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Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: TX, USA
Forecasting the NBA MVP - Stats and Myths
Here's a great article I found on MVP voting. The MVP award seems to be nothing but a PR ploy or a popularity contest, but it's nice to think that someone out there is looking at the thing objectively. It's a bit logical, but don't be discouraged with the length of the article. This is probably the best MVP analysis I've read. It beats the old 'LeBron James is the next Jordan and can dunk, so, he is the MVP' argument.
Dirk's The MVP
Stat Study Gives Nod To Mav Nowitzki
By David Lord
The NBA’s voting for its Most Valuable Player award each year is based on the regular season play alone. With the arrival of April, each team is down to its last ten games or so, and we sat down to take a glance around the league at the favorites for this year’s top player trophy. From crunching the numbers and the other factors that merit a designation as “most valuable,’’ we ended up with the following surprising conclusion: Dirk Nowitzki merits the MVP award this year. He isn’t merely one of many logical choices - he instead is the choice, and deserves the crown. If voters look at the same factors we looked at, Dirk should and will win.
Here’s how we narrowed the field, separated hype from substance, analyzed the numbers and came to our conclusion:
NARROWING THE CHOICES
In analyzing the MVP candidates, we started first with the process of elimination, to make the task easier. There are approximately 450 players in the NBA, but when looking for an MVP, history tells us that (barring extreme circumstances) we can quickly narrow the field down to a half dozen players or less. Gaudy stats on a losing team - or even on a borderline playoff team - are dismissed with the concept that personal excellence only matters if it leads a team to the top echelon in the standings. (Too bad, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Allen Iverson.) So we look at the top teams, and from those top teams we pick out the outstanding players, and look at what they have contributed towards producing a winner.
Using that standard, the top half dozen teams would be Phoenix, San Antonio, Seattle, and Dallas in the West, and Miami and Detroit in the East. Below those are other teams that have won lots of games this year, but frankly no players on those lower playoff teams have had a year so incredible that it will inspire voters to deem them this year’s MVP. With a nod to teamwork and defense, there is no player on Detroit that merits the award. We also eliminated Seattle’s Ray Allen because the Sonics team is sliding down the homestretch - when voters will be making decisions. We also believe that though Allen is an All-Star and the Sonic team leader, his play has not been dominant enough to merit an MVP selection. That leaves us with the stars of 4 teams to consider.
The MVP candidates from Phoenix would be Steve Nash, with Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion also deserving a look. From San Antonio, Tim Duncan is the man, though the subtle All-Star level contributions of Manu Ginobili have been a big factor in the Spurs success this year. In Miami, the obvious choice is Shaquille O’Neal, but a look has to be given to the contributions of Dwyane Wade. In Dallas, the lone star this year has been Dirk Nowitzki.
We will take time to look at the contributions of Stoudemire, Marion, Ginobili, and Wade in our analysis, but the MVP award will not go to any of them, because for one reason or another they are outshined by a player on their own team and therefore can’t win. Thus our finalists are Nash, Nowitzki, Duncan, and O’Neal.
LOOKING AT STATS AND COMBINED STATS
Though it isn’t the only factor, big numbers on the stats sheets are needed to drive a player’s candidacy for MVP. No matter how valuable a player is, voters will tend to grade him lower if his stats don’t measure up to the stats of the other viable candidates.
Which numbers matter the most? It’s hard to say, but in general a player must have something that a voter can use to justify that “this guy was the best.’’ All the finalists here have stats that in one way or another look good on their resume. Some have more than others.
In looking at the numbers, it makes sense to also consider “combined numbers’’ -- ie, various rankings of NBA players by the basketball stat gurus that do their best to quantify what matters and who excels on a basketball court. For the purposes of this analysis, to varying degrees we contacted, consulted with, and used combined numbers created by the following NBA experts: Dean Oliver, Dan Rosenbaum, Roland Beech, Ed Kupfer, John Hollinger. If you are a basketball stat junkie and are not familiar with the work of these incredible number crunchers, we encourage you to check them out: you will be amazed at the breadth and depth of their analyses.
Summary of stats info. In discussing the stats, it needs to be mentioned that in the final analysis of the voters, almost all of the stat details noted below will be tossed aside. Only the most general and obvious stat data will be looked at.
