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Race to the MVP: Getting scientific to get it right

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Nov 21 2008 7:47PM

Before we get down to bidness, I just wanted to note that we had no mailbag this week. Oh, we had mail and plenty of it, but we had other priorities and they took precedence. We do read the e-mail and some of you may have even received a response. To all who wrote in this past week, I would like to say thank you. The e-mails are always appreciated ... even when some of you call me stupid.

As for this week's Race to the MVP, it's inspired by two events: an e-mail delivered at light speed, the other being about the speed of light.

One day after last week's Race to the MVP hit the streets, I received a rather passionate, somewhat R-rated, 465-word e-mail from Manol, who as a Cavs fan wasn't complaining about my putting LeBron James at No. 1, but was wondering why other players were getting love in certain spots.

"First of all that whole section is a joke, you guys never get it right, and I don't mean the NBA people, I mean whoever is involved in choosing the MVP every year," Manol began.

I read the rest of the e-mail, but the "you guys never get it right" comment stuck with me.

Do we ever get it right? I get that a lot. "How can you not see ...?" "What does he need to do...?" "Why won't you ever give him his due...?"

So, I wrote back to Manol: "Maybe we should have a full-on discussion as to what an MVP is during the course of the season in the column."

I could have fooled him.

"Huh... that's it?" Manol replied. "Haha. I was expecting some full out war email on why you guys are right and we're wrong. Damn. I need war material... Just kidding.

"That sounds cool though, I am totally not cool with what people try to make the MVP award to be handed out for. So I guess some discussion would be nice. Alright I'll keep an eye out for the article or discussion."

He wanted a war. We're going to give him a détente and discussion, because I am curious as to what others think is the criteria for making an MVP. So, I wrote back: "I think if we have the conversation of "What [makes] an MVP?" we can better come to the answer of "Who is the MVP?"

But, Rob, this isn't rocket science. Who is the Most Valuable Player should be easy. Plug in some numbers, see how a guy's team plays, maybe throw in a record differential between one year and the next and voila! It should be a simple formula to get it correct, correct?

Right, which is why I found the following, which is about rocket science, to be extremely intriguing in relation to our MVP discussion: e=mc2: 103 years later, Einstein's proven right.

It took 103 years, and science's equivalent of an All-Star team is using the world's fastest computers to corroborate Einstein's Theory of Relativity, something he conjured in his mind more than a century ago. Einstein, he's smart. I'm sure he would have this Race to the MVP thing licked.

Me -- say some of my readers -- not so much. As I noted in Week 1, I do Race as part art and part science. Numbers are involved, but so are aesthetics, attitude, atmosphere and a couple of adjectives that start with "a" that escape me at the moment. You could say: it's all relative.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images


I also place a lot of weight on a team's record. Dating back to the first award in 1956, only two players have ever garnered the MVP playing for a sub-.500 squad: Bob Pettit in 1956 when his St. Louis Hawks finished 33-39 and in 1976, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the third of his record six MVPs on a 40-42 Lakers' team. Granted, Pettit led the league in scoring and rebounding (25.7 points and 16.2 rebounds per game) and Kareem led the league in boards (16.9 rpg), blocks (4.12) and was second in scoring (27.7), but unless you put up heavenly numbers such as those, you probably won't get serious consideration for MVP if your team is subpar. Another twist is that the players selected the MVP until 1980, so Pettit and Kareem were chosen by their peers.

And, really, what do the players know?

Ahem. Anyway, the writers have voted from MVP since the 1980-81 campaign and it's been almost as long since a player won MVP when not playing for a team that won or at least tied for the division title. That would be one Michael Jeffery Jordan in 1987-88, when he averaged 35-5.5-6 for a 50-32 Bulls team that finished four games behind the Pistons in the old Central.

(And many would say he was robbed the next season when he averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 boards and 8.0 dimes over the 1988-89 season. The winner, Magic Johnson averaged 22.5 points, 7.9 boards and 12.8 assists. You may want to note the Lakers went 57-25 and the Bulls 47-35.)

So, the writers put a lot of weight on team record. Here's why I think this is: The goal is to win. And in basketball, unlike any other team sport, one individual can affect a team's fortune more than any other. Sure, a guy in baseball can get hot at the plate and carry the team, but he's one of nine. In football, a guy like Tom Brady can have a 50-TD season, but if his line stinks, he becomes an astronomer, staring at the sky from his backside. He's one of 11, and he doesn't even play defense.

But the flow of basketball completely changes the equation (which we've yet to determine) for MVP. In hoops, an individual can change the course of a game. LeBron's destruction of the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Kobe's 81 or Wade's MVP performance in the 2006 Finals are prime examples of individual brilliance within a team sport.

So for all of you who wrote in about Allen Iverson (4-4 with the Pistons) or Andris Biedrins (5-6), you probably won't see them in the Top 10 anytime soon. Not yet, anyway. Apologies.

So, what we're going to do from time to time for the rest of the season is do what the scientists did in proving e=mc2: We're going to collaborate. We're going to ask of you, the reader, and other NBA writers and bloggers: "What makes an MVP?" so we can determine "Who is the MVP?" in order to "prove" as much as possible who is the NBA's most valuable.

Let's just hope it doesn't take 103 years to figure out.

Dueling Hoops Line of the Week: Chris Bosh, Toronto: Nov. 18 at Orlando -- 40 points, 18 boards, four assists, two steals and a block

Dwyane Wade, Miami: Nov. 19 vs. Toronto -- 40 points, 11 dimes, five -- five! -- blocks with three boards grabbed

Sad thing about both performances? Neither led to a win.

Line of the Week: No mailbag this week or next. Enjoy Thanksgiving, you gluttonous Americans!

Drop of the week: Joe Johnson, Hawks (-infinity, out of the Top 10)
Rise of the week: Chauncey Billups, Nuggets (+infinity, into the Top 10)

Race to the MVP - The Top 10
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers | Team Record: 9-3
29.59 7.8 6.9 2.0 0.8 .486 .772
Last Week's Rank - 1
James has won back-to-back Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards as well as showing trust in his teammates as he did Tuesday night in New Jersey. The egg the Cavs laid in Detroit on Wednesday (helped by 'Bron's 8-for-21 shooting) was disappointing.

2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 9-1
24.3 5.1 3.9 1.7 0.8 .442 .819
Last Week's Rank - 2
Not surprisingly, I got a lot of flack from Kobe's fans about moving him from the top spot. Many cited how Kobe went on a four-game, 50-point tear in 2006-07 and people said he shot too much. I would like everyone to check their calendars: Nov. 21, 2008. That season is long gone, people, and I don't care about the past. We're talking now, which is why some e-mailers have said: "Why is Kobe so high? His numbers stink compared to X, Y, Z." I'll grant you that, but the Lakers are 9-1, win games by an average of 13.5 points and he makes the Lakers go. Bryant will be in this area (the top three) unless something catastrophic happens (injury, sudden drop in production, etc.).

3. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 8-4
17.5 6.2 3.5 1.7 0.5 .386 .906
Last Week's Rank - OLI
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Peterson? Another bold/stupid move where someone comes out of nowhere to enter not only the top 10, but top three? Are you out of your mind? Yes, yes I am, but you cannot deny Billups' impact on the Nuggets, who are 7-1 with Mr. Big Shot running the point. He's George Karl's dream point guard: smart, steady and superlative when needed. He's brought stability to a team that needed it. Any guy who can lead a team into Boston and come out with a win, I'll take him on my squad any day. Because of Billups, the Nuggets now must be seen as serious contenders for the Northwest Division crown.

