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Opinion

NBA Week: MVP voting process needs overhaul as Embiid, Jokic, Giannis battle it out for trophy

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Expert
17th March, 2022
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The NBA MVP system needs an overhaul but unfortunately it is unlikely to ever happen.

No one actually knows what the true definition of what being the Most Valuable Player entails and the NBA likes it that way as it creates debate every year about which star is deserving of the honour.

It’s a travesty that all-time greats like Michael Jordan (five), LeBron James (four) and Shaquille O’Neal (once) didn’t receive the accolade more times. Yes, LeBron is still playing and putting up extraordinary numbers for anyone let alone a 37-year-old but his MVP ship has sailed.

The mystical “narrative” plays a part in the voters’ decision when they mark their ballots at season’s end. 

A pool of 100 sportswriters vote on a 1-5 basis of their nominees, prior to 1980 the players cast votes to decide the winner from its outset in 1955.

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You could make a case that Jordan should have won at least three more MVPs in the 1990s but the storyline of Charles Barkley reviving Phoenix and the sentimentality of Karl Malone’s efforts at Utah – twice – outweighed the all-round domination of His Airness as voter fatigue also counted against the Chicago Bulls icon.

The worst example of the narrative getting way too much of an influence occurred in 2017 when Russell Westbrook took home the trophy largely because of the statistical significance of averaging a triple-double even though James Harden took Houston to a much better record and Kawii Leonard arguably had a better season at San Antonio.

It’s safe to say that there are three standout candidates for the 2021-22 award and it’s pleasing that news of the death of the NBA big man was exaggerated.

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Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and another player who is pretty much a centre in Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo are the clear favourites for the award.

Steph Curry and Kevin Durant shot out of the gates early but the Warriors’ regression and the Nets star’s injuries have destroyed their respective cases while Memphis phenom Ja Morant has surged into calculations but is probably looking at a fourth-place finish as his best realistic result.

There is not much in the betting markets separating the leading trio so it looks like a legitimate three-way competition for the award heading into the final month of the regular season.

Their stats are all ultra impressive. Jokic, after deservedly beating higher-profile rivals to snare his first MVP last season, has continued his brilliance at the Nuggets, averaging 26 points, 13.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists for his team to be 42-28 and sixth in the Western Conference but just a couple of wins away from home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

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His case is magnified by the fact Denver’s next-best player Jamal Murray has not played since his ACL tear last year and rising star Michael Porter jnr has not been sighted since the start of the season due to a back problem.

Antetokounmpo is mounting a similarly amazing case for MVP honours – 29.7 points per game to be in sight of his first scoring title, 11.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists to lead Milwaukee to a 44-26 record and second spot in the East, just two games back of surprise packets Miami.

(AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

The two-time MVP was already ultra confident but after collecting his first championship ring last season, the NBA is now his world and everybody else is just living in it.

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Confidence has never been an issue either with Embiid but this season he is staying on the court more than ever to keep the 76ers in title contention despite the Ben Simmons saga and the roster turmoil created when they traded for James Harden last month.

Embiid is putting up 29.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists as the Sixers rise up the East standings to third at 42-26.

All three candidates are strong defensive presences – Jokic a lot more so than he’s given credit – so there’s little to separate their respective cases.

It will all come down to the narrative element and if that’s the case, Embiid is the likely winner. The fact that he’s yet to receive an MVP trophy and the way he’s been able to keep the Sixers from imploding despite all their off-court turmoil will give him the edge with the voters.

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A better way to judge the award each year would be to have the voters cast regular ballots, perhaps on a month by month basis, so that the recency bias of end-of-season performances don’t get an inordinate amount of attention compared to what happened way back in October and November.

While the votes themselves should remain secret unless the sportswriter wants to publicise them, the NBA could put up regular updates on the MVP standings at least for the first half of the season to keep the debate at the forefront for the fans. 

Net effect of Kyrie’s stance

The New York City vaccination requirements still haven’t been lifted so Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving still can’t play home matches. 

The Nets have eight home games in their final 12 fixtures for the regular season as well as a Madison Square Garden meeting with the Knicks so Irving will be available for only three matches as he continues to refuse a COVID-19 vaccination.

Brooklyn are hopeful the regulations will be lifted in time for the playoffs but there is no guarantee that will happen.

And if the playoff seedings remain as they are, the Nets would face the Raptors in Toronto in the 7 v 8 match-up in the first game of the play-in tournament so Irving would not be able to play due to Canada’s COVID laws.

Then if they lost that match, they’d play the winner of the 9 v 10 game – which would be Charlotte or Atlanta – at the Barclays Center and Irving would again be unable to suit up.

That will be a “jab” to the ribs for their chances of storming into the playoffs. 

Brooklyn’s recent Australian acquisition Ben Simmons had an epidural injection earlier this week in the hope of solving his back issue so that he can return to the court in time to squeeze in a few games before the end of the regular season with his new team.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 10: Patty Mills #8 and Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets take the court for warm ups before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on March 10, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Must-watch matches

Friday – Pistons @ Magic, 10am AEDT

Say what? These two teams! It’s the only game on the NBA schedule because of the college tournament. It’s madness, this March upheaval.

Saturday – Bulls @ Suns, 1pm AEDT

Chicago (41-28) have a poor record against the top teams this season and with Chris Paul sidelined with his thumb injury, they’ll never get a better chance to upset the team with the NBA’s best record in Phoenix (56-14), who are the only side to have already clinched a playoff berth.

Sunday – Bucks @ Timberwolves, 8am AEDT

Set the alarm clock early if you want to see if Minnesota (41-30) can prove their playoff credentials against Giannis and the Bucks (44-26). Wolves fans are cautiously optimistic they might have a team that can do damage in the post-season with the emphasis on cautious with a capital C after years of false dawns.

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