‘MVP’ Isn’t What It Used To Be
There’s too many players, and you’ve heard it all before …
by Chris Deaton
It’s so hard to determine this thing, because by the definition of ‘valuable’, we start here: If Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Orlando didn’t have LeBron, KD and Dwight, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Orlando would be screwed.
So we look at the lines. James’ hefty 29.7/7.3/8.6 is, in a word, stupid; in multiple words, ethereal, video-gamey, wow. Durant puts in 30 and nearly 8 a game, himself. Howard owns the stats that are as much a product of his Herculean figure as they are of his hustle: 13+ boards and close to 3 blocks nightly, both League bests.
Are these comparisons involving apples, oranges and banana nut bread at this point? Stan Van thinks defense warrants more consideration in these MVP races, and he’s right — Russell didn’t put food on the table by Dream Shaking Chamberlain and dropping baseline 15-footers. But is Dwight’s D more irreplaceable than Kevin’s scoring or Bron Bron’s offensive everything? I know my answer, you know yours, and it’s a tough call any way.
That’s not how it used to be.
Gone are the days of those select few big men whose incomparable statistics reflected the dominance of an era. 23 of the first 25 Most Valuable Player awards went to post players, and 15 of those belonged to Bill, Wilt and Kareem. Gone, too, is the age when the best player typically ended up on the best team. Moses, Bird, Magic, Michael and Hakeem won MVPs en route to championships. That’s happened only twice this century: Shaqtus in 2000 and Duncan in 2003.
Maybe that’s a reflection of present parity. L.A. and San Antonio have owned the last 10 years, yes, and each has come quite close to stringing together a dynastic run comparable to those of Bulls or Celtics or Lakers teams past — close, but not quite. With Kobe having shared the spotlight in pursuit of three of his four rings, he hasn’t emerged as his generation’s clear-cut, transcendent superstar. And for all of Duncan’s victories, his leadership and efficiency have spoken louder than his box scores.
Neither of the two winningest legends of this time have been able to push their games beyond the pack, because the talent is spread too wide in this League, NBA Finals or not. Today, the Cavs have the best player, while Durant, Howard, ‘Melo, Nash, Nowitzki, Paul, Wade, Williams and a smattering of others find themselves starring on mostly competitive teams to the point where their impacts are indiscernible. KG’s most productive years were had in the tundra, and AI was never part of a great roster — but both were great players, perhaps the greatest of the years when they won their MVPs.
Where are the degrees of separation nowadays?
KD was at the core of a remarkable 27-game improvement for the Thunder, and the Cavs and Magic are comparable to their yesteryear selves. But Durant isn’t as complete a player as LeBron — no one is. Neither man holds a candle to Howard, the painted area’s bouncer-in-chief, on the defensive end — no one does. Hmm, then.
This breadth of talent bodes favorably for the NBA’s appeal but not for the weight of its MVP.
All-NBA Team appearances are a better assessment of the League’s true best, because really, there’s usually more than one guy at a time. Did Nash deserve the 05/06 MVP that much more than Kobe? And was Kobe that much more worthy of the award than LeBron in 07/08? Both were judgment calls — most every race we’ve seen post-Jordan has been a judgment call. What does that mean?
Eddie Vedder, shy wonder he is, unassumingly accompanied his band onto the stage at the 1996 Grammys to accept the award for Best Hard Rock Performance, and said something that echoes for many of these award-type deals: “I don’t know what this means. I don’t think it means anything … there’s too many bands, and you’ve heard it all before.”
Fact is, there are too many players deserving of consideration for the League’s top individual award to place all stock in the winner. James, Durant, Howard — they’re all valuable players of the ‘most’ degree.