NBA MVP: What's the Criteria?

This NBA regular season has been incredible. Despite the recent complaints about players resting; the season has been full of surprises and this MVP race is one for the ages. We all know the candidates and each one has a fan club. Kawhi is averaging a career high in scoring and the Spurs are winning without Tim Duncan, Harden is leading the league in assists and has 20 triple-doubles, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double and LeBron is in season 14 but is averaging a career high in rebounds and assists while putting up his most triple-doubles in a season.

We all know Oscar Robertson was the only person to average a triple-double way back in 1961. That season Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds and Bill Russell averaged 18 points and 23 rebounds. Russell won the NBA title and the MVP award. Back then the MVP was voted by the players and Russell’s Celtics won often so Russell won MVP awards; five of them.

This piece is not about picking an MVP or making a case for one guy over another. What is the criteria for the MVP? The argument of let’s remove the best player from their team is a bad one. If we remove the All-Stars from their teams, the teams will be bad. Is it always the best player on the best team? But the best player on the best team has to put up some big numbers. During the 2007-08 season the Boston Celtics had the best record by far winning 66 games but none of their players put up big numbers so the MVP award went to Kobe Bryant who won 57 games for the Lakers. Should the MVP award be given out after the playoffs? Remember when Dirk won the award and then loss in the first round?

Every season there is a different story and we look at a different stat. Do we focus on wins because MVPs should win games, or do we look at the advanced stats like win shares, real +/-, defensive win shares, etc.? Casual fans don’t even know what advanced stats are.

In one way or another the four candidates this season are having career years. Will that affect their MVP chances in future seasons? LeBron is the only guy who has won an MVP in previous seasons. People say that there is a voter fatigue for LeBron because he puts up consistent big numbers. Now let’s say Westbrook or Harden wins the award this season. In three years are we looking back saying well Harden isn’t averaging the 11 assists he averaged before or Westbrook is averaging a triple-double so he can’t win the MVP again.

It will be hard for these guys to top their performance from this season. We can’t go into future seasons always looking back to this year. The MVP is an award given out for that current season. Maybe we should give out two different awards. The NFL has offensive player of the year and MVP award. Will it be so bad to have an offensive player of the year and MVP in the NBA? If winning really matters for the MVP does that mean Westbrook can’t win it because his team is not in the top 4 standing?

Coach of the year usually goes to a coach when their team does better than what the public expected. Rookie of the year usually goes to the rookie who scores the most. 6th man of the year usually goes to the guy who scores the most coming off the bench. Most improved player goes to a guy who didn’t play much the previous season and then starts playing more and plays well. Defensive player of the year has different criteria each year but fans don’t care about defensive.

The MVP race is so much fun. Westbrook puts up another triple-double, Harden has 16 assists in a triple-double, Kawhi puts up 39 as Spurs beat Rockets, LeBron puts up 46 in a triple-double. We have seen crazy headlines like this all season. Every sports show, podcast and article is talking about the MVP race and that is great for the basketball. But with each argument someone asks, “What is the criteria”?

I won’t be mad at whoever the voters pick this season for MVP. Every guy has a legitimate argument for the award. We might need to add another award or do a better job of describing the “MVP criteria”.