NBA Not Top 10 Busts

2017 NBA MVP RACE

Synopsis: Perhaps more than any other year in recent history, the 2017 NBA MVP Award justifiably could go to one of five different candidates. Depending on how you define MVP, you might vote for the following players.

  1. Best player on the best team (the most popular definition): Kevin Durant.
  2. Best player on any team (a.k.a. “The Best Player on the Planet”): LeBron James.
  3. Player with the best statistical season on a Top 3 Team: James Harden.
  4. Player with the best statistical season on any team: Russell Westbrook.
  5. Best two-way player on a Top 3 Team: Kawhi Leonard.

When you combine one of these definitions with a season that hasn’t happened for over 50 years, the winner becomes more clear cut. Well, at least my son thinks so.


TOP10B 2017 NBA MVP RACE
FOREWORD

After more than two years as the sole author on this site, I have decided to let go of the reins. In essence, I gave myself a promotion to editor to make room for an up-and-comer. If you’re a T10B loyalist, you might remember the work of my new hire. Specifically, he provided the quantitative framework for my post regarding the Top 25 Greatest NBA Players.

When determining candidates for my Top 10 rankings, I have tried to remove subjectivity and rely on an objective statistical analysis. As you’ll see, my new contributor has taken it to the next level. Frankly, I need to step up my game or risk losing the role as this site’s top analyst. If that happens, I’ll proudly assume the 2nd chair.

From here, I’ll reserve my commentary for parenthetical comments (in orange to make it clear). The original author will serve as the first person until the postscript.

2017 NBA MVP RACE: THE CANDIDATES

Since the beginning of the 2016-17 NBA season, I (the author, not the editor) evaluated potential MVP candidates. The analysis involved tracking 16 statistical categories for the NBA’s Top 50 players. I quickly realized that fewer than 15 players had any shot at winning the award. Still, I didn’t want to eliminate anyone too soon so I kept an expanded list with over 50 names.

The following list contains my Top 10 in alphabetical order (by first name).

  1. Anthony Davis
  2. Giannis Antetokoumpo
  3. Isiah Thomas
  4. James Harden
  5. Karl-Anthonys  Towns
  6. Kawhi Leonard
  7. Kevin Durant
  8. LeBron James
  9. Russell Westbrook
  10. Steph Curry

No matter how you define MVP, your candidate should be on this list. Said differently, I don’t think anyone outside of this list will get a vote as the 2017 NBA MVP.

Before moving on, I’d like to offer a bold prediction. Specifically, I believe The Greek Freak (i.e. Antetokoumpo) will win an MVP within the next three seasons. My dad editor believes he’s going out on a limb by claiming Kawhi Leonard will be the next first-time MVP. Frankly, I think he would root for the Spurs’ superstar instead of me if I played in the NBA. Furthermore, I’m worried he might change my rankings and announce Kawhi as the winner this year. 

[I unconditionally support my son. In this case, however, he’s delusional. OK, the cat’s out of the bag. The author of this post is my 15-year-old son.]

2017 NBA MVP RACE: MY METHODOLOGY

As I mentioned before, I tracked 16 statistical categories for the top NBA players. Those categories included:

  • Points Per Game
  • Field Goal %
  • Offensive Rebounds Per Game
  • Defensive Rebounds Per Game
  • Assists Per Game
  • Steals Per Game
  • Blocks Per Game
  • +/- (i.e. the point differential per game while on the floor)
  • 3-Pt Field Goal %
  • Free Throw %
  • Personal Fouls Per Game
  • Turnovers Per Game
  • Double Doubles
  • Triple Doubles
  • Wins-Losses (i.e. a measure of winning)
  • Win Shares.

Like many of you, I think scoring is the most defining attribute of an MVP. For that reason, I put the most value on a player’s scoring average. At the same time, I adjusted it for shooting percentage to account for attempts needed to generate those points. As a point of reference, the adjusted points per game for each of my Top 5 MVP candidates accounted for 63-72% of his total index. 

From there, the biggest contributors to a potential MVP’s index included: Win Shares, Wins-Loses, Assists, Rebounds, Steals, and Blocks. After that, I gave bonus points to Double Doubles and Triple Doubles but subtracted points for turnovers and personal fouls. Without hopefully giving away too much, these extra adjustments only affected the Top 3 candidates.

