More specifically, Tatum bemoaned a lack of criteria – for things like games played – in awards voting.
On that front, he has a potential ally in NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
SiriusXM NBA Radio:
"There is a minimum number of games now… but I think potentially we should raise that"
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) May 18, 2022
We will definitely look at a minimum number of games to be eligible for awards. There is a minimum games – minimum number of game now. But I think potentially we should raise that.
I’m thinking we’re also going to look at other incentives for those star players to be on the floor.
And, again, we want to make sure we find the right balance. We’re not looking to force guys to play through injuries, of course.
But on the other hand – especially as the media world is changing and that it’s more of a direct-to-consumer model – people are only going to want to pay for what they’re actually going to watch. Everybody who’s part of this league has to understand that we’re in the entertainment business and that, if players are healthy, the expectation is that they’re going to play. And that’s what enables everyone who’s part of this league to live these spectacular lives. And we have to look at it from out fans’ standpoint. And the marketplace is going to drive us there. Whether or not we would have gotten their on our own, our fans are speaking loud and clearly. Our media partners are speaking loud and clearly.
And when we sit down with the players, it’s going to be something that we’re going to discuss.
Contrary to what Silver said, the NBA does not currently have a minimum-games requirement for awards. Joel Embiid seriously challenged for Rookie of the Year a few seasons ago while playing just 31 games!
The NBA does have a requirement for leading the league in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks or minutes per game – 70% of team games (58 in 82-game season). (A player can also qualify by having a large enough lead that he still would’ve led the league with zeros in however many games necessary to reach 70%.)
Implementing that same 70% (58/82) threshold for awards wouldn’t move the needle much. Players nearly never contend for awards while playing so little. Voters already consider playing time. It’s hard to provide enough value while not on the court often.
But a higher minimum could really disrupt some races.
Take this year’s MVP voting:
1. Nikola Jokic: 74 games
2. Joel Embiid: 68 games
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 67 games
4. Devin Booker: 68 games
5. Luka Doncic: 65 games
6. Jayson Tatum: 76 games
7. Ja Morant: 57 games
8. Stephen Curry: 64 games
9. Chris Paul: 65 games
10. DeMar DeRozan: 76 games
10. LeBron James: 56 games
10. Kevin Durant: 55 games
If the threshold were 70 games and nobody changed their behavior, Jokic would’ve been the winner by default. Filling a ballot would’ve been challenging with all but Jokic, Tatum and DeRozan eliminated from eligibility among those who actually got votes.
Perhaps, a stronger incentive to play would’ve pushed some of those players to play a few more games. Getting stars onto the court more often is a worthy goal. As Silver said, fan interest drives revenue and, therefore, players’ salaries. Fans want to see a better product, not absence-riddled games.
But injuries happen. Injuries are more likely when players push themselves too hard. Sometimes, players would fall short of the minimum (or, worse, hurt themselves for the playoffs while trying to qualify for a regular-season award).
A hard games-played cutoff could really undercut faith in NBA awards. It’s quite conceivable that a player who plays two fewer games than the minimum has a better season than a player who plays two more games than the minimum. If voters aren’t even allowed to make that call, how much will fans care about the outcome? Fans feeling invested in awards races also sparks interest in the league – i.e., revenue.
There are plenty of ways to coax more star involvement. The best solutions – like the play-in tournament – work on a team level. Give teams greater incentive to win then let them determine the optimal amount to play their players. Get the incentives high enough, and rest practically disappears. Teams (nearly) never sit their stars in the playoffs.
A games-played minimum for awards might work here and there. But it’s more likely to bring an unwelcomed complication into award races.