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The 2010 MVP Race: Perimeter Players

Kobe Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

We’re not quite halfway through the 2009-10 season, but there’s already been plenty written about the MVP race. Earlier this week I took a look at the top post players in these early discussions, and now it’s time to break down the most deserving perimeter threats.

(If there’s some confusion why LeBron is here and Durant and Carmelo were with the post players, it’s because he gets his team’s offense going from the perimeter, unlike the other two who only get their own scoring going from out there. James is in the top eight in the NBA in assists, and he also ranks first on his team in this category. The other two are nowhere in the vicinity of either accomplishment, and James’ assist-turnover rate looks like that of a guard [not even close for Carmelo and Durant].)

Who’s Most Likely to Win

Here are the top eight perimeter 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 deem relevant.

1 – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
28.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 7.8 rpg, Cleveland is 28-9, he’s become a good defender.

2 – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
30.2 ppg, 2 spg, 3 buzzer beaters, LA is 28-7, he has 4 rings.

3 – Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
18.4 ppg, 11.2 apg, 44% 3FG%, Phoenix is 23-13, he’s won 2 MVP’s already.

4 – Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
21.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.9 apg, Atlanta is 22-12 and a true Eastern contender.

5 – Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
20.1 ppg, 10.5 apg, 2.2 spg, New Orleans is 17-16 even with minimal talent.

6 – Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers
22.8 ppg, 5 apg, Portland is 22-15, his teammates are all injured.

7 – Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
26.4 ppg, 6.2 apg, 5 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.2 bpg, Miami will make the playoffs, he has a ring.

8 – Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
19.5 ppg, 9.8 apg, Utah is 19-16 and could make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.

Blott breaks down these eight MVP-caliber studs after the break…

Some Better Numbers

Obviously statistical production is a major component when comparing players for this award, but it 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 A-TO since we are talking about perimeter 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: 54%, 4.6, 6.9% (eFG%, A-TO, and Reb%, respectively)
2 – Player B: 55%, 2.2, 11.1%
3 – Player C: 61%, 2.9, 5.0%
4 – Player D: 53%, 2.9, 6.5%
5 – Player E: 51%, 2.3, 7.9%
6 – Player F: 51%, 2.2, 7.4%
7 – Player G: 50%, 1.5, 7.8%
8 – Player H: 47%, 1.9, 8.0%

Looking at these numbers, you can see the top four players are a cut above the rest, and Player A’s ball control abilities are well ahead of everyone.

Chris Paul Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Using Defense And Other Factors For Final Rankings

A huge part of the game is defense, so this has to be a big determinant for MVP. Defense is a subjective area that goes far beyond blocks and steals, but six of these guys are considered pretty good defenders by most fans. The two exceptions are Williams and Nash. It’s tough to pick a best of the bunch, but James is notable for his ability to guard almost every position.

Beyond the rates of production and defense, one should consider how a player’s numbers are affected by or fit within his team (Nash’s 60% eFG% crushes the league’s 50%, but so does his team at 55%), if a team’s success is closely tied to that of a player (where was Cleveland before LeBron?), 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 perimeter players are most deserving of the MVP award so far after considering several aspects of their games.

1 – Chris Paul (Player A): He remains #1 because he is a magnificent scorer and passer, and he might be the top defensive perimeter player. For someone to play nearly 40 mpg with all of the focus of every opponent, and to still have an A-TO rate about 50% better than the #2 guy in this group (Nash) is insane. The Hornets would be nowhere without CP3.

2 – LeBron James (Player B): He does it all: halfcourt game, fast break, makes teammates better, decent A-TO rate, much better rebounder than the rest of these guys. And he’s a good defender on a team that’s only great because of him. Please don’t make me explain again why Mo Williams has never been deserving of being called an All-Star.

3 – Steve Nash (Player C): This was a tough call because Nash’s defense is really bad (about as well as you’d expect a 36-year-old Canadian to do, eh). However, the Suns’ system of play is so defined and successful by what he does for them (see also: D’Antoni’s system doing very little up in New York). Nash is the reason Phoenix is so hard to stop; he’s that great of a passer and of a shooter.

4 – Deron Williams (Player D): Williams’ defense isn’t so hot, but his ability to run an offense made up of guys that aren’t nearly as good as you might have thought they still are is amazing. Also, the Jazz’s success rises and falls fairly closely with how he’s playing, which is a pretty good indicator of how important he is.

5 – Dwyane Wade (Player H): His production rates are at the bottom of this group, but his True Shooting Percentage looks much better than his eFG%. Additionally, his defense is outstanding, he carries a busted team, and his Adjusted Plus-Minus kicks the league’s ass, so he’s obviously making a lot of good things happen.

6 – Brandon Roy (Player F): Six of Portland’s top nine players are injured, they’ve had every combination of end-of-the-bench subs starting beside Roy, and they’re still above .600. Roy’s presence and the Blazers’ winning ways are the only constants on this club; that should tell you something.

7 – Joe Johnson (Player E): He’s a decent defender with decent production on a team that’s really picked it up, but he’s not carrying the burden Wade and Roy are.

8 – Kobe Bryant (Player G): His production numbers aren’t good next to this group or next to his teammates’. He plays with a three-man frontcourt that as a unit averages a double-double each, with Ron Artest to keep the defensive burden off him, and with a super-clutch point guard who also has four rings. This is actually Kobe’s top shooting season ever, so that average eFG% may go down.

Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.

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