2017 NBA MVP RACE: MY ALGORITHM

After much work, I used the following formula when determining the 2017 NBA MVP.

  • + 50x (points per game x FG%)
  • + 5x offensive rebounds per game
  • + 4x defensive rebounds per game
  • + 4.5x assists per game
  • + 14x steals per game
  • + 14x blocks per game
  • + 6x (+/-) per game
  • + 0.67x 3-Pt FG%
  • + .005x Free Throw %
  • + 1x double doubles
  • + 3x triple doubles
  • + 2x (win/loss differential)
  • + 6x win shares
  • – 6x (turnovers + personal fouls)

(Are you as impressed as I am?)

To be honest, I modified my formula (which will now become the T10B NBA MVP Index) throughout the 2016-17 NBA season. Specifically, I found it necessary to:

  • ACCOUNT FOR THE SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN TRIPLE DOUBLES .

I originally multiplied double doubles by 4 and triple doubles by 9 because I thought these categories deserved more weight. However, Russell Westbrook dominated these stats such that the 2017 NBA MVP Race would have been a landslide victory before the All-Star break. 

My original weighting of triple doubles would have been more justified in past years. During the 2012-13 season, Lance Stephenson had the most triple doubles with five. Under my original algorithm, that would have yielded 45 points, or 4% of that year’s MVP race.

In contrast, Westbrook had 42 triple doubles this year, which would have accounted for 35% of the 2017 NBA MVP Race. After the change, Westbrook’s triple doubles only accounted for 12% of his MVP index. Given the significant increase in triple doubles this season (up 334%), I didn’t want to give too much weight to this one stat.

  • CHANGE THE WEIGHTING FOR WINNING.

I had the hardest time evaluating winning when creating my index. In the 60+ year history of the NBA, only two MVPs have played for teams with losing records while four others played for teams with winning percentages below 60%. I fully understand that most NBA MVPs come from teams with the highest winning percentage. However, this year seems worthy of an exception.

I don’t believe that “Best Player on the Best Team” accurately reflects the MVP of the league. Instead, I prefer to reward the best statistical season. At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the importance of winning games. For that reason, I tracked each player’s personal win-loss record and multiplied the difference between wins and losses by two. As I mentioned previously, this stat contributed 3rd most to my MVP index.

Last year, Steph Curry led the Golden State Warriors to an all-time best 73-9 record. The 2x MVP missed three games (2 wins & 1 loss) to have a personal +63 win/loss differential. Based on my modified weighting, the impact of his win/loss differential last year equaled the impact of Westbrook’s triple doubles this year. In each case, the stat contributed 12% of the player’s total MVP index. 

2017 NBA MVP RACE – THE TOP 5
  1. Kawhi Leonard (Raw Index: 863.1 / Adjusted score: 94 / Overall Grade: A) 
2017 NBA MVP Race - Kawhi Leonard
Sorry Dad. Leonard’s only #5

For the first time in his career, Kawhi Leonard took the court without All-time great Tim Duncan. In his 6-year career, Leonard has won one Finals MVP Award and two Defensive Player-of-the-Year Award. Within the next month, he will have been selected to 2 All Star teams, 4 All-Defensive teams, and two All-NBA teams. During the 2016-17 season, Leonard dropped 26 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block per game. Perhaps needless to say, he’ll gain some more hardware despite losing out in the MVP race.

In large part due to Leonard’s contributions, the Spurs finished 2nd in the Western Conference with a 61-21 record. My dad told me the Spurs’ forward really performed in the clutch this year. I didn’t watch San Antonio much, so I’ll take his word for it. Regardless, I recognize that Kawhi finished in the top 10 for both points per game and steals per game this season. I’m not sure I understand what “The best two-way player in the NBA” means, but Leonard certainly plays hard on both ends of the floor.

  1. Kevin Durant (Raw Index: 956 / Adjusted Score: 95 / Overall Grade: A)
2017 NBA MVP Race - Kevin Durant
Durant as a Warrior? Just doesn’t seem right.

