Every year around the beginning of March, as the NBA all-star game comes to an end and fans start shifting their focus towards accolades and playoff brackets, there’s a debate over what it means to be the most valuable player in the league. Some argue it should be the best player on the best team, others argue it should be the player that makes the biggest difference, and a third argument says the award should go to the best all-around player.
This debate reached its pinnacle at the end of the 2016 season, as Stephen Curry became the first player to win the MVP award by a unanimous vote. While most agreed Curry deserved the award after he broke all kinds of records and led the league in scoring while leading his team to the best record in NBA history, most disagreed that he should’ve won it unanimously. They compared it to LeBron and Jordan’s MVP seasons and concluded if they didn’t win unanimously, Steph wasn’t deserving.
The decision sparked even more controversy when, not only did Stephen Curry’s lackluster performance in the finals lead to a 3-1 series lead meltdown, the Cavaliers central offensive focus was to attack Curry on defense. How could a unanimous MVP be deliberately targeted over the course of a seven game series because he couldn’t stop the opposing team’s Point Guard? This wasn’t even the first time it happened, as Klay Thompson has been defending the best guard on the opposing team consistently over the course of the last two years.
Herein lies the argument. It should be noted that Stephen Curry deserved the MVP award in 2016 no matter how you define it, but also that an MVP award should be weighted between offense and defense. Curry was good enough on defense in 2016 that his ridiculous offensive performance was rightly rewarded, but what about Derrick Rose in 2011, or, for that matter, Stephen Curry in 2015? While those two guys may have been the best offensive players during those seasons, they were neither the best all-around players in the league, nor did they make the biggest difference to their respective teams.
The MLB, NHL, and NFL all have their own versions of an offensive player of the year award that is separate from MVP, why doesn’t the NBA? If Russell Westbrook averages a triple double next season but the Thunder miss the playoffs, he wouldn’t be the most valuable player in the league, but he would certainly be the best offensive player.
We live in a sports world fixated on statistics and numbers, and we like to reward those who excel on the stat sheet, but an MVP award means much more than simple numbers. If a player carries his team to success by dominating in versatile ways on both offense and defense, he should win the league’s MVP over a guy who scores 30 a game but plays lousy defense and doesn’t rebound or pass at an elite level. The guy who puts up the insane offensive numbers shouldn’t be forgotten, however. He should be awarded the Offensive Player of the Year.