Editor’s Note: This article is Spencer Lund’s first for Shaky Ankles.
There’s a famous sociological investigation called the marshmallow test. It’s a pretty straightforward experiment: A marshmallow is placed in front of the subject with the warning that they’re not to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes if they want to receive a second marshmallow. The subjects during psychologist Walter Mischel’s original test at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery in 1972 were children aged four to six.
They were given a choice between a marshmallow, an oreo cookie or a pretzel stick—depending on their own preferences (not all kids love marshmallows). It’s a basic test of deferred gratification. If the hyper-kinetic, Twitter-infused, contemporary NBA fan were to take the test, they would probably gobble the marshmallow within a couple minutes. If Bulls and Timberwolves fans want a second marshmallow, they’re going to have to wait and remain patient with their franchise point guards, both of whom are recovering from knee injuries as the NBA’s preseason ends, and the regular season is set to begin.
On the surface, predicting who will win the NBA’s MVP award is extremely easy. Select a really good player on a really good team, then call it a day. But, unfortunately, as we travel through each new season, a subjective investigation is given to the word “valuable,” and all hell breaks loose. Is it designed to reward the league’s best player? Or should it go to whomever is most important to their specific team—the player most obviously carrying his team towards the playoffs.
If the world we lived in were strictly based on facts and statistics as a means to present logical evidence, the 2012-13 MVP discussion would contain seven players. Here they are, in no particular order: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum. Read more…
For a majority of this lockout shortened 2011-12 season, LeBron James was a solid five or six strides ahead of everyone else in the always entertaining race for MVP. The Miami Heat looked unbeatable when they wanted to be, and the biggest reason for that was James’ consistent magnificence.
Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul joined him in early season conversation, but eventually LeBron simply pulled away, looking like a man on a mission. Playing in a condensed season that posed a lose-lose situation for both him and his team (the Heat could have gone 66-0 this season and nobody would care unless they won the championship), James began to put up historical numbers. When Dwyane Wade went down for an extended stretch, the question was posed as to whether Miami was actually a better team with LeBron running the show by himself. Wade is one of the league’s 10 best players on an off night. This train of thought was insane and intriguing at the same time.
I don’t recall anybody ever saying the Bulls were better without Scottie Pippen, or the early 2000 Lakers were better without Kobe Bryant. This was hard evidence for just how other-worldly LeBron’s season was earlier this season. There was a Bryan Cranston at the Emmys type of feel about LeBron and the MVP award this year. It was his to lose. Nobody was close.
Then March 20th happened. In a game against the Phoenix Suns, with the outcome already decided, James and Grant Hill crashed into each other diving for a loose ball. The collision was so violent, there was talk James might have suffered a concussion. Three nights later, he had a surprisingly subpar effort against Detroit, going 6-15 from the field for a puny 17 points. Granted LeBron had 10 assists, four steals, and his team won, but with LeBron the expectations are always higher than everyone else’s.
Two days later, in a much anticipated Sunday night matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder—and more importantly, prime rival MVP candidate Kevin Durant—both LeBron and his team floundered. The result was a seismic shift in the race. LeBron went head to head with Durant and was badly outplayed. For the first time, LeBron’s five fingers appeared to be slipping off the trophy.
Exactly one week later, the Heat were handed their worst loss of the season, and James recorded 0 assists (passing is the largest advantage his game has over Durant’s) while the Thunder handed the league’s best team (record wise) their worst beating in recent memory.
Between the win against Phoenix on March 20th and last night’s 41 point demolition of Philadelphia, Miami was 3-3, playing like an average basketball team at best. And LeBron’s MVP candidacy is on the ropes like a popular politician enduring a sex scandal in early October.
The trophy is officially up for grabs.
As we go into the three main components that decide who should be named MVP, it should be noted that for the rest of the season, this is a two horse race; it would be “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has been nominated for an Osacr” type shocking if either LeBron James or Kevin Durant did not win. They’re the two best players in the league, and until further notice, their respective teams are headed on a probable collision course this June.
