Entering 2020 it is clear to see that there are 5 obvious MVP candidates.
Giannis, Harden, LeBron, Luka and AD.
Even Basketball Reference’s MVP tracker has these gentlemen ranked in that very order. But we know that tracker can be very awkward and have some random players in the mix.
So what data can we ACTUALLY go off of in predicting the MVP? And how accurate can we get with this? Well, let me show you.
History says that there are 5 main statistical categories that highlight an MVP-calibre season. These are:
- Player Efficiency Rating (PER)
- Win Shares (WS)
- Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48)
- Box Plus/Minus (BPM)
- Value Over Replacement (VOR)
How so? Let me illustrate. Let’s take each MVP from the last decade and see where they ranked during the season for each above category respectively.
LeBron James (’09-’10) 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
Derrick Rose (’10-’11) 9th, 5th 10th, 4th, 3rd
LeBron James (’11-’12) 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
LeBron James (’12-’13) 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
Kevin Durant (’13-’14) 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st
Stephen Curry (’14-’15) 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st
Stephen Curry (’15-’16) 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
Russell Westbrook (’16-’17) 1st, 5th, 10th, 1st, 1st
James Harden (’17-’18) 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd
G. Antetokounmpo (’18-’19) 1st, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd
If we take out some minor outliers in Rose and Westbrook, the evidence speaks for itself. Even still, Rose and Westbrook each ranked at least in the Top 10 for each category, and only fell outside the Top 5 three times.
Further to this, Rose and Westbrook CAN be explained. Derrick Rose had an explosively unique season at such a young age, and was transformational in his MVP year, earning the title of youngest MVP ever. And, obviously, Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s triple double record to accomplish something no one thought could be done ever again averaging a triple double across the season. These unique storylines earnt these two players their respective MVP Award.
Outside of that, it is clear that the MVP’s dominate these categories. So, using this, we can fairly accurately predict who will win MVP this season. Here’s how it’s done.
For each of the five categories, the Top 10 players receive a score from 1-10 based on their ranking in the respective category, with 1st receiving 10 points, all the way to 10th receiving 1 point. The player with the most points wins MVP. Simple.
So let’s see where it leads to. Here is everyone outside the Top 5.
19th – Bam Adebayo – 1
T-17th – Richaun Holmes – 2
T-17th – Jarrett Allen – 2
16th – Hassan Whiteside – 3
T-14th – Joel Embiid – 4
T-14th – Kawhi Leonard – 4
13th – Rudy Gobert – 5
T-9th – Mitchell Robinson – 6
T-9th – Damian Lillard – 6
T-9th – George Hill – 6
T-9th – Jimmy Butler – 6
8th – Nerlens Noel – 7
7th – Nikola Jokic – 11
6th – Karl-Anthony Towns – 23
First off, the Top 5 are exactly who I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Secondly, this method has some laughable results. Nerlens Noel being 8th is hilarious, and having Mitch Robinson and George Hill on the same level as Jimmy Butler and Dame is again, pretty damn hilarious. However, this ladder does vaguely represent some sort of logical order if you take away the obvious outliers:
- Bam Adebayo
- Joel Embiid
- Kawhi Leonard
- Damian Lillard
- Jimmy Butler
- Nikola Jokic
- Karl-Anthony Towns
So how do the Top 5 fall?
#5 – LeBron James – Total Points: 24 – Rankings: 6th, 5th, 14th, 5th, 4th
LeBron at 5th is probably fair enough. His impact is obviously lessened by Anthony Davis, and in his 17th season, he is still as formidable and unstoppable as ever. What IS surprising is that he is only a single point ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns, suggesting that LeBron’s game may not be as efficient or effective as people may believe it to be.
#4 – Anthony Davis – Total points: 30 – Rankings: 5th, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 5th
The other half of the LA duo comes in at 4th, again, also probably on the money. You could certainly make a case for switching AD and LeBron around in the MVP race. Their impact on games do slightly negate each other, as with any power duo in the league, however statistics are showing that Anthony Davis is more efficient, effective and consistent.
#3 – Luka Doncic – Total points: 41 – Rankings: 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 3rd
If I’d done this article earlier in the season, Luka would be winning the MVP race. Prior to his horrendous ankle-roll, Luka was spending most of his time at the top of these categories and was playing like an absolute madman. In his 2nd season, Luka has legitimately become one of the best players in the league, and if voters go down a similar path to Derrick Rose, Luka could become the new youngest MVP ever, as he is yet to even turn 21 years old.
#2 – James Harden – Total points: 46 – Rankings: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st
It was almost certain that Harden’s scoring capacity would decrease with the addition of Westbrook, but somehow, he is scoring MORE, and at record-shattering rates. Harden is quickly becoming one of the greatest offensive players of all-time, and he continually outdoes himself season after season. Better shooting percentages with more shots, WITH RUSS. Outrageous…AND…only one point behind Giannis…
#1 – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Total points: 47 – Rankings: 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd
If I’m going to predict one thing for the future, it’s that the MVP race this year is going to be EXTREMELY close. So many different storylines, so many players going above and beyond what everyone thought was capable. Giannis finds himself in front of Harden by a single point, and with Luka not too far behind either. Giannis is outdoing his MVP year from last season, so it’s no surprise he’s out in front yet again, especially considering he is most likely the favourite to win so far.
What’s going to be key for all these players is consistency. Voters will turn to consistency and success of the team in order to split hairs between these guys, because frankly, they’re all so damn good, and they all have incredibly convincing MVP cases.
It’ll be interesting to see how this ladder, using this method, will transpire as the season goes on.