NBA MVP: LeBron being denied unanimous win means it's time for a change

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Well, the worst kept secret of the year is out, and LeBron has his second MVP award.

We could wax on here about his season, the dominant play from baseline to baseline, the chasedown blocks, the versatility, the improved shooting numbers across the floor, the physical prowess, the, well, everything. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, and it’s clear.

Or at least it should be.

Look, it’s a subjective award, and there are a million ways to interpret its parameters. Best player. Best player on best team. Most outstanding player. Most valuable to his team’s success. Greatest impact on the floor. However you want to interpret it. And at the end of the day, it’s just an award, and doesn’t mean much to those without a ring.

But if we’re going to hold this award up as a symbol of respect, to recognize what is widely accepted outside of NBA-centric circles as an indication of the best basketball player on the planet for a given season, the NBA and its media partners need to give the voting process the respect it deserves.

116 out of the 122 voters plus the 1 vote by the fans through online vote voted for LeBron James in first place. The other seven? They constitute a viable line of reasoning for a revamping of the vote process.

There are plenty of reasons why these seven voters elected to vote the way they did. Some of the votes were likely the result of something our own Ira Winderman touched on a few days ago, namely that many of these votes go to team personnel (radio and television play-by-play), and many to beat writers who only see one team consistently.

But if we truly want to have the best voting process we can, we’re going to need to make changes to who votes and how. Many have argued as our Rob Mahoney has that the process needs to open to public record. But I have no doubt that some of the seven would defend their vote publicly if forced to.

After all, FanHouse’s Tim Povtak wrote that James did not deserve the award because he chose to rest in pursuit of a championship. And he backed up that threat. So in this instance we have an agenda-driven vote, if that was the reason Povtak voted for Howard. I respect Povtak tremendously as a writer and value the fact that he and I both write for FanHouse, though my contributions are in a lesser role. Povtak lives and covers Orlando, but the vote was a statement against the act of a player resting to end the regular season. A fine sentiment, but is voting for this award, which helps determine a player’s legacy and Hall of Fame criteria the right forum to take such a stand?  (This is all before you factor in the fact as Kevin Harlan first commented on James’ elbow on April 9th after a regular season game in Chicago, meaning that James’ rest could be considered completely justified.)

In an email, Povtak replied that he genuinely felt that Howard made more of an impact at both ends of the floor, and as it is not solely an offensive award, he felt like Howard was the best vote. If that’s honestly how Povtak thought, given the attention he gives to the entire league, it’s a valid one. The possibility that such a vote could have been cast, though, remains a dangerous possibility given the impact the award has on a player’s legacy.

Even if you feel that James’ resting of the regular season was “cowardly,” surely the phenomenal season he had, the impact on the Cavaliers, his position as best player on the best team record-wise, his performance in the clutch, and astounding numbers would lead you to vote otherwise… IF the vote itself was more valuable than what you say with it. But as it currently stands, the league takes a very hands-off approach.

It doles out the votes to PR departments and lets them decide. And in doing so, they allow for the voters to vote based on whatever criteria they wish. If they want to vote based on the fact that they don’t feel players over 7 feet should be considered, they can. And did, apparently, give the fact that only 86 voters had Dwight Howard in the top three. They can vote to simply get a guy some recognition, as one voter did with Stephen Jackson as a fifth place vote. Manu Ginobili received a fourth place vote.

To be honest, I don’t see any problem with making your fifth choice based on whatever criteria you decide. The top vote is what matters most, obviously. And the second and third can really be the difference. If after voting for the four players who you honestly and objectively saw as the MVP, feel free to lobby for whatever unheralded player you’d like. But those top votes? They need to be for the players you decided was the best by whatever measure you chose, and not influenced by personal bias or agenda. You want to throw someone a single point vote? Go for it. But those top five need to be based on the evidence of who was the best, by whatever measure you choose. You want the MVP to remain subjective? Use whatever criteria you want. But any reasonable criteria still would have resulted with the selection of LeBron James this year. I say this as a someone who most often elects to pull for the underdog and who rarely agrees with the consensus.

Maybe the writers genuinely felt that LeBron wasn’t best. After all, David Steele went that route,  But then, almost all of his reasons are easily applicable to LeBron. And while Dwight Howard is a better defender than James, the gap between Dwight’s offense and LeBron’s is far wider than that between James’ defense and Howard’s, particularly when Howard is fouling his way to the bench every thirty five seconds.

But I digress. If you honestly felt that James wasn’t the MVP, you’re likely responding to local bias, but at least you’re not acting in the pursuit of something other than the correct selection of the MVP. If you feel another player deserves attention for his contributions, feel free to make such a selection as the fifth vote. But don’t confuse “underrated MVP” with “actual MVP as in the real MVP who should win the MVP.”