But this column isn’t about them so much as it is the award’s selection process. Each year, or so it seems, the requirement to win is altered. One year it could be awarded to the best player, another year it could be given to someone dragging his team by the scruff of its neck into playoff obliteration. Is it too much to ask for a little consistency?
(Quick Tangent: It’s absolutely INFURIATING to hear former players, analysts, and reporters speak about the MVP on television as if it’s a little child swaying back and forth on a swing. When there’s a month left in the regular season it makes absolutely no sense to say one guy has “passed” another just because he outplays him in a single game. This award is supposed to validate an ENTIRE season’s body of work. Right? It doesn’t matter who you think should win, please, for the love of God, just present your case with some logical evidence and move to the next topic of discussion. Thank you.)
There are so many different paths that can be taken to receiving the MVP award. Here, in my opinion, are the three most important: Narrative, Statistics, and Value. Read more…
This week I’ll be ranking who I believe deserves to be a reserve in the 2012 All-Star game. All 14 players, from both conferences, will be lumped together and placed in order—from “totally obvious” (1) to “I guess he could maybe be an All-Star?” (14). Read more…
It’s superstar swap time! Here, a hypothetical straight up player for player deal is offered involving two of the league’s best and brightest. Both viewpoints are then processed, and the fake trade’s winner is decided by way of which fan base would ultimately be happier. In this fictional situation, the players are only swapped for a single season of action, with everything else—rosters, coaches, owners—staying exactly the same.
Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Love
2010-11 relevant stats:
Griffin – 82 starts, 9.8 WS, 21.9 PER, 54.9 TS%, 10.2 ORB%, 8.5 FTA, 64.2 FT%, 12.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 22.5 PPG.
Love – 73 starts, 11.4 WS, 24.3 PER, 59.3 TS%, 13.7 ORB%, 6.9 FTA, 85 FT%, 15.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 20.2 PPG.
L.A. Clippers’ Viewpoint:
Right now, Kevin Love is more reliable than any basketball player in the world. His production can not have an off night, unless he wants it to, and as he meanders his body around the court, the one thing he excels in can not be stopped by any opponent. Pound for pound, and maybe just outright, Love is the best rebounder the league’s seen in the past 20 years. He plays angles, is eternally aggressive, and knows the tendencies of every jump shooting teammate he has. When the ball is in the air, Love tends to know where it’s going based on where it was released. (For example: If Michael Beasley is spotted up on the left elbow and shoots a turnaround jumper, Love knows, through studying him in practice, that 8 times out of 10 that shot will clang back rim and land near the foul line.)
On the Clippers Love will be paired with two guards he played beside during the 2010 FIBA World Championships—Chauncey Billups and Eric Gordon—so should already have a bit of familiarity with positioning himself for advantageous offensive rebounds. On top of that, this will be the first time in his short career the undersized Love will be paired alongside a lengthy, defensive savant like DeAndre Jordan. Not only will this make his job much easier on defense, it could also allow Love (a 42% three-point shooter last season) to step outside a little more. And if we push the hypothetical envelope even further, matching Love’s insane ability to throw an outlet pass up with Chris Paul’s ability to catch the ball in enemy territory before an opponent can ready itself, would create some of the most comedic cases of defensive befuddlement in league history. It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t be able to utilize Kevin Love’s abilities, but the Clippers seem like an especially snug fit.