Thus, if a player scored 23 ppg or 21 ppg, the difference looks so minor on a summary sheet that it will get glossed over. The distinctions between whether a player is 3rd or 5th or 12th or whatever in rebounding probably will go unnoticed, if the stats sorta look alike. It isn’t particularly fair, but that’s how the system works. So what will emerge will be snippets of qualifications, with a few supporting stats that seem to glitter.
Nash will be credited with being the leader of the top team in the league, and for leading the league in assists. Then it will give his averages for points (16), rebounds (3.4), and assists (11.5). Dirk’s resume will mention that he is 3rd in scoring, and that he uniquely is in the top 10 in the NBA this season in both points and rebounds. Perhaps it will note he is 2nd in Efficiency. Then it will give his averages for points (27), rebounds (10.1), and blocks (1.5). Regarding Duncan we will hear that he is the reason the Spurs win so much, and his scoring (21), rebounds (11.4), and blocks (2.7) will be noted. Shaq will get credit for the Heat’s dominance in the East, and his averages in points (23), rebounds (10.5), and blocks (2.4).
The voter looking at that list who likes passing and assists will vote for Nash. Dirk’s scoring will give him a clear lead for voters who like scoring. The voters for the rebound-blocks work of a big man will probably favor Duncan, who leads Shaq and Dirk in both categories.
For those who want more details and analyses, here is a closer look at how these players stack up by the numbers.
Steve Nash. From a pure statistical standpoint, Nash is far and away the least qualified of our 4 finalists. The one major stat category in which he is in the top 35 for the year is assists, where he is first - but it has to be noted that some of the credit on each assist has to go to the player who makes the shot rather than misses it. He also ranks in the top echelon in shooting accuracy categories (FG% - 11th, 3-pt % - 7th, FT % - 8th). On the downside, he is 7th in the “most turnovers’’ list.
Nash’s flaw is defense, and the stats confirm that. He appears nowhere in the top 50 in any of the defensive-oriented categories (steals, blocks, defensive rebounds), and his reputation on the defensive end is less than stellar.
In the combined stat systems, Nash comes out better in general, though he is still overshadowed by the other 3 finalists in every ranking. The NBA’s ranking of Player Efficiency has him at 14th. Hollinger’s PER puts him at 21st, and he is 9th in the PER+ rankings. Rosenbaum’s DanVal ranking has him no higher than 10th. Meanwhile, the other 3 finalists are all in the top 10 in every one of those player ranking systems for their play this season. Oliver’s rankings, as outlined in his Basketball on Paper and which are proprietary to the Sonics, is unavailable to the public - but using the criteria of that highly regarded system, Nash ranks at the bottom among the 4 finalists.
But there is one other stat where Nash ranks at the top, and its impact on the voting can’t be overlooked. The Suns have the NBA’s best record, and that likely will be the case when the season ends. As the acknowledged team leader on the #1 team, Nash will earn mental bonus points in the minds of the voters.
Dirk Nowitzki. This season, Dirk’s game has improved greatly across the board, and the numbers reflect that. In every way imaginable, Dirk’s numbers are MVP-worthy.
Dirk is 3rd in scoring which is tops among the finalists. He is the only player in the NBA in the top 10 in both scoring and rebounding (9th).
Nowitzki’s defense, formerly a weak point, now shows up positively in the stats. He is one of only 3 players in the league who ranks in the top 30 in both steals and rebounds (Garnett and Marion are the other two), and his defensive rebounding numbers are 2nd in the league. Dirk now is a significant factor in getting the ball back - he is much more than a scorer.
Not surprisingly, Dirk’s place in combined stat systems ranks right near the top. The NBA Efficiency rankings have him 2nd overall, highest of the finalists. Hollinger’s PER+ has him 2nd. Oliver ranks him in a dead heat with Duncan for #1 overall. Rosenbaum has Dirk 3rd overall, trailing Duncan but ahead of O’Neal and Nash.
The only stat that might hurt Nowitzki’s MVP candidacy is the Mavs record, which is 5th in the league at the moment. We think that a winning streak from now til season’s end might allow the Mavs to overtake the Spurs for 2nd in the West - and it also might be the difference between a Dirk win or an also-ran finish in the MVP voting.