The issue is that if you are granted a vote in the MVP race, even though it’s a subjective award, it does have enough of an impact on a career to warrant giving the vote the consideration it deserves. And that requires considerable knowledge of the entire league, and an honest act without bias. Is it possible that those that live and work with Orlando covering the Magic simply thought Howard was superior having watched him night in and out? Absolutely. But isn’t it more likely that if the writers were to reside in the state of Ohio that their votes might differ?

It’s also interesting the gap that exists between those that work every day, focused on a particular team, but absorbed in basketball, and those who devote their free time to the league. As an example, when queried on Twitter, the author of Orlando Pinstriped Post, an Orlando Magic blog that receives over 100,000 pageviews per month as part of SBNation said that if given a vote, he would have voted LeBron first.  So an author of a blog with no professional obligation to maintain objectivity, though it is credentialed, would elect to vote for James. Because he was the
best player.

An
other example is Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, which covers the Thunder. Young covers the Thunder with a fan-centric voice, while carrying out what can only be considered new journalism, with a blogger’s approach through journalism’s lens. And while he authored a thesis for why Durant would be worthy of an MVP vote, he also concurred, the vote must be for James

This isn’t conclusive proof by any means, but it’s an indication that while blogs continue to be considered beneath certain members of the media, it may be time to consider their inclusion in the voting process. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie was recently given a vote, in a rare stroke of progressiveness towards internet media. The core of this is that the votes should be given to those who have a deep respect and interest in authentically selecting the Most Valuable Player. There’s nothing wrong with not considering the vote that big of a deal, what with life’s demands, and a grueling grind of a job. But the vote itself has to maintain legitimacy, and to do that, not only must bias be removed from consideration (while subjective opinion remains), but a full and complete perspective of the league and its players must be factored in.

Another part of Winderman’s argument was that there are only so many people who can be given votes, and as a result, some may not value the result of the voting as much as the power of their own vote. But in this day and age, with so many more intelligent writers contributing to the discussion and anlaysis of basketball, is it possible that it’s time for an overhaul of the voting system? Do we need to rely on people’s whose livelihoods depend on the team?

This is not to say that a blogger such as myself should be given a vote. The arguments against younger, more inexperienced writers are sound ones. And yet, the strengths of experience can be nullified by the tunnel vision of team-centrism and professional or moral agenda. There is a middle-ground that must be balanced between experience and perspective. 

This isn’t to say that the system itself is broken. After all, 116 writers did get it right.  And again, it’s not to say that there won’t be variety in voting which is a good thing. A plurality of opinions is a good thing in any field, especially in that of the MVP voting. And both Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard (and sure, why not, third place Kobe Bryant) deserve consideration. They had tremendous seasons and are absolutely worthy of a 2nd or 3rd place vote. But in considering all the facts, given James’ statistical domination by any measure, given the Cavs performance, given his impact at both ends of the floor and the sheer complete nature of his game and the level to which he excels in all those areas, James was the only choice.

Dissenting opinions only carry weight when they’re built from a conviction of truth, not simply to force a sense of controversy or carry an agenda. It’s entirely possible that the seven voters who elected to have James 2nd or 3rd merely carried strong, well reasoned convictions to that end. It’s also likely that they did not.

Change is needed.

Update 12:57AM: Sean Keely of SBNation.com notes that two of Howard’s three first place votes along with Povtak include the above-mentioned David Steele who works for the Magic as does the other voter, John Denton of orlandomagic.com.

Adam Silver’s view on age limit is evolving, Ben Simmons documentary helped change that

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The NBA age-limit discussion is like other, far more important debates going on in this country (such as health care) — there is no easy answer to be had. If there was a deal would already be done. What we know now is the current system doesn’t work.

“So my sense is it’s not working for anyone,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during the NBA Finals. “It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

However, Silver is no longer just on the “raise the age limit to 20” bandwagon, as he told Dan Patrick this morning on the Dan Patrick Show. His views on this are evolving.

The Showtime documentary on Ben Simmons had something to do with it — it highlighted what a sham the one year, really one semester, elite players spend in college has become. Simmons was open that he was only at LSU because he had to spend a year in college, and making the NCAA Tournament was not really a priority for him. (The past two No. 1 picks, Simmons and Markelle Fultz, both did not play in the tournament.) This year, 16 first-round picks were college freshmen.

The answer needs to be more holistic than just the age limit. It has to involve a stonger G-League, two-way contracts and other good developmental programs, and changes even down to the AAU level.