After playing 8 years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant “took his talents” to the Bay Area to play with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Despite joining a 2x NBA Finalist, Durant proved to be the best player on this super team. Specifically, he averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks per game. Hurting his ranking for MVP, he got injured during the season and missed 3 weeks in March. As of now, however, he’s healthy and ready to go in the playoffs.

Durant’s absence from Oklahoma corroborates (his word, not mine) his value to any NBA team. The former MVP led the Warriors to a 67-15 (81.7%) record and the first-place spot in the West. In case you’re wondering, Golden State had a 51-11 record (82.2%) with Durant on the court.

  1. James Harden (Raw Index: 1007 / Adjusted Score: 96 / Overall Grade: A)
2017 NBA MVP Race - James Harden
Harden “making a cake.”

Throughout the season Harden exceeded expectations time and time again. Going into the season, many doubted if the Rockets would make the playoffs without Dwight Howard. Harden proved all doubters wrong. Specifically, the 5x All-Star averaged a near triple-double with 29 Points, 11 Assists, 8 Rebounds, 1 Steal, and 1 Block per game. Harden led the league in assists and finished second in points per game.

Furthermore, Harden had an uncanny ability to get to the line by drawing contact in the lane. I’m not a fan of his brand of basketball, but it seemingly works. At the same time, his 3-point shooting in clutch moments cannot be overrated. Based on Harden’s contributions, the Rockets earned a 55-27 record and 3rd spot in the Western Conference.

  1. Lebron James (Raw Index: 1034 / Adjusted Score: 96 / Overall Grade: A)
2017 NBA MVP Race - LeBron James
Sorry King. Close but no cigar.

In his 3rd year back in ‘The Land,”‘ LeBron James seeks his 7th straight conference championship. The King must feel the burden of leading the Cavs past the stacked Golden State Warriors for a potential three-peat match-up in NBA Finals. Arguably, Cleveland didn’t meet expectations given its 2nd place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Based on that finish, LeBron’s dominant season has gone under the radar. The 4x league MVP averaged 26 Points, 9 Rebounds, 9 Assists, 1 Block, 1 Steal per game. In particular, he accomplished career highs with 8.6 Rebounds and 8.7 Assists per game. Furthermore, his leadership skills cannot be measured. Perhaps, The King’s influence can be best shown by the Cavs’ record with and without him on the floor. 

CAVS RECORD: WITH AND WITHOUT THE KING
  Wins Losses Winning %
With LeBron 51 23 .690
Without LeBron 0 8 .000

As if the greatest player on the planet needed any more support for his case, the previous table should confirm his value.

(Yesterday, the NBA announced Harden, Leonard and Westbrook as the three finalists for 2017 NBA MVP. Depending on how you define MVP, that result doesn’t seem unreasonable. However, I know at least two people who disagree: my son and King James. Upon hearing the news, LeBron went out and led the Cavaliers to a 44-point shellacking of the Boston Celtics to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.)

  1. Russell Westbrook (Raw Index: 1073 / Adjusted Score: 97 / Overall Grade: A+)
2017 NBA MVP Race - Russell Westrbook
Westbrook soaring to the MVP Title

Russell Westbrook offered up an MVP-worthy season by averaging 32 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds per game. In case you overlooked it, he AVERAGED a triple double. Prior to this year, I never thought I would see anyone score at least 50 points per game or average a triple double for an entire season. Well, Westbrook removed one of those items from my sports bucket list. 

Adding to his résumé, Westbrook won the scoring title, finished in the top 3 in assists, and ranked as the highest rebounding non-center/power-forward. Overall, his season’s worthy of being considered one of the best in sports history.

Hurting Westbrook’s case, the Thunder finished sixth in the Western Conference with a 47-35 record. Given his team’s .573 winning percentage, he might become only 7th player to win the award after winning fewer than 60% of his games. Then again, anyone who watched him play this season would probably agree that Oklahoma City would have been a lottery team without its superstar. 

T10B MVP INDEX – ROBUSTNESS

In order to test the robustness of my algorithm, I ran it for every season since 2000. Of note, I wanted to see how accurate it would have been at predicting previous NBA MVP races.

