, etc.) but the numbers may not have fully shown how great until Rodman was out.

Statistics provide a broad contour outlining what a player does but it is also important to examine his skill set strengths and weaknesses. LeBron James is putting up MVP caliber numbers, even if his numbers are not quite as high as they have been in other seasons. Then, when you consider that he can guard all five positions and he has no real skill set weaknesses (outside shooting and post up game used to be problems but he worked on both areas the past few years), he is the most valuable player in the NBA.

His Cavs are adjusting to a new coach who has never coached in the NBA and they are figuring out how to blend three All-Star players together. Harden has had the same coach and been in the same system. Golden State has a new coach but the same players.

Cleveland is really coming on strong in the second half of the season, so I don't think that the Cavs' record should somehow disqualify James.

In my opinion, James remains the best all-around player in the NBA and he deserves the 2015 MVP.

At Monday, March 09, 2015 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree that there's more than just the stats, and that CLE's record doesn't necessarily disqualify James. However, everything we've seen so far this season, and the fact that CLE is struggling to get a top seed in a weak conf. points to James not being as valuable as it seems. Yes, CLE has a new coach and some new players; however, these are just excuses. No other player, save perhaps Durant/Westbrook, can boast playing with 2 other big-time players, who are also in their primes, and a very quality cast around them. And it's not like Devean George is CLE's 4th best player.

A truly great, all-around player as you say James is should be able to mesh with any type of player he plays with and almost immediately, and this isn't the case with James. We saw the same thing in Miami. He is very skilled and maybe most skilled in the league, but that part of his game is often absent and doesn't always mesh well with his teammates.

James may be able to guard all 5 positions; however, Magic also was, and he wasn't a great defender. James can guard the 1, 4, and 5 for a very limited time, but not an all-nba level. He struggles defending anyone near his size in the post. I'd take Westbrook defensively over him for sure, and Westbrook can really only defend PGs and sometimes SGs.

Being the most skilled, or the most athletic, or even both doesn't necessarily mean you're the best player. Not sure if I'd put James ahead of Curry or Westbrook, but he has a case. As for Harden, not really. There's several reasons. Harden has been more durable, more efficient, more productive, and plays hard more often than James. Right now, Harden has a decent cast, but still not as good as James. And he doesn't have anyone even remotely resembling a star until Howard gets back. And Howard is no longer playing at an AS level, even if healthy, which he isn't. HOU has a better record in a much better conf. It would make no sense to award James the MVP this season.

At Tuesday, March 10, 2015 4:38:00 AM, Anonymous CR said...


Out of curiosity do you use a similar criteria for choosing Coach of the Year? In that case shouldn't Gregg Popovich win it every year?

Would a "Most Valuable Coach" award be given to the same coach?

A lot of this comes down to semantics and how different media members choose to define the award. I wish the league would clearly the define the criteria for each award to help resolve the issue.

At Tuesday, March 10, 2015 11:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Some teams take longer to gel than others. That may or may not be the fault of the team's best player. Each case is different. James' Heat did not gel immediately but they eventually made it to four straight Finals and won back to back titles. I think that it is clear that James was the best player in the league during that time.

James is still the best player in the league now, even if he may not be quite as good as he was then. It is very surprising to me that anyone would take Harden over James. Harden's game is much more limited; he shoots threes and flails his arms trying to draw fouls--and it has been repeatedly proven that Harden's game does not work in the playoffs. I don't see the high "value" in this style of play and I certainly don't think that it is the "most valuable."

Despite their early struggles, the Cavs are now first in their division and second in the East. The Rockets are third in the West. The Cavs are 17-16 against plus-.500 teams, while the Rockets are 18-17. Both conferences have one 50 win team and four teams with 23 or fewer wins. Yes, the bottom tier West playoff teams have better records than the bottom tier East playoff teams but the difference in Cleveland and Houston's performance is not so great as you suggest.

As I stated in my original article, if I were choosing up sides right now, I'd take LeBron James ahead of anyone. I think that the remainder of this season and then the playoffs will bear out the wisdom of that statement. James Harden is a very good player but he is not the NBA's Most Valuable Player.

At Tuesday, March 10, 2015 11:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is an interesting question. Rick Barry used to say that the NBA should give out an MVP and a Player of the Year. The MVP should go to the best player and the Player of the Year should go to the player who had the best season. I suppose one could argue that LeBron James is the MVP but someone else (Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook) is the Player of the Year. Similarly, Gregg Popovich is arguably the MVP among coaches but perhaps Steve Kerr or Mike Budenholzer is the Coach of the Year.

I agree that the league should define the selection criteria more clearly but I think that the league keeps things vague precisely because this promotes controversy and brings attention to the awards.

At Tuesday, March 10, 2015 12:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying about Harden/James. Given the attributes of each player, James looks better and should be better. However, this is not how the game is played out. Before the season, sure I'd take James, too. And still would for the playoffs, etc. However, based on this season alone, not anything in the past, which you seem to take into account, Harden has outperformed James. So, in hindsight, no, Harden has better this season. Nitpick all you want about Harden's game, the bottomline is that he gets the job done, very efficiently, and he has no other stars to play with. He may have struggled some in the playoffs, not always though, which is still irrelevant to the 2015 MVP race. However, he still put up very good #'s. He took a nobody cast and played OKC tough in 2013. Portland pulled 4 wins by a total of 11 points last year. Who cares if he flails around? It does work. And James flops all the time, do you seem high value in this?

Whether you think a team gelling together or not isn't James fault or not, it is relevant. James hasn't elevated his star-studded to greater heights than say a Curry or a Harden or even Westbrook who's playing without Durant. It looks like CLE is going to finish in the 51-54 win range. With 3 big-time players and in a weak conf., that's not that great. No, that doesn't necessarily disqualify James, but if there's other legit candidates out there, which there is every year, it should be a huge deterrent to him winning MVP deservedly or undeservedly so.

Right now in the East, ATL is the only team that CLE has to worry about, and it's so hard to really believe in them. CLE would be the 8th seed in the West right now, and likely in 9th or 10th place if they played a Western schedule. Is that really that special?

At Thursday, March 12, 2015 1:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Harden has actually not accomplished anything in the playoffs since leaving OKC. James has made four straight Finals appearances and won two championships. Even if we were to say that James and Harden are having similar seasons, I would give the "benefit of the doubt," so to speak, to James as the more valuable player.

James' "star-studded cast" includes two young stars who have not won anything and are not known for playing defense. The Cavs certainly have a talented roster and they are playing very well down the stretch but I think that your criticism of how well/how quickly James is blending in with this cast is not fair.

I don't find any value in flopping, regardless of who does it.

The reality is that the Cavs are ranked higher in the East than the Rockets are in the West. All a team can do is play the teams on its schedule and compete within its own conference. I don't think that Houston's performance overall is more impressive than Cleveland's and I am much more doubtful about Houston winning even one playoff series than I am about Cleveland winning a playoff series. If Harden gets the MVP, he will likely be receiving it in a warehouse somewhere with the Rockets already out of the playoffs (I am thinking of the MVP that Nowitzki won in 2007).

People are getting too caught up in the story of Harden leaving OKC, Houston using "advanced stats" and Harden putting up big scoring numbers. Harden's value is being overstated. He is a very good player but he is not the best player in the NBA.

At Friday, March 13, 2015 9:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

James plays elite defense. Harden sometimes plays average defense. How is this even an argument?


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