How many times do you get to have a superstar AND his poor man’s model? That’s what the Timberwolves would get if they paired Derrick Williams with Blake Griffin. The athleticism would freak everyone out, and if we’re getting hyperbolic, could account for the most insurmountable momentum shifts in the history of a professional sports season. Having Griffin and Williams in his starting lineup would also do wonders for Ricky Rubio, who wouldn’t have to worry about lowering his self-worth with a jump shot, and instead could just close his eyes and throw passes near the backboard. It goes without saying that if this transaction were to happen, a Timberwolf would assume position as NBA League Pass’s official mascot. Nobody who likes basketball would not want to watch this team play, and people who don’t know what basketball is would line up to see what everyone’s talking about. That, in a nutshell, is the economic power of Blake Griffin. An evolving monster on the court, but a fully formed Godzilla to paying customers, Griffin’s potential value extends beyond 94 feet like no other player in the world—besides LeBron James. For all his dunking and jumping and twirling and athletically hypnotic movement, Griffin has the body type and expectations to eventually show off some seriously solid fundamentals. He’s big enough to prevent low post bullying on the block and has vision and unselfishness to someday avoid double teaming mosquitoes by hitting cutting teammates for easy layups. Griffin will soon make his teammates better just by existing on the floor.
While Kevin Love is a great player, his ceiling seems to be more one dimensional; Clippers fans have already had their fair share of those, and in LA, there’s only so many ways a man can grab a rebound that’ll get people excited. On the other hand, Griffin is the definition of a franchise player and would be the most exciting thing Minneapolis has seen since Steve Buscemi shot Harve Presnell on the roof of that parking garage. Edge goes to Minnesota.
In the grand scheme of what’s altruistically important in life, I believe it’s fair to suggest all teachers, doctors, surgeons, and members of the armed forces should be given financial compensation of equal or greater value to that of which is awarded professional athletes. Their actual impact on human life is indisputably greater, more important, and further reaching. Of course, they don’t (and never will) because the businesses they’re in don’t create the billions upon billions of dollars in gross revenue that the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL produce on an annual basis. They also have an uncountable number of members in their labor force, making each worker’s slice of pie much smaller than that of the athlete. Call it sad. Call it unfair. Call it horribly disproportionate. Call it the real world. Read more…
After a thorough Game 1 beat down, the sport’s most prolific scorer humbly referred to him as the best power forward in basketball. Apart from the likelihood that these words were used to motivate his own beefier teammates, the statement by Kevin Durant on Zach Randolph still sent minor shockwaves throughout the league. Zach Randolph? The defensively inefficient, often overlooked, weed dealing, gun toting guy who doesn’t know how many minutes make up an NBA game? In his 10th season playing for his fourth team, how is this possible?
2) In the aftermath of last night’s near epic brawl at the Staples Center, Rob Mahoney, who’s taken over for Zach Lowe this week at TPF, offers some advice on how to improve the league’s replay rules.
3) Red94′s Rahat Huq writes amicably about the this month’s Mr. Underrated. Hopefully he doesn’t become next year’s Mr. Overrated.
4) Mr. Love isn’t afraid to speak his mind about what he wants. And what he wants is cohesion, dammit!
5) As far as enthralling blog posts on the NBA go, this one takes the cake; very in-depth look by Hoopspeak’s Beckley Mason on the difference between the defenses in Miami and Boston.
1) If you haven’t already seen it, one of my favorite writers, Bethlehem Shoals, took on the upcoming cycle’s least important free agents. It’s neither a sanguine nor pretty open market out there.
2) Last night David West suffered what might be a career shifting knee injury. In recent weeks he’s been quite talkative about his upcoming free agency; rightfully optimistic, sounding like a player who’s ready to reap the benefits of all the hard work put forth towards his profession. The primal screams that can be heard from the video linked above are as difficult to hear as anything in the sport, and I can only hope a good guy like West comes back stronger than before. On the long list of Things That Aren’t Fair In This World, a dedicated athlete tearing an ACL is definitely up there.
3) Not to be a selfish Sally, but if Kevin Love’s really out the rest of the year with a groin injury, my fantasy basketball team can kiss its championship chances goodbye.
4) Video evidence that the game’s most intense man is for real.
5) I like StatsCube. You should too. Here it takes a look at who should win the Most Improved Player award.
6) Great article on the staying in school vs. leaving early argument.
7) Hardwood Paroxysm’s wonderful look at the pressures Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant have ahead of them, and how they could shape the two youngsters.