The NBA Playoffs have arrived so the debate over who is the Most Valuable Player has reached a fever pitch. While the votes have been cast, the winner won't be announced for a few more weeks, so debates will continue until moral improves. New York Times basketball writer Sopan Deb tried to get to the bottom of things by tweeting about how the NBA MVP is generally given to the "players who do the most iwth the least around them."
This is incredibly wrong. The simplest way to say it is that the best player on the best team almost always wins the MVP. Michael Jordan, the most famous basketball player to ever live, completely erases this argument immediately. He won five MVP awards. All five playing alongside a future Hall of Famer in Scottie Pippen. The last two MVPs were won while playing with two more future Hall of Famers in Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc. Oh, and Ron Harper who was a 20ppg scorer for his entire career and then decided to join the Bulls and just focus on defense to win championships.
Until very recently, the players doing the most with the least who won MVP won the most games. Russell Westbrook and Nikola Jokic are modern exceptions where voters try to look past wins and losses. Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki were all on teams that finished with the best record in their conference.
LeBron James has won four MVP awards. Each time his team had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Twice he had two future Hall of Fame teammates. Kevin Garnett won his MVP without any Hall of Fame teammates, but he did have All-Star Sam Cassell and the best record in the Western Conference. Kobe Bryant's MVP came without Shaq, but Hall of Famer Pau Gasol was there as they had the best record in the West.
Historically, voters haven't given a shit if you've done the most with the least unless you've literally done the most. As in, won the most games. Westbrook and Jokic never would have won in any other era because voters would never have seriously considered them.
That's what makes this year so weird. The three MVP finalists are on third, fourth and sixth-place teams. The team with the best record by far is the Phoenix Suns, but their best player, Chris Paul, missed a large chunk of the season. In the Eastern Conference the Heat have too many good players who also collectively missed a bunch of games. So voters had to move down the line to the best players on the next best teams.
That's when you get to Embiid and Giannis who both led their teams to 51 wins this season and Jokic who was on a team that only won 48 games. Ten or more years ago Jokic would not be in the running. Embiid and Giannis, just two games out of first, would probably still be the front-runners. Whoever loses would be able to complain any season.