Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why this argument is nonsense

Jemele Hill had an article for this past week that I think is utter nonsense. For starters, she spends almost half of the article assuming that people want to give the MVP to Dirk because Nash has too many, as opposed to, say, because Dirk has led the Mavericks to one of the best seasons in the history of the NBA.

But anyway, although bashing on a bad argument isn’t that great a use of time in and of itself, Hill’s article gives me the chance to raise some questions about Dirk’s shot at MVP. Here she addresses a typical argument for mvp that she says should be reconsidered:
The MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Generally, I believe this. In the last 25 years, the MVPs have come from teams that have won 50 games or more. But you can't use that as absolute criteria. The Pistons had the best regular-season record in the NBA last year, but voters were correct in not awarding Chauncey Billups the MVP. You couldn't look at the Pistons and discern if Billups really was the most important piece, proving that the best player isn't always on the best team.

This year's Mavericks team poses a similar problem. No question Dirk is a superstar, but is he the real reason the Mavericks have shrugged off last year's NBA Finals meltdown? Or does that credit belong to coach Avery Johnson?
How do people get away with writing this stuff? The Pistons were strikingly abnormal in having a great regular-season record without having a particular player who stood out above the others. That’s why the coaches gave them four all-stars last year, to recognize the value of their team play.

Dirk is precisely the opposite of that. While his teammates are excellent, he is clearly the star of the team. He’s 11th in the league in scoring, and 16th in rebounding––not hugely impressive stats––but more important, he’s 6th in the league in ESPN’s player ratings, which measures all a player’s stats put together. Dallas’ next best is Josh Howard, at 45th. And in Hollinger’s PER rating system, Dirk is even better, ranked second for the season, behind only Dwyane Wade.

Yeah, Josh Howard is hugely important to the Mavericks, but no one in the past 30 years has won 65+ with just a bunch of Josh Howards. And Avery Johnson is something very special, but a coach can’t win 65 games by himself: Phil Jackson didn’t do it except when he had Jordan or Shaq, and Pat Riley didn’t do except when he had Magic. No, to win 65, you have to have a Dirk––he’s clearly the best player on his team, and one of the very best in the league.

What’s more, Dallas isn’t just barely the best team in the NBA. By record, they’re head-and-shoulders above everyone else for the season. San Antonio is playing great, but for the season as a whole they haven’t been anywhere close to Dallas. Phoenix has played extraordinarily well too, but then they lost all those games when Nash was out.

Which brings me to my next point. The poor play of Phoenix when Nash was injured should hurt Nash’s MVP chances, not help them. Just to be clear: the MVP is about achievement––the value you did have for your team––not what you would have done for them if only back spasms hadn’t sidelined you for a week here or there. Isn’t the ability to stay healthy part of a player’s value? Or to put it another way: Nash with back spasms isn’t as valuable as Nash without back spasms would be, right? This isn’t saying Nash is any less of a player, just that the MVP is about the entire season, and the results for the entire season are becoming increasingly clear. If Dallas weren’t there, Nash would probably be MVP; but they are, and he’s not.

So at the end of the day, Dallas––for the season as a whole––really is the better team, by virtue of having won a lot more games than Phoenix. And history bears out (see my previous post) that you don’t win 65 games on a fluke. Maybe Phoenix is playing better going into the playoffs, but for the season Dallas outplayed them. The Mavericks put together the performances necessary to win 65 games, and the Suns (who played just as hard) were unable to.

Which brings us back to the principle that Hill suggests Dirk-supporters are following too rigidly: The MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Obviously she’s right that we shouldn’t follow that rule to a fault. But in this case, Dirk is clearly the best player on clearly the best team. In fact, a situation like this with a clear-cut best player on a clear-cut best team is precisely where the rule she’s attacking is most appropriate to follow.

As I’ve said before, this whole thing is nothing but disrespect due to Dirk’s mediocre play in the finals last year. Even though that’s not really supposed to affect MVP ballots, it’s certainly understandable if it does. But those same people have to defend why Nash has never beaten San Antonio in the playoffs like Dirk’s Mavericks did last year, and why the Suns have never been to the NBA finals, even the year they were totally healthy and had the league’s best regular-season record. That, it seems to me, levels the playing field between these two guys and forces us to focus on this season.

And if this season is the only one in question, then no smokescreen of nonsense arguments should be able to obscure that Dirk should be MVP.


Jeremy said...

people have to defend why Nash has never beaten San Antonio in the playoffs like Dirk’s Mavericks did last year, and why the Suns have never been to the NBA finals

No, they don't, if they believe that Nash should never have won the MVP. We're in agreement on one thing: Dirk is a far stronger candidate for MVP this year than the monumentally overrated Steve Nash has ever been.

micah said...

We beat the Spurs with no Duncan. I guess it doesn't tell us much, but it was nice to see them finish strong.