Today we tackle a debate as old as time. Well, not really, but you get the point. Should the NBA Most Valuable Player Award include the players’ postseason performances?
The MVP is the most valuable player, not the best player. Value comes from consistent production and has to be isolated to individual value. Individual value is not measured by team success, it is by how much a player INDIVIDUALLY contributes to his team. For this, you need a large sample size where recency bias is minimized as much as possible. This can only be achieved when the playoffs are not factored into this award. There is a Finals MVP for a reason. Factoring in the playoffs disregards the regular season because of said recency bias and undermines consistent production shown in the regular season.
Additionally, awarding the MVP while including the playoffs includes other variables that skew individual talent assessment. For example, in 2013, if the playoffs were included, there is a legitimate case for Ray Allen to be the MVP. Why? Because without his game-saving shot in Game 6 of the NBA finals after LeBron’s late-game meltdown, the Heat lose the finals as the superior team and LeBron is then crucified in the media for choking yet again. Is it fair to downplay his superhuman play up until late in the playoffs? No. LeBron was the clear MVP. Jordan won his first MVP in 1987-88 when his Bulls got wrecked by the Detroit Pistons who lost to the Lakers in the finals. Was Jordan not the most valuable even when he struggled with his team?
Lastly, let’s not pretend like Giannis is playing like some scrub against the Heat. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still averaging 22.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists against the Heat. It’s not his fault that suddenly nobody on his team can hit an outside shot. Giannis is doing what he did in the regular season and his teammates are just missing the great looks they are getting. Choking is playing significantly worse when the pressure is on. Giannis just needs some real help as every other great player has needed, and that’s the difference.
Should a player who just broke the regular-season record for PER be penalized by the play of his teammates by factoring in the playoffs, which all voters will remember? Before you point the finger at Giannis, name one player who has won a title with no offensive help at his side. It’s an individual award, not a team accomplishment award.
Like Karthik just said, the MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, meaning the player that is most valuable to his team’s success in achieving the ultimate goal of every NBA team, which is to win the NBA Finals. Although valuable does not specifically mean the most skilled player, in the NBA the players that have the greatest offensive ability tend to have the most success in their ability to score points and give their team the best opportunity to win games in crunch time. He also mentions how consistency is important, meaning that this player has to deliver consistently at a high level in order to give his team the best opportunity to win.
Any player could have an average season throughout the entire year and then be awarded the Finals MVP, such as Andre Igoudala in 2015. The true MVP should have the ability to perform in big-time games as well as all of the games leading up to them in the regular season. By limiting the award to just the regular season, the NBA is allowing the MVP to shrink under the pressure of the most important games of the year, when defense is more intense and the pressure is greater. We are seeing this right now with Giannis Antetekoumpo, who had an MVP-caliber regular season campaign, and is now being shut down by the Miami Heat and is doing nothing more than leading the Bucks into elimination. The MVP should not be contributing to his team’s failures in the biggest stage. In terms of value, Giannis brings intensity and a huge defensive presence, but against the Heat’s defense where they are making him shoot and keeping him out of the lane where he is most effective, he is unable to perform and actually live up to the MVP status.
Additionally, there is some need for the recency bias because I believe the playoffs are the best indicator of the truly elite players in the league. The Most Valuable Player in the NBA should have the ability to continue the success of the regular season when it counts and against ramped-up, tougher defense.
Matt makes a great point about how players need to step up in the biggest stages. This is true. However, his analysis only applies to offensive players with very specific skills, namely isolation scorers. There are several ways to impact a game. Why can’t a defensive player win the MVP? His analysis is also unable to justify recency bias because using the playoffs as a metric is not a good way to differentiate individual talent on both ends of the floor.
Additionally, Matt’s whole argument with the playoffs is predicated on emphasizing the importance of pivotal moments. It is hypocritical to say that LeBron’s play got them to that position and then criticize Giannis while dismissing his consistent greatness. Giannis was never supposed to be a closer. That is why Khris Middleton is currently the highest paid player on the team. It is individual value and importance to the Bucks especially on both ends of the floor this season that justifies him being the MVP. Let’s call it what is. Basketball is a team sport and it is always a team effort that creates results in the playoffs. The media shapes its view based on the end result, not looking at what a player does objectively and in what circumstances. It is far more fair and unbiased to use the large sample size of the regular season as the main metric in which to award the most valuable player award.
Including the playoffs in the MVP consideration does not mean that it has to be given to the player that delivers the big shot, or contributes the most during the playoff run. I still think that the regular season has to be in the conversation, but to deliberately leave the playoffs out allows the MVP to not deliver in the most important games and then be awarded the NBA’s most prestigious honor. Ray Allen did save the Heat in that Game 6, but it was LeBron’s play that got them into that Finals in the first place, meaning he was the most valuable member of the team because, without him, they aren’t in that situation. In the name, it says it: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER — the one member of the team that contributes most to its success in achieving the ultimate goal. How can they do that in the regular season and then in the playoffs not continue that level of play when it matters the most?