The following table shows how the MVP race would have finished if voters accepted my methodology. The two numbers in parenthesis after each player reflect his raw index and adjusted score. If it helps, an adjusted score of 97 or higher equates to an A+.  

The column after each player shows the difference in rank between the actual MVP vote and the results of my algorithm. For instance, Kevin Durant finished 5th in the 2016 MVP voting, but 2nd in my index. Since I ranked him 3 spots higher than he actually finished, the difference was +3. 

T10B MVP INDEX: 2011-16
  FIRST   SECOND    THIRD     FOURTH     FIFTH   
2016 Stephen Curry (1109, 97) Kevin Durant (986, 95) +3  LeBron James (939, 95)   Russell Westbrook (885, 94)   Kawhi Leonard (827, 93)   -3 
2015 Anthony Davis (904, 94) +4 Stephen Curry (898, 94) -1  James Harden (880, 94)   -1   LeBron James (856, 93)   -1   Russell Westbrook (838, 93)   -1 
2014 Kevin Durant (1110, 97) LeBron James (1018, 96)  Blake Griffin (872, 92)   –   James Harden (790, 92)   +1   Joakim Noah (540, 87)   -1 
2013 LeBron James (1126, 97) Kevin Durant (1032, 96)  Carmelo Anthony (823, 93)   –   Kobe Bryant (796, 92)   +1   Chris Paul (680, 90)   -1 
2012 LeBron James (1097, 97) Kobe Bryant (938, 95) +2  Kevin Durant (924, 94)   -1   Chris Paul (699, 91)   -1   Tony Parker (624, 89)   – 
2011 LeBron James (977, 95) +2 Dwight Howard (965, 95)  Derrick Rose (821, 93)   -2   Kobe Bryant (767, 92)   Kevin Durant (653, 90) 
T10B MVP INDEX: 2006-10
  FIRST   SECOND    THIRD     FOURTH     FIFTH   
2010 Kevin Durant (1081, 97) +1 LeBron James (994, 95) -1  Dwight Howard (858, 93)  +1  Dwayne Wade (837, 93)  +1  Kobe Bryant (802, 92)  -2
2009 LeBron James (1077, 97) Dwayne Wade (956, 95) +1  Dwight Howard (898, 94)   +1   Chris Paul (894, 94)   +1   Kobe Bryant (887, 94)   -3 
2008 LeBron James (998, 95) +3 Kobe Bryant (896, 94) -1  Dwight Howard (886, 94)   +2   Chris Paul (852, 93)   -2   Kevin Garnett (776, 92)   -2 
2007 Dirk Nowitzki (941, 95) Kobe Bryant (888, 94) +1  LeBron James (866, 94)   +2   Tim Duncan (831, 93)   –   Steve Nash (794, 92)   -3 
2006 LeBron James (1004, 96) +1 Kobe Bryant (979, 95) +2  Dirk Nowitzki (943, 95)   –   Steve Nash (746, 91)   -3   Chauncey Billups (679, 90)   – 
T10B MVP INDEX: 2000-05
  FIRST   SECOND    THIRD     FOURTH     FIFTH   
2005 Shaquille O’Neal (927, 94) +1 Dirk Nowitzki (894, 94) +1  LeBron James (870, 94)   +3   Allen Iverson (816, 93)   +1   Tim Duncan (796, 92)   -1 
2004 Kevin Garnett (986, 95) Tim Duncan (865, 94)  Shaquille O’Neal (844, 93)   +3   Peja Stoakovic (798, 92)   –   Kobe Bryant (737, 91)   – 
2003 Shaquille O’Neal (1029, 96) +4 Tim Duncan (959, 95) -1  Tracy McGrady (931, 95)   +1   Kevin Garnett (883, 94)   -2   Kobe Bryant (923, 94)   -2 
2002 Shaquille O’Neal (1043, 96) +2 Tim Duncan (988, 95) -1  Kobe Bryant (812, 93)   +2   Tracy McGrady (782, 92   –   Jason Kidd (558, 87)   -3 
2001 Shaquille O’Neal (1114, 97) +2 Chris Webber (906, 94) +2  Tim Duncan (854, 93)   -1   Allen Iverson (853, 93)   -3   Kevin Garnett (785, 92)   – 
2000 Shaquille O’Neal (1233, 98) Karl Malone (894, 94) +2  Kevin Garnett (857, 93)   -1   Tim Duncan (853, 93)   +1   Alonzo Mourning (829, 93)   -2 
T10B MVP INDEX : ACCURACY

