Sunday, April 15, 2007

The "Best Player/Best Team" Fallacy

In the previous post, in which I annoint Nash as my choice for MVP, I mentioned what I believe to be the fallacy that the award must go to the Best Player on the Best Team. I understand where this type of logic comes from, as the NBA MVP is very much an award predicated on team success. I discuss this in the upcoming Nash MVP column, but 16 of the past 26 MVPs have gone to a player from the best team in the entire league. However, with information like this it is never clear whether the effect is causal or corollary. Is the award given to a BP/BT guy 62% of the time because that is our definition of an MVP, or does it happen because an MVP is often going to help his team to the league's best record? There is no way to know for sure. However, one thing I do know for sure is that the award has gone to a player from the league's #2 team eight times, leaving only 1988 Jordan (his Bulls were #3 in the Eastand #7 overall) and 2005 Nash (the Suns were #3 in the West and #4 overall) as recipients that weren't from one of the top two teams. Given those trends, it seems that we can indeed safely say that the award will usually go to a player from one of the top two teams. That is certainly an established track record.

However, that is entirely different from just finding the best team in the standings, indentifying the "best" player from that team, and handing him the trophy. With two teams in the mix, it allows for a better analysis of true value. This year I feel that Nash was more valuable to the Suns than Dirk was to the Mavs. Reasonable minds can disagree on this, but to automatically pick Dirk ignores a great debate and analytical process. And it is clear that such a debate has been engaged in the past, rather than go the automatic christening route. Here are some recent MVP winners that came from the #2 (or lower) teams, coupled with the likely winner had we just gone with a simple "best player, best team" examination:

2006 - Nash (#3 in West, #4 overall); Chauncey Billups (#1 overall)
2004 - Kevin Garnett (#1 in West, #2 overall); Jermaine O'Neal (#1 overall)
2002 - Tim Duncan (#2 in West, #2 overall); Chris Webber (#1 overall)
2001 - Allen Iverson (#2 in East, #2 overall); Tim Duncan (#1 overall)

You can go back further and find more examples, but that gives you an idea. Duncan would have come out Even Steven under this system, but Iverson, KG, and Nash would have lost MVPs, while Webber, Jermaine O'Neal, and Billups would be holding some hardware. Seems kind of crazy, no? Especially when you consider that only Duncan in 2001 even finished second in the voting. Billups was fifth, O'Neal third, and Webber seventh (he kind of got shafted, in hindsight).

It seems obvious from those examples that using a restricted method of analysis that limits your choice to only the #1 team in the NBA would result in some wayward MVP votes. Even though Dirk is a worthy MVP candidate this year, I hope no one uses such a reductive method to cast their vote in this race.

No comments: