This next post stems from a discussion I heard on sports radio this week, between WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Ira Winderman, who covers the Heat for the Sun-Sentinel. They were discussing the possibility of the Thunder losing their first round matchup to the Grizzlies, and how hollow the MVP award would be when given to Kevin Durant after a first round upset. Francesa believed the award should be voted on after the Conference Finals, since the MVP of the Finals would receive the Bill Russell award.
My initial reaction was that it wouldn’t matter much when the award is decided, because the MVP can usually carry his team to the Finals anyway. Upon further review, that’s not exactly the case. The MVP award has been handed out 58 times, not including this year’s presumptive winner, Kevin Durant. Of the 58, 30 have gone on to play in the Finals, while 28 exited early. That is 51.7% to 48.3%, so regular season MVP’s have only gone on to play in the NBA Finals in a slight majority of the time.
The truth of the matter is that, as is the case with many subjective awards, it depends what you’re looking for. For many, a dominant regular season spanning nearly 6 months justifies winning the award, while many only care about the end result of the season. I tend to lean towards the former, because while I understand the importance of winning championships in sports, I don’t believe that regular season greatness should just be ignored. There’s a reason they play the regular season which make up a vast majority of the games a player will play during their career. My biggest fear with deciding the MVP before the Finals is the immediate emotional impact that a great Conference Finals would have on voters. Should one playoff series, no matter how good, totally overshadow a great regular season just because it happened more recently? I don’t believe so.
One easy solution is to take a page from Major League Baseball, which names a Most Valuable Player for each playoff series. That way in 2010-2011 Derrick Rose could have his MVP trophy, though one could argue LeBron was the better player and lost the voting due to voter fatigue and anger over The Decision, we’ll forget that for now. LeBron could be MVP of the Conference Finals after he averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists in the five games, so while that may not be as exciting or prestigious as an MVP trophy he would still be recognized for his greatness, without overshadowing someone else’s full season of work. Some of the names of MVP’s who did not reach the Finals that same year include James himself, Nowitzki, Nash, Garnett, Duncan, Malone (2 of them), Robinson, and a guy from Carolina named Jordan, among others. So while those players may not have been to the Finals in the same year they won MVP, it is certainly not a hollow award.