4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 6-6
28.2 5.1 7.8 2.5 2.0 .492 .762
Last Week's Rank - 6
Remember what I said about mediocre teams, but huge stat lines? Wade fits this bill, for now, by being second in the league in scoring (28.2 ppg) and steals (2.5). He's getting it done on both ends of the floor. Too bad the rest of the team hasn't picked it up. Then again, D-Wade has always been able to entertain, this time with a little international flavor: Eat the head!

5. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 8-3
21.0 13.5 1.6 1.1 4.0 .596 .539
Last Week's Rank - 7
Despite pedestrian point totals of 18, 4 (Four, really, Dwight?) and 18, Dwight gets a two-spot rise because of his defense. He leads the league in blocks (4.0 per game) and according to's John Hollinger, the Magic are third in defensive efficiency. Still, I get the nagging feeling there's something missing from Howard's game. I can't put my finger on it. I always feel he's Gulliver and he shouldn't be tied down by Lilliputians. He needs to break free.

6. Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors | Team Record: 6-5
25.5 11.0 2.2 0.7 0.9 .544 .806
Last Week's Rank - 5
Sorry, Raptors fans, I know I had to drop someone one spot because of Billups' burst and Bosh slid just a bit. Still, he's the best offensive big in the East and had a nice week, especially with the 40-point, 18-board game in Orlando. Those numbers are gaudy, but right now Bosh isn't producing enough on the defensive end. He has 10 blocks on the season. Dwyane Wade, who is six inches shorter, had 10 blocks last week.

7. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 5-5
20.7 5.0 11.9 3.1 0.1 .504 .857
Last Week's Rank - 3
CP3, what's up? Your seven-game streak of 20-plus points, 10-plus assists per game was snapped against the Trail Blazers when you went 17 and nine, but you still won, so that's cool. But then a loss at Houston (that happens) and a loss at home to the Kings where your 20 points, 15 assists and four steals couldn't save the Hornets. Really, what's happening in the Big Easy? You do look good in your new fashion shoot for GQ.

8. Carlos Boozer, Utah Jazz | Team Record: 8-4
20.5 11.7 2.7 0.9 0.3 .559 .727
Last Week's Rank - 8
Say ta-ta to Boozer for now. This may be the last time you see him in the Top 10. He has a strained left quad and will probably miss the next two games. With others on the Outside Looking In knocking on the door (Tim Duncan, Brandon Roy, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki), it may be their time. As usual, the Jazz played poorly on the road, but Boozer had a nice, solid week.

9. Amar'e Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns | Team Record: 8-5
23.1 8.3 1.8 1.2 1.2 .564 .831
Last Week's Rank - 9
After three consecutive sub 20-point performances, Amar'e rebounded with 29 points and 11 boards in a win against the Pistons in Phoenix. The Suns have been shellacked in their last two games (by 12 at Utah and by 13 at home to the Lakers -- and it wasn't that close). Nice Q&A with's Dave McMenamin. Oh, and happy birthday.

10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics | Team Record: 11-2
20.2 7.2 3.7 1.2 0.4 .400 .822
Last Week's Rank - 10
The week started with a tough loss at home to the Nuggets (see also: Billups, Chauncey), but had nice back-to-back 20-point efforts in wins against Milwaukee and New York. He didn't need to do much in a blowout of the Pistons on Thursday. What's nice to see from Pierce is how much more often he's been getting to the line of late. Before shooting only four freebies on Thursday (and making all four), he had gotten to the line 10-plus times in five consecutive games, including a 14-15 night against the Bucks. Now, just imagine if he were better than .400 from the field.

Dropping out: Joe Johnson (Les Hawks sont blessés)

Outside looking in, for now, in alphabetical order: Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Danny Granger, Joe Johnson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Brandon Roy

Other readers' favorites: Andris Biedrins, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Zach Randolph, Deron Williams, Yao Ming

Comments? Questions? A statement about how I can't walk and chew gum at the same time? Drop me a line at (for now).

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