Only two players finished in the Top 5 of the actual MVP vote without ranking in the Top 5 of my index: Jermaine O’Neal in 2004 and Steve Nash in 2005. With a raw score of 804 and adjusted score of 92, Nash finished 6th in my 2005 MVP Index. However, he parlayed being the best player on the best team to the 2005 MVP Award. Despite being the best player on the best team during the 2003-04 season, Jermaine O’Neal could only parlay his raw score of 776 and adjusted score of 92 into a 3rd place finish.  

If voters used a consistent methodology to select MVPs from one year to the next, certain players would have benefited while others would have been disadvantaged. Of note, Shaquille O’Neal would have earned seven awards (instead of one) while LeBron James would have won six instead of four. In contrast, Tim Duncan any Steve Nash wouldn’t have won any instead of two each. 

T10B 2017 ALL-NBA TEAM PREDICTIONS

As further support for the robustness of the T10B MVP Index, I used it to come up with a prediction for the 2017 All-NBA teams. By ranking the top players by position, I came up with the following selections. The players in bold reflect incorrect predictions.

1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team
Russell Westbrook (97, A+) Stephen Curry (94, A) DeMar DeRosen (93, A)
James Harden (96, A) Isaiah Thomas (94, A) Kyrie Irving (92, A-)
LeBron James (96, A) Kawhi Leonard (94, A) Blake Griffin (91, A-)
Kevin Durant (95, A) Giannis Antetokountumpo (93, A) Jimmy Butler (91, A-)
Anthony Davis (95, A) Karl-Anthony Towns (94, A) Boogie Cousins (92, A-) 

 2017 ALL-NBA TEAMS: ACTUAL RESULT
1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team
Russell Westbrook (97, A+) Stephen Curry (94, A) DeMar DeRosen (93, A)
James Harden (96, A) Isaiah Thomas (94, A) John Wall (92, A-)
LeBron James (96, A) Kevin Durant (95, A) Draymond Green (85, B)
Kawhi Leonard (94, A) Giannis Antetokountumpo (93, A) Jimmy Butler (91, A-)
Anthony Davis (95, A) Rudy Gobert (92, A-) DeAndre Jordan (91, A-)

Despite only getting 9 of the 15 players correct, I’m happy with my list. Specifically, I stand behind my decision to rank Durant ahead of Kawhi (sorry, Dad). I understand that Durant played in 12 fewer games than Leonard, but I find it difficult to keep a Top 3 player (and the best player on the best team) off of the 1st Team.

As you may have noticed, the only decision that didn’t involve players with similar grades was the selection of Draymond Green (85/B) over Blake Griffin (91/A-). Then again, Griffin played in 15 fewer games. In addition, Green offers a lot of intangibles that don’t appear on a stat sheet. Given the subjective nature of his attributes, it’s hard to quantify them in an algorithm. As such, I’m not going to worry about this exception to the rule.

For me, the selection of DeAndre Jordan over Karl-Anthony Towns served as the only glaring mistake. Perhaps, Towns just needs another year in the league to get his due credit. After that, it’s splitting hairs between players with similar grades (e.g. Wall vs. Irving). 

POSTSCRIPT

Overall, I’m very impressed with my son’s work. Specifically, he created his own algorithm to predict the 2017 NBA MVP. Furthermore, he had the mindset to analyze the results of prior seasons as a way to test his index. Lastly, he applied his index to develop his own All-NBA teams.

At this point, his algorithm may benefit from slight modifications. For instance, he may want to consider adding “games played” to his index. Still, who am I to challenge an index which has 98% accuracy when selecting Top 5 MVP finishers? Perhaps I’ll offer some suggestions, but any changes are entirely up to him. Great work, Buster Jr.

TOP10B 2017 NBA MVP RACE
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