By now I’m sure you’ve seen a case for the four big candidates: Russel Westbrook, James Harden, Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard or maybe just a breakdown of who should win. With the voting process ending today at 3PM eastern, I’m going to throw my own hat into the who-should-win sweepstakes.
Even though I reside in Houston, I’m going to try my best to be unbiased here and just look at the numbers.
First I’m going to look at something most analysts haven’t, statistics versus playoff teams. How well do these candidates play against the top competition? I downloaded the data from BasketBallReference.com and looked at the average statistics in those games against playoff teams, each player played at least 37 of these games.
This table should immediately disqualify James Harden based on his negative Real +/- statistics in these games, which measures how the point margin will change over 100 possessions when the player is in the game versus when they aren’t. It incorporates the teams defensive efficiency when that player is on the floor. When Harden was on the floor against playoff teams the average margin was -.3 points less than when he was off the floor. All other MVP candidates have a positive +/- stat against Playoff teams. Obviously since these are means, they are heavily influenced by especially poor performances but the medians tell the same story for James: Harden = 0, Leonard = 1, Lebron =2, Westbrook = 3. Harden’s defensive liability hurts him here. Westbrook had 6 poor games where he had a +/- of > -19.
Now that Harden is out, Lebron also gets the boot after having a losing record 12-15 since the All-Star break. You cannot collapse down the stretch like that.
Now we’re down to Westbrook versus Leonard.
As far as playoff teams, Leonard has a higher win percentage, a higher +/- mean (but not median), a higher average FG % and a lower turnover margin. Westbrook leads Leonard in the three major statistical categories by a pretty large margin in these games.
Obviously we know that Westbrook had the better season in terms of raw statistics throughout the season, averaging a triple double, leading the NBA in scoring and breaking the record for the most triple doubles in a season. It has been mentioned that his teammates helped Westbrook get these records. Leonard is the league’s best two way player on the second best team in the NBA while Westbrook’s Thunder finished 10th overall. But who’s more valuable to their team?
In games against playoff teams, when Westbrook had a +/- that was <0, they won only 5.26 % of those games compared to Leonard’s Spurs winning 31.25 % of their games. When Westbrook played awful and had a +/- < -10, the Thunder did not beat any playoff team (which happened 9 times) where the Spurs won once out of the three times Leonard played this poorly. Looking at the entire season, the Spurs won 34.78% of their games when Leonard had a (-) +/- while the Thunder won 13%.
This indicates that Westbrook’s play is much more important to the Thunder’s success. When he plays poorly, the Thunder win less than when the Spurs when Leonard plays poorly. It’s also worth mentioning that the Spurs won 5/6 games they played without Leonard this year. I’d venture to say that the Spurs are still a playoff team if Leonard is not on that team (you know they’d be better than the Trailblazers) but the Thunder are bottom feeders if Westbrook had left with Durant.
So for me the MVP is Russell Westbrook.
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-Andrew G Chapple