We’re at the beginning of week 5 in the NBA season. It’s early as hell. Obviously that means we need to be discussing the MVP race.
The Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry are the early favorites. NBA.com’s KIA MVP Ladder has them at one and two, respectively.
The case for either is easy to make.
KD leads the league in scoring at 29.6 ppg. He’s also grabbing 8.4 rebounds and handing out 5.1 assists. His shooting splits are a ridiculous 58/42/84. He is shooting an absurd 64 percent from two-point range with an overall eFG% of 63.9 and a TS% of 68.2. Bananas.
He has the Nets at 10-4, tied for second-best record in the Eastern Conference, with a still-playing-into-shape James Harden.
Steph is second in the league in scoring at 28.1 ppg. He is averaging 6.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists as well. He leads the league in three-pointers made (67) and attempts (173). His eFG% is 56.8 and TS% is 62. Down numbers for him, career numbers for almost anyone else.
He has led the Warriors to the best record in the league at 11-2.
Not much more needs to be said about the two former teammates. Their respective teams will battle it out tonight (Nov. 16) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
About 1,780 miles to the west in Denver, Colorado, is where reigning MVP Nikola Jokic resides. His Denver Nuggets are 9-5 and sit fourth in the Western Conference. They’ve managed this without starting point guard Jamal Murray, who is rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last season, and Michael Porter Jr. who is out indefinitely with a back injury.
That’s pretty impressive stuff.
Jokic is averaging 26.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. Without Murray the Denver offense operates with Jokic as the point-center. He is the hub of everything they do. His eFG% is 64.2 and TS% is 66.5. That’s insane.
But when we talk MVP what do we mean? The best player on the best team? Or the most valuable? How do we define the word valuable?
If the sole purpose of playing NBA basketball is to win games, then the player who most impacts a teams wins and losses should be MVP, right?
Steph has 11 wins. KD has 10 and Jokic has 9. But we need to look deeper.
The NBA analytics website DunksAndThrees publishes the proprietary Estimated Plus Minus (EPM) metric. It measures the impact of each player on his team’s scoring margin after controlling for the strengths of every teammate and opponent for every minute he’s on the court.
Jokic leads the league in EPM at +11.6. Curry is second at +8.2, with Durant third at +7.5.
DunksandThrees also uses estimated wins (eW), a metric that calculates how many wins a player is individually responsible for.
Jokic leads there as well at 4.2. KD is second at 3.5, with Curry third at 3.3.
Basketball Reference has a similar stat called win shares, which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. Jokic leads again with 3.1, KD is second at 2.9 and Curry is fourth at 2.5.
The other really interesting stat, per Basketball Reference, is win shares per 48. This is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes, the length of a regulation NBA game. League average is .100
Jokic dwarfs the field, coming in first at .354. That’s more than three times league average. KD is fourth at .284, and Steph is fifth at .276.
Why is win shares per 48 the most interesting of all?
You could argue that it’s the most relevant metric in determining how much a player contributes to winning. You know, the whole reason they play.
It’s also important because if you look back at the last 10 seasons. More often than not, the person that led the league in win shares per 48 was the MVP.
- 2021 MVP Nikola Jokic #1 WS/48
- 2020 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo #1 WS/48
- 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo #1 WS/48
- 2018 MVP James Harden #1 WS/48
- 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook #10 WS/48 (*Cough* KD was #1 but most of you can’t handle that discussion)
- 2016 MVP Steph Curry #1 WS/48
- 2015 MVP Steph Curry #1 WS/48
- 2014 MVP Kevin Durant #1 WS/48
- 2013 MVP LeBron James #1 WS/48
- 2012 MVP LeBron James #1 WS/48
In nine out of the past 10 seasons the leader in win shares per 48 won the MVP. Take it for what it’s worth.
As is usually the case in these discussions we don’t tend to use the same criteria for value, and our aesthetic preference often carries the most weight in determination.
You’re not wrong if you like either Jokic, Steph or KD for MVP. All three are phenomenal players and essential to their team’s success.
So keep your eyes on what’s going on in Brooklyn and the City by the Bay. But don’t forget the big man in the Mile High City.