By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: The Starters have their say on the LeBron-Durant MVP race
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player award for the most outstanding player or the most important player? If it’s the latter, is it more important to turn a playoff team into a championship contender than it is to turn a Lottery team into a playoff team?
Where would the Bobcats be without Al Jefferson? The Raptors without Kyle Lowry? How about the Mavs without Dirk Nowitzki? None of those three guys are in the top 10 of our MVP Ladder as of last Friday.
In reality, MVP voting is typically a combination of three things…
- Team success – Each of the last 25 MVPs played for a 1 (20) or 2 (five) seed in their conference. The last MVP not on one of the top two teams in his conference was Michael Jordan in 1988.
- Production – Each of those 25 MVPs have averaged at least 36.8 points + rebounds + assists per game, with 20 of the 25 averaging at least 40.
- Importance – This can lead to a narrative creeping into the conscience of a voter (see Derrick Rose in 2011), but it’s something that advanced stats can help quantify.
Obviously, in terms of production, Kevin Durant and LeBron James lead the pack. They rank first and second in our PIE statistic. And through Thursday, their teams each rank second in their conference.
All stats are through Wednesday, April 9.
But can we tell which guy has been more important to their team’s success? If you look at team numbers with each on and off the floor, they’re both in the same ball park.
Thunder & Heat NetRtg with Durant and James on and off the floor
|On floor||Off floor||Difference|
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Among 244 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes with one team
The Thunder have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Durant on the floor. The Heat have been 8.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 3.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with James on the floor.
Those numbers are influenced by who Durant and James are playing with and against. Both have All-Star teammates that have missed big chunks of the season. Russell Westbrook has missed 35 games for the Thunder, while Dwyane Wade has missed 27 games for the Heat. Durant (43 percent) and James (41 percent) have each played less than half of their minutes with their costars on the floor.
But Serge Ibaka and Chris Bosh are both really good too. And both have missed just one game all season.
James has played more minutes without either Wade or Bosh than Durant has played without either Westbrook or Ibaka. But the Thunder’s only-Durant minutes have been much more successful than the Heat’s only-James minutes.
Thunder efficiency with Durant on the floor
|Durant + Ibaka + Westbrook||1,128||110.1||103.9||+6.2||+143|
|Durant + Ibaka, no Westbrook||1,195||107.0||100.7||+6.3||+162|
|Durant + Westbrook, no Ibaka||146||113.3||98.2||+15.1||+43|
|Durant, no Ibaka or Westbrook||492||114.7||99.6||+15.1||+153|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
Heat efficiency with James on the floor
|James + Bosh + Wade||1,022||109.5||101.4||+8.1||+156|
|James + Bosh, no Wade||1,113||115.4||101.6||+13.8||+270|
|James + Wade, no Bosh||127||107.8||107.8||-0.0||+2|
|James, no Bosh or Wade||568||109.0||109.9||-1.0||-18|
James and Bosh have been a better tandem, but Durant has been, by far, the better solo act. Those 568 minutes are just 20 percent of James’ total playing time, but the numbers make it clear that Bosh has been a critical component to the Heat’s defense. His presence on the floor has been more important for the Heat than Ibaka’s has been for the Thunder.
These guys are never playing by themselves, of course. Beyond each team’s big three, the Thunder have gotten more consistent production from their role players. Nick Collison has the best on-off-court differential of OKC regulars.
But Collison has played less than 1,300 minutes and Durant’s on-court numbers appear to have been less influenced by the other stars on his team. The Thunder have the better record overall (57-21 vs. 53-25) and the better record when star No. 2 is out (35-10 vs. 27-10).
If James is going to be the fourth player to win five or more MVP awards, it probably won’t happen this year.