January 5, 2010
By: Zachariah Blott
We’re not quite halfway through the 2009-10 season, but a number of NBA writers out there are already handicapping the MVP race. I’d say it’s a little early to do so, but it looks like I’m already late to the table. Either way, let’s dissect the post players whose names have been tossed around in the MVP discussion; perimeter players to come.
Who’s Most Likely to Win
The NBA’s MVP award is very much like college football’s Heisman Trophy. You know the drill: look at the top glory teams, find the players on these teams who the highlight-minded media were talking about before the season started, make sure these players have a high overall ranking in one or two glory statistics, replay their highlights ad nauseum, and predictably hand one of them the award. This is why we end up with Mark Ingram carrying home the NCAA’s top individual award over Toby Gerhart and Ndamukong Suh, while Tim Tebow somehow even gets mentioned with them.
That being said, here are the top nine post players in the MVP discussion, listed in order of their likelihood of winning. I’ll include the key information anyone in the media or at your local sports bar would probably deem relevant.
1 – Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
30 ppg (career high), 6.4 rpg, 1.2 spg, Denver is 21-13 and made the Western Conference Finals last year, his defense has improved, he’s never won one and deserves it.
2 – Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
25 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.1 spg, 39% 3FG%, Dallas is 23-11.
3 – Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
16.9 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 2.5 bpg, Orlando is 24-9, he won the 2008 Dunk Contest and 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Award.
4 – Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
20 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg, San Antonio is 20-12, he has four rings.
5 – Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors
23.8 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg, Toronto will make the playoffs (unlike last year), he was part of the Redeem Team that won gold in 2008.
6 – Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
16.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg, LA is 27-6, he plays with Kobe Bryant.
7 – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
28.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.5 spg, OKC is 18-15 and improving, his defense has improved.
8 – Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns
20.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 0.8 bpg, maybe it’s time he deserves some of the credit Steve Nash always received.
9 – Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
15 ppg, 7.6 rpg, Boston is 24-8, he plays with passion and is the C’s leader.
Blott breaks down these nine MVP-caliber studs after the break…
Some Better Numbers
Statistical production is obviously a major component when comparing players for this award, but it also seems a little more fair to look at how efficiently players compile their numbers.
For example, instead of simply looking at points, we should probably be looking at Effective Field Goal Percentage so we can discern who has points because they hit a lot of their shots versus the guy who simply takes all the shots despite being an average shooter.
Instead of rebounds, we should use Rebound Percentage, which measures what percentage of all missed shots a player rebounds when he is on the floor. And to give us a basic idea how well a player can handle the ball within the flow of the offense, we can look at Assist-Turnover rate.
Here is an anonymous ranking of the players based on these numbers, looking most heavily at eFG% and Reb% since we are talking about post players. I’ll get into defense and other factors in a minute. These three stats will at least get us much closer to understanding who is producing at in above-average manner and isn’t just the guy who always has the ball.
1 – Player A: 61%, 21.8%, 0.5 (eFG%, Reb%, and A-TO, respectively)
2 – Player B: 56%, 19.1%, 1.6
3 – Player C: 55%, 17.6%, 1.5
4 – Player D: 53%, 18.9%, 0.9
5 – Player E: 55%, 15.2%, 1.6
6 – Player F: 57%, 13.9%, 0.4
7 – Player G: 50%, 12.0%, 1.4
8 – Player H: 51%, 9.9%, 0.8
9 – Player I: 49%, 9.8%, 1.2
Looking at these numbers, you can see the top-five players are clearly a cut above the rest, and Player A is well ahead of everyone, even with poor passing/ball handling numbers.
Using Defense And Other Factors For Final Rankings
A huge part of the game is defense, especially in the post which usually dictates a team’s overall defensive ability, so this has to be a big determinant for MVP. Defense is a subjective area that goes far beyond blocks and steals, but there are some basic player groupings upon which most of us could agree. The best defenders are Howard and Garnett, and the worst would be Nowitzki, Bosh, and Stoudemire. The jury is still out on how improved the defense of Durant and Anthony are, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. That leaves us with Duncan and Gasol right behind the top two, which sounds about right.
Beyond the rates of production and defense, one should consider how a player’s numbers are affected by or fit within his team (Stoudemire’s eFG% is 57%, but the sprinting-for-easy-layups Suns are at 55%), if a team’s success is closely tied to that of a player (the Lakers are noticeably and statistically much improved with Gasol), and if a player’s eFG% doesn’t fully capture the abuse they dish out by getting to the free throw line (True Shooting Percentage does this – the formula is here under TS%).
Here are my final rankings of which post players are most deserving of the MVP award after considering several aspects of their games.
1 – Dwight Howard (Player A): He remains #1 because he has the best rates of production and is probably the top defensive post player. Additionally, the Magic’s offense is predicated on having an amazing center to keep the defenders off their 3-point shooters, so Orlando could be the Knicks or Pacers without him.
2 – Pau Gasol (Player C): Gasol moves ahead of Player B because the Lakers’ ups and downs pretty much mirror his. He missed the first 11 games, and LA went 8-3 with four way-too-close victories. Gasol came back and they’ve since gone 19-3, and two of those losses occurred when Gasol was shut down; therefore shutting down Gasol usually means beating the Lakers.
3 – Tim Duncan (Player B): Duncan is steady as hell and he’s a great defender. The rest of the Spurs have been real up-and-down, yet they keep on winning almost two-thirds of their games. An under-appreciated legend.
4 – Kevin Garnett (Player E): His man-to-man defense is outstanding. His help defense is outstanding. There is no way the Celtics’ team defense or energy would be what it is without Garnett, so you could actually make a case he’s the most valuable of any of them.
5 – Chris Bosh (Player D): He is the worst defender of the top-five players from the statistical efficiency rankings. He does have better scoring and rebounding rates than the bottom four, so he has no chance of falling.
6 – Dirk Nowitzki (Player G): Nowitzki is a better rebounder and passer than the last two, and his scoring is right there. He moves ahead of Player F because his Adjusted Plus/Minus is insane, which means he’s definitely doing something outstanding that isn’t showing up in the stats.
7 – Amar’e Stoudemire (Player F): His scoring numbers are nothing special on Phoenix, although it can be argued that the Suns can’t operate like they do without a large gazelle such as Stoudemire gunning for the hoop at full speed (and Shawn Marion back in 05-06). Amar’e's defense certainly doesn’t help his case.
8 – Kevin Durant (Player H): Durant’s eFG% is barely over the league average (50%), and he rebounds below the league average (somewhere between 10 and 11.1% depending on how likely you think the shooter is of getting his own miss). If you believe he’s more of a perimeter player, then his terrible A-TO rate really becomes a head scratcher. Yes, his defense has improved, but it’s not pushing him ahead of anyone.
9 – Carmelo Anthony (Player I): His eFG% is below the league average, which is below Denver’s average, so he really shouldn’t be taking so many shots. Anthony can get to the line, but his True Shooting Percentage is still the worst of the group. His defense has become decent, but that makes him only the fourth best frontcourt defender on his own team.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.