Tim Duncan. For several years Duncan has arguably been regarded as the best player in the league, and his production this year is as good as ever.
His scoring is solid at 19th, and he is an inside force in both rebounds (3rd) and blocks (3rd).
In the combined stats, Duncan is tied for 5th in NBA Efficiency. He is 1st in PER+. Rosenbaum has him 1st overall, and the Oliver system has him in a dead heat with Dirk for 1st among the finalists here.
The Spurs have been at or near the top of the league all year. With Duncan out they have slid to 3rd, but are still right on the cusp of the best record. Since their slide has been due to Duncan’s absence, he will still get some credit for being the best player on arguably the best team.
Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq has always put up incredibly strong numbers each year, and this year is no exception.
His scoring is strong (12th), and he is still a force in the middle (6th in blocks and rebounds).
In the combined stats, Shaq is 8th in NBA Efficiency. He is 5th in PER+. Rosenbaum has him trailing Duncan and Dirk at 4th overall, and the Oliver system has him 3rd among these 4 finalists.
Miami has been the dominant team in the East all year, and their record is in the top echelon with Phoenix and San Antonio. Also, the Lakers’ losing record this year without him - after going to the Finals last year with him - will underscore his value to voters. He was replaced by 3 good players, and the Lakers won’t make the playoffs without him.
Stoudemire, Marion, Ginobili, and Wade. We have dismissed these four because their candidacy is (in our view) overshadowed by another player on their team. But each of them is a star on one of the top 3 teams in the league, and it is noteworthy how highly each ranks in the stats.
Stoudemire is the young, high-flying inside force for the league-leading Suns and has been mentioned as MVP-worthy in some circles this year. He is 5th in scoring, 21st in rebounding, and 22nd in blocks. The NBA Efficiency rankings have him 4th, and PER+ ranks him 8th. He is the top player on the Suns, the league’s top team, in those combined stat systems.
Marion is the do-it-all guy for those same Suns, and also has some support for the MVP award. He is 24th in scoring, 4th in rebounding, 4th in steals, and 22nd in blocks. He joins Dirk in the top 30 in the defensive trifecta of steals, blocks, and defensive rebounding (3rd). The NBA Efficiency rankings have him 5th, and PER+ ranks him 16th. Rosenbaum has him 2nd overall in the league, trailing only Duncan. His stat resume, with both offensive and defensive excellence showing, and with a #2 ranking by Rosenbaum, is the most glittering for any of the Suns.
Wade is the Mr. Outside for Miami, to Shaq’s Mr. Inside, and is the driving force in crunch time that complements Shaq - with his ball-handling, shooting, and free throwing ability. He is 8th in both scoring and assists, is 11th in steals, and surprisingly he is 34th in blocks. The NBA Efficiency rankings have him 10th, and PER ranks him 5th (and 30th in the PER+ rankings).
Ginobili is the do-it-all guy in San Antonio that complements Duncan, and the way he appears in the stats is interesting. In the individual categories, he is only 43rd in scoring, 41st in assists, and 8th in steals. The NBA Efficiency ranking has him at 45th. But when the stat gurus lend their expertise, he suddenly sails near the top. Hollinger’s PER has him tied for 6th, and in the PER+ ranks he is 3rd. Rosenbaum ranks him 5th in MVP-worthiness. Roland Beech’s statistical analysis of players’ production late in close games, called “Clutch PER,’’ ranks Ginobili as the best player in the NBA.
Who gains most from the stats?. Based on the numbers alone, there is rationale available to vote for each of the 4 finalists. Just from the stats above, let’s give Duncan 2 points (1 each for best big man stats, top tier team), Dirk 1.5 points (1 for best scorer, 0.5 for all-around stats excellence), Nash 1.5 points (1 for top tier team, 0.5 for assists), and Shaq 1.0 points (top tier team).
But the stats aren’t the only factors. The numbers alone don’t decide the MVP award. Subjective intangibles always play a big part in the voting, and this year will be no different.
Last edited by epicSocialism4tw; 04-03-2005 at 12:00 AM..