“To be honest, I’m not standing here today saying I have the perfect solution,” Silver said back in June, and reiterated to Patrick today. “I do know that as I talk — increasingly the veteran players in this league, as well, who feel that the young players are not coming in game ready in the way that they were when they were coming out of college. And we’re also seeing a dichotomy in terms of the international players. They’re coming in when they come in at 19, many of them have been professional for up to three years before they come into the league and have a very different experience than what we’re seeing from American players coming through our college programs.”

There is no easy answer. But at least the players union and NBA will start talking about it this summer. They need to find a system better than the one we’ve got.

Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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Later Monday night, one of Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, or Kawhi Leonard will be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. (The smart money is on Green to win, but you can make a legitimate case for any of the three.)

Before that award is handed out, the NBA released its All-Defensive teams.

Not a lot of surprises here, especially on the first team. Green, Gobert, and Leonard are the top three vote getters for DPOY, so they were going to make this team, and since this team is positionally tied that meant two guards had to join them. (Each team has to have two guards, two forwards, and one center, and the voters have to vote that way.) Chris Paul and Patrick Beverley made that cut. The ballots were cast by 100 members of the NBA media (full disclosure I had a vote). A full list of who voted for whom will be made public on Tuesday by the NBA.

The biggest surprise: No LeBron James. Good defenders such as Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, and Klay Thompson also didn’t make the cut.

Here’s who made the All-Defensive teams.

2016-17 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE FIRST TEAM

Position, Player, Team, Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Forward Draymond Green, Golden State, 198
Center Rudy Gobert, Utah, 196
Forward Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio, 192
Guard Chris Paul, LA Clippers, 140
Guard Patrick Beverley, Houston, 110

2016-17 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE SECOND TEAM

Position, Player, Team, Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Guard Tony Allen, Memphis, 80
Guard Danny Green, San Antonio, 68
Center Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 58
Forward Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 53
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 35

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Avery Bradley, Boston, 46 (12); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 45 (16); John Wall, Washington, 38 (14); DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers, 35 (1); Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 35; Hassan Whiteside, Miami, 25 (1); Marcus Smart, Boston, 21 (5); Jimmy Butler, Chicago, 18; LeBron James, Cleveland, 12 (1); Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 11 (2); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 10 (5); Paul George, Indiana, 7; Kevin Durant, Golden State, 6; Dwight Howard, Atlanta, 6 (1); Mike Conley, Memphis, 5 (1); Jae Crowder, Boston, 5; Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 5; Wesley Matthews, Dallas, 4 (2); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 3; Andre Iguodala, Golden State, 3 (1); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte, 3; Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 3; P.J. Tucker, Toronto, 3; Trevor Ariza, Houston, 2; Nicolas Batum, Charlotte, 2; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 2; Eric Gordon, Houston, 2 (1); Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 2 (1); Steven Adams, Oklahoma City, 1; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland, 1; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit, 1; George Hill, Utah, 1; Serge Ibaka, Toronto, 1; Damian Lillard, Portland, 1; Luc Mbah a Moute, LA Clippers, 1; Austin Rivers, LA Clippers, 1; Isaiah Thomas, Boston, 1; Cody Zeller, Charlotte, 1.

It should be noted that Atlanta’s Millsap had as many total points as Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo for the final slot, but because the Greek Freak got seven first-team votes as opposed to zero for Millsap, Antetokounmpo wins the tie breaker. Also, Boston’s Bradley and Golden State’s Thompson had more points than Antetokounmpo, but they could only be listed as guards.

Malcolm Brogdon, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid headline NBA All-Rookie teams

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Later Monday night, at the new NBA Awards show (did you forget that was coming?), the NBA Rookie of the Year will be announced.

In advance of that, the NBA released the All-Rookie Teams.

This was not a deep rookie class, making it a challenging vote. Also, a number of players came on the second half of the season, showing promise that made the process even tougher.

Two players were unanimous first-team choices: Malcolm Brogdon of the Bucks (the front-runner for ROY), and Dario Saric of the Sixers. Saric’s teammate Joel Embiid also made first team, but there was enough concern among voters (100 members of the NBA media, and full disclosure I had a vote) that he only played 31 games that seven voters had him on the second team, and 11 left him off entirely. A full list of who voted for whom will be made public on Tuesday by the NBA.

Here is who made the cut (players got two points for a first-team vote, one point for a second-team vote).

