Every sports fan owes a small debt of gratitude to whatever dead genius came up with the idea of the Most Valuable Player. Not the award itself, but that frustratingly vague, but goddamn, brilliant name. What does “valuable” mean in the context of sports? The big four leagues have been handing these things out since the 50s and still no one agrees. Is the MVP the best player in the league or the most indispensable? Do we measure value in stats? Wins? Production in relation to salary? Dope patterned shirts? No one knows. We’re not really tied to any one interpretation of the award ourselves, which is why we’ve decided to make all the cases for all the players who might deserve it. Here they are, your 2014-2015 MVPs.
If the MVP is the best player on the best team or the player who had the best year:
It’s Stephen Curry. The Warriors six-foot-three jump shot robot has had a stupid year. The stats are outrageous, so we’ll mention them first. He’s shooting 44% from three, 92% from the line, and 49% overall. And it’s not just his jumper. He can also slither into the lane and finish impossible floaters with ease, shooting 66% in the restricted area, the same as seven-foot All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Those are the stats, and they’re great, but the visuals are so much better. Curry’s got devastating handles, an eye for the dramatic assist and the game’s best ability to pull up off balance and knock down a shot that, coming out of anyone else’s hands, would have bounced off the top of the backboard. Plus, his team finished the season 67-15.
If the MVP is the most indispensable player:
It’s James Harden. What do you call a player who carries his team to 56 wins while its other star sits in street clothes half the time? Valuable would be one option. James Harden is another. Arguments for Harden as MVP typically come from literalists who think the award should go to the player who, if removed from his team, would leave the biggest hole. Harden is that player, scoring 33.5% of his team’s points when he’s on the floor, trailing only Russell Westbrook (more on him soon). He draws the defense’s attention and still thrives, shooting 44% on shots taken with a defender within four feet. That takes talent and Harden’s got it, even if his game is often discounted because he has the temerity to get to the free throw line. Here’s some context: Harden’s 2014-2015 season ranks 48th all-time on the free throw attempts list. So, yeah, it’s hardly a big deal. Yes, Harden flops sometimes, but it’s not nearly as frequent or egregious as the haters would have you think. It’s also a skill.
If the MVP is the best stat stuffer:
It’s Russell Westbrook. The only other player in the game who can make the case for the MIP (most indispensable player) is the fashion icon from Oklahoma City. He scores more of his team’s points than Harden and has the league’s highest usage percentage, by a lot. The difference is that Harden’s team is still playing and Westbrook’s isn’t. How valuable is a guy who can’t carry his squad to the postseason? Still, Westbrook will get MVP votes because he had an absurd statistical year. He led the league in scoring with 28.1 points per game, racked up 11 triple doubles and dropped 40-plus points nine times. More advanced stats take into account Westbrook’s gunning and inefficiency, painting a less rosy picture of his year. For example, he’s seventh in the league in win shares, behind the two aforementioned MVP candidates and Jimmy Butler, among others. But still, when Robin loses his Batman and still takes a rag tag group of mutants to within a game of the playoffs, his MVP case is solid, though unspectacular.
If the MVP is simply the best player:
It’s LeBron James. There’s a camp that thinks giving the MVP award to anyone but the game’s best talent is an insult. Who cares that LeBron’s stats are down across the board? Who cares that Curry has eclipsed him as the most exciting player in the league? Just perform this thought experiment: If the NBA’s best 8 or 16 or hell, 64 players, had a one-on-one tournament, who would win? It’s LeBron.
If the MVP is the most valuable player in monetary terms:
It’s Draymond Green. Consider the everyday definition of value--getting a lot for a little. In that sense, Golden State’s snarling, do-it-all power forward is the MVP. Among the top 25 players in win shares this season, Green is the only one making less than $1 million. His 8.5 win shares at a $915K salary means each win he contributed cost the Warriors about $108,000. Compared to Curry ($677K per win), Harden ($896K per win), Westbrook ($1.45m per win) and James ($1.99m per win), that’s a hell of a bargain.
Photos by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports