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

By Ian Levy – This post first appeared at

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, 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.

16 Responses to "The Most Important, Valuable, Irreplaceable, Memorable and Statistically Remarkable Player"

  1. Wally   April 7, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Ian —
    We can certainly talk all types of stats and those are certainly part of the equation for the MVP question and other similar issues. In my opinion, we also have to bring in more of the subjective criteria … and one of those certainly has to be the question(s): Where would team X be without player Y? And where exactly is team X in the context of the league … where do they stand?

    So with those questions in mind, I’m not gonna talk about every MVP candidate, but will discuss a few.

    Kobe and the Lakers: likely #2 seed in the West, maybe unexpectedly so as folks probably figured they’d be the #1 seed starting the season. Where would the Lakers be without Kobe? Probably a 4 or 5 seed. Of course, Kobe’s real value will be on display once the playoffs start … his competitive zeal, not to mention great skills, propels LA during crunch time.

    Dwight Howard and the Magic: They will be the 4th seed in the East … where’d they be without Dwight? Maybe the 5th or 6th seed … or maybe they still come in at 4. I just don’t see him making a huge difference (I said “huge”) on his team’s overall performance. He’s just not the dominant offensive center we all kinda hoped he’d be.

    Lebron and the Heat: He’s suffering from two things … the expectations at the outset of the season and the “hate factor” generated by how this year’s Heat came to be. Those shouldn’t be involved in this discussion though. Miami will get the 2 or 3 seed in all likelihood, which is probably slightly below where folks thought they’d be (1 or 2). Lebron has had a terrific statistical season, but doesn’t he always? Where would Miami be without him? Probably the #5 seed in the East. have they won the “big games” this year? They were swept by the Bulls and I believe are 0-2 vs Boston. If he performed better at the end of close games, we’re likely talking about Miami as the 1 seed in the East.

    Derrick Rose and the Bulls: Very likely the East’s #1 seed. Let’s jump right to the question on where they’d be without D Rose. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be battling with Philly and Indy for the East’s last playoff spots. Maybe. That’s a drop for #1 to #8 … or worse. He’s the best player on one of the league’s best teams … and his value to that team is unquestioned … probably more valuable than any other player to their team.

    Derrick Rose is my MVP this season. Yes, I’m obviously a Bulls fan, but I’ve tried to be objective about it. Certainly interested to hear others’ thoughts on this. Nice post!

  2. Crossword Pete   April 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I second the Rose nomination for the very same reasons that Wally stated; Derrick Rose is clearly the Most “Valuable” Player to his team’s current season. Kobe may still be the guy I want in a clutch situation and down in Miami who knows what’s going on. Take note that when Chris Bosh tanked, so did the team, and when Bosh recovered, so did the team. Does that make him most valuable? Maybe. Howard might indeed be the least missed, as would Duncan or Nowitzki.

  3. ilevy   April 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Again, I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m arguing that the fun is deciding on your own criteria and I’ll stick by that. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards objective measures, because to me they feel to leave less room for interpretation.

    For example I completely disagree with your subjective evaluations of where the each team would be without their star. I agree Miami and L.A. would still be among the top teams in their conferences. I think you have Chicago and Orlando completely backward.

    Without Rose I think Chicago is still a Top 5 team in the East. There are plenty of numbers that show their defense doesn’t suffer much when he’s off the floor. He’s carried a huge share of their offense, but I think a lot of their players have the potential to be more productive at that end if they had too.

    I think Orlando, on the other hand, is a 30 win team without Howard. Contrary to popular opinion he is a productive offensive player and their whole system revolves around the space he creates by controlling the paint. They have a ton of good shooters, but no one would be getting open looks without Howard. He’s also their only real defender.

  4. Wally   April 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for the support, Pete. Two other points …

    1) I hate that the MVP is just a regular season award. If I were running things, I’d wait til after the playoffs … that’s when we REALLY see who’s valuable, or not. But I think the entire season should be factored in before votes are cast.

    2) What about the Spurs??? Who saw them having the NBA’s best record this year?? And who’s the engine behind that machine?? Should we be talking about Tony Parker as an MVP candidate? Or is it Manu Ginobili??? Actually, it’s probably both of them together that make the Spurs a winner. A pretty balanced team and a great job of coaching by Pop. But isn’t it a bit unusual that we’re not talking about MVP candidates on the team that has the league’s best record??? Maybe that’s why I really like the Spurs … I appreciate what a “TEAM” they really are. Old school hoops 🙂

  5. Casey   April 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Howard averages 23 ppg, 14 rpg and has 2 bpg. While he is a colossal waste of God-given ability (how many years is it going to take before he acquires a back-to-basket move), you take him out of that lineup, and Orlando doesn’t make it to the playoffs.

    Without Kevin Durant, we would not consider Oklahoma City a threat to the Lakers. Yes, Westbrook is also VERY important in their scheme.

  6. Wally   April 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Ian —
    I hear your argument … good points. Maybe I got the Orlando thing wrong, but I totally disagree on your view of the Bulls and where they’d be without Rose. Maybe that’s because I follow most of their games. I tend to value great guards over great centers because during crunch time, it starts with them and may end with them. With centers, somebody’s got to get them the ball in a good position. I can tell you that Rose has been TERRIFIC during the homestretch of close games this season for the Bulls. He’s their leader and everyone looks to him to make it happen … he’s got special skills that not very many players in the league have. I stand by my predicted drop of the Bulls in the standings without DRose.

    As far as Orlando goes, I just don’t think they’re much better than a “nice team” with a winning record … but of course they can prove me wrong in the playoffs. And I don’t think Howard is their go-to guy on the offensive end in crunch time. But he’s fantastic on the defensive end, no doubt.

  7. Wally   April 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    But Casey, doesn’t Orlando have your favorite “almost MVP candidate” in Hedo Terkoglu to lean on???? 🙂

    Good point on Durant. I shoulda mentioned him along with the other four.

  8. Casey   April 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    When he is on the floor, the only reason any other player on the Magic gets a rebound is because opponents double and triple Howard when the shot goes up.

  9. wally   April 7, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Anyone else happen to watch MVP Derrick Rose dominate the Celtics tonight on TNT? 30 pts and 8 assists. He makes plays I’m not sure anyone else in the league can duplicate right now. Bulls have all but officially clinched the 1 seed with the win. Playoffs are a new season … We’ll see how these young Bulls fare.

  10. Chas   April 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    The one thing I can really comment on from this thread is that I’d like to see the MVP award (in all sports) take the postseason into consideration, just as long as the post-season wasn’t overemphasized.

    So, how would those MVP awards look, if that was the case?

    2009-10: Kobe Bryant (instead of LeBron James)
    2008-09: Kobe (instead of LeBron)
    2007-08: Kevin Garnett (instead of Kobe)
    2006-07: Tim Duncan (instead of Nowitzki)

    In all of those cases, the team who won the NBA championship had a player who finished in the top four in MVP voting. Assuming none of these teams won the championship despite the fact that their regular season leader played poorly in the playoffs (which seems much more unlikely in basketball than any other sport), why shouldn’t those guys have won the MVP?

    I’m not saying this formula is always going to work. Maybe some years the MVP is on a team who lost the NBA Finals, but the Kobe vs. LeBron comparison over the last two years is really apt. Does anyone really think LeBron was more valuable than Kobe the last two years, considering the Lakers won both titles?

  11. Wally   April 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Exactly, Chas! You’re not the MVP until you succeed in the clutch. This is not to say you always have to come through … but, hey, let’s see you win a few big games a few times before we award you the MVP, LeBron!!! We need to factor in both seasons, but don’t overemphasize either, as you say.

  12. Rey   April 8, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Ian – great discussion piece as always. A Google Docs spreadsheet on points per possession in the last five minutes of a close game? That’s deep…

    I think stats have really ruined this MVP race. Stats are great because they allow us to measure, compare, contrast, etc. I don’t think they determine value though. If that sounds contradictory, let me explain.

    If the argument is “clutch,” which seems to be the “subjective party’s” argument in a sense, there is no way the stat you provide can be used to measure Howard vs. Rose. The major problem with all of that is the fact that Rose will have the ball in his hands facing five defenders in that situation. Meanwhile, Howard gets to sit and wait for defenses to adjust, perhaps rotate slowly or double at an inopportune time and benefit from a dump off. Rose isn’t getting anything dumped off to him – he’s creating! So the fact that Rose is at .087 points per possession “in the clutch” compared to Howard’s 1.37 holds no water with me. Two totally different positions, especially at that point of a game.

    Peruse that list above Rose and you find quite a few post players, quite a few shooters like Redick and Allen and Terry. Surprised to see Bibby there. PG wise I also Billups, Nash, Kidd and Westbrook above Rose. Ok – so maybe he isn’t the most efficient but here is where you have to actually watch the games to understand value. Rose is without a doubt making the tougher shots than anyone else in these moments.

    Rose is MVP.

  13. Casey   April 9, 2011 at 8:36 am

    How many NBA games have you actually watched this season?

  14. Rey   April 9, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Quite a few. I wasn’t suggesting Ian or anyone else haven’t watched.

  15. Wally   April 10, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Rose probably passes the eye test better than any other candidate this year. Statistically, I’m sure anyone can find some stats to use against him. Don’t let us stop ya … you go, girl!

  16. Wally   April 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    This just in … The MVP votes from ~32 ESPN “NBA experts”:

    Vote totals
    Derrick Rose: 146 points (26 first-place votes, 2 second, 1 third, 2 fourth, 1 fifth)
    Dwight Howard: 110 (2 first-place votes, 16 second, 9 third, 4 fourth, 1 fifth)
    LeBron James: 95 (2 first-place votes, 9 second, 13 third, 5 fourth)
    Kobe Bryant: 62 (4 second-place votes, 4 third, 13 fourth, 8 fifth)
    Dirk Nowitzki: 21 (1 second-place vote, 1 third, 4 fourth, 6 fifth)
    Dwyane Wade: 14 (1 first-place vote, 1 third, 2 fourth, 2 fifth)
    Chris Paul: 9 (1 third-place vote, 1 fourth, 4 fifth)
    Kevin Durant: 9 (1 third-place vote, 6 fifth)
    Manu Ginobili: 7 (1 first-place vote, 1 fourth)
    Amare Stoudemire: 2 (2 fifth-place votes)
    LaMarcus Aldridge: 1 (1 fifth-place vote)
    Zach Randolph: 1 (1 fifth-place vote)

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