2016-17 NBA ALL-ROOKIE FIRST TEAM

Player (Team) Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee) 200
Dario Saric (Philadelphia) 200
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia) 171
Buddy Hield (Sacramento) 154
Willy Hernangomez (New York) 128

2016-17 NBA ALL-ROOKIE SECOND TEAM

Player (Team) Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Jamal Murray (Denver) 123
Jaylen Brown (Boston) 106
Marquese Chriss (Phoenix) 91
Brandon Ingram (L.A. Lakers) 83
Yogi Ferrell (Dallas) 63

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (first-place votes in parentheses): Rodney McGruder, Miami, 61 (7); Caris LeVert, Brooklyn, 36 (2); Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City, 19 (4); Tyler Ulis, Phoenix, 10 (1); Patrick McCaw, Golden State, 8; Skal Labissiere, Sacramento, 7 (1); Kris Dunn, Minnesota, 5; Juancho Hernangomez, Denver, 5; Taurean Prince, Atlanta, 5; Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn, 5; Alex Abrines, Oklahoma City, 4; Davis Bertans, San Antonio, 3; Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 3; Thon Maker, Milwaukee, 3; Andrew Harrison, Memphis, 2; Fred VanVleet, Toronto, 1; Dragan Bender, Phoenix, 1; DeAndre’ Bembry, Atlanta, 1; Jakob Poeltl, Toronto, 1; Malcolm Delaney, Atlanta, 1

 

Russell Westbrook set to learn if his historic season was an MVP one

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A year ago, uncertainty surrounded Russell Westbrook.

Kevin Durant stunned the league by leaving Oklahoma City for rival Golden State in free agency. The four-time scoring champion and former MVP had been the central piece in making the Thunder one of the league’s elite teams since the franchise’s move to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Westbrook had played his entire NBA career alongside Durant, so questions about how Westbrook would respond immediately cropped up.

He defiantly answered them with memorable performances.

Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double for a season and won his second scoring title. He broke Robertson’s single-season record with 42 triple-doubles and led the Thunder to the playoffs. Now, he will join Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard as finalists for the league’s MVP award. The winner will be announced Monday at the inaugural NBA Awards show.

Westbrook gained satisfaction from the team’s success, which largely was fueled by his personal dominance.

“With everything happening last summer, people counted us out,” he said the day after Oklahoma City’s season ended. “They weren’t sure how many games we were going to win or how far we were going to go or whatever, but I think the group of guys, we never let that sink in our building. We stuck together, and that’s the thing I’m most proud about.”

Westbrook wasn’t just stat stuffing, either. The Thunder went 33-9 when he had a triple-double and 14-26 when he didn’t. He seemingly gained energy as the season progressed and was statistically better after the All-Star break than before. As for those late-game situations, he led the league with 10 points per game in the fourth quarter and was one of the most dynamic closers in the league.

Westbrook topped Robertson’s single-season, triple-double record on April 9 in Denver. His 36-foot game-winning dagger put the final touch on a 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist performance that eliminated the Nuggets from playoff contention.

Robertson himself showed up to the Thunder’s regular-season finale and endorsed Westbrook for the MVP award.

“What he has done has been historic in nature,” Robertson told the crowd that night. “He’s played with passion and pride and ability. It’s just outstanding what he has done and the way he did it.”

Durant might be the least surprised player in the league. Westbrook was dominant while Durant was out with a foot injury during the 2014-15 season and claimed his first scoring title, but it wasn’t clear if he could do it all – score, dominate the boards, consistently feed his teammates and come through in big moments – for an entire season.

Turns out, he could.

In the second game of the season, he had 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over Phoenix, the first 50-point triple-double since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1975. On March 27, he had 13 points in a 3-minute barrage to rally the Thunder past Dallas. Two days later in Orlando, he scored 57 points and posted the most points ever in a triple-double. He hit a deep 3-pointer to force overtime, and eventually helped the Thunder win. In one of his most memorable games, he scored 47 points in a loss to Durant’s Warriors.

Harden and Leonard also had MVP-caliber seasons:

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JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

As stunning as Westbrook’s triple-double binge was this season, Harden’s was impressive, too.

He posted 22 triple-doubles and helped the Rockets finish with the league’s third-best record. Harden, known primarily as a scorer throughout his career, shifted from shooting guard to point guard and was nearly unstoppable in coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.

Harden led the league with 11.2 assists per game and finished second with 29.1 points per contest. In perhaps his best performance, he had 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists against the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.

KAWHI LEONARD, SAN ANTONIO

Leonard is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s up for the honor again.

Yet, it was the 6-foot-7 forward’s offensive improvement that put him in the mix for the MVP award. He averaged 25.5 points this season after averaging 21.2 the previous year.

Leonard helped the Spurs finish with the league’s second-best record. He seemed to play as the stage got bigger.

He opened the season with a career-high 35 points in a blowout win over the Warriors. Leonard upped that career high with 41 points in a win over Cleveland on Jan. 21, and he dropped 39 points in a victory over Houston on March 6.