An Additional Opinion on the MVP Race: Dwight Howard

by Jeeves

I realize that talking about the MVP race is hardly groundbreaking blogging, but it is something that I want to address as the NBA season enters its last quarter. If I had it my way, the league’s MVP would simply be the best player in the league. Such a simple pronouncement takes out a lot of the opaqueness of the award and sets is up, in a historical sense, as a great barometer of whom, at any point, was amongst the best in the league. That isn’t to say that the MVP doesn’t do that now, (it does to a certain degree), but it’s often muddled by other factors. Wes Unseld was a great player; he’s a hall of famer. I don’t, however, think that he was ever amongst the very best players in the league, yet he won an MVP award. He won due to other vaguer factors that people often attribute to the award, such as which player if removed from his current team would see his team fall the farthest. I’m not trying to say one way or another if that’s the right way to look at the MVP, because there is no right way. The rules governing the voting aren’t exactly clear.

So with that at mind, I want to take a look at each MVP candidate through the prism, that it seems, most sports writers look through. That means I’ll take equal parts sheer basketball awesomeness, ability to raise teammates play, and irreplaceability (new word!) on their team. I’ll also take into account general development in comparison to past years, while de-emphasizing W-L record.

As I see things today, if I had a ballot, I would go:

1) Dwight Howard

2) Dirk Nowitzki

3) Derrick Rose

4) Lebron James

Each day this week, I’ll take a look at a different candidate, starting from the top and working my way down:

1. Dwight Howard

In basketball, it seems that people put about 70% of the emphasis on offense. If I afforded that same emphasis to my analysis, Howard would still be amongst the MVP candidates but certainly not at the top. The way I see it, defense is truly half of the game, therefore it should be treated as such when evaluating a player on their individual production. Howard is probably the premier defensive force in the league. He’s the two-time and by the end of the season will likely be the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. I realize past awards don’t have any bearing on current awards (at least they shouldn’t, ahem, writers tired of giving Michael Jordan the MVP), but it does corroborate my thoughts on Howard’s defense in a traditional sense. There are some advanced statistics that try to quantify defensive contributions that also support my argument that Howard is the best defender in the league. He towers over the competition in defensive win shares, which is a statistic that tries to quantify how many wins through the current season a player’s defense has contributed. Howard is currently at 5.8 with Kevin Garnett in second at 4.2. (To understand how large that gap is, the difference between KG in second at 4.2 and Al Horford who ranks twentieth with 3.1 win shares is only 1.1). He’s dominating on the defensive end as always; his team is wholly dependent upon him. He typically sees the floor with three to four perimeter based players of varying defensive reputations, from indifferent (Gilbert Arenas) to liability (Hedo Turkoglu) to decent (Brandon Bass). Despite those around him, the Magic give up the 5th fewest amount of pts per game.

Defense isn’t the only place where Dwight is producing. He’s always put up nice numbers on the offensive end, but this year he’s really stepped it up a notch. His scoring is up nearly 5pts to 23.1 ppg, which is a pretty fantastic jump in production. He’s also been able to extend his range, upping his shots from 3-9 feet by 1.2 shots while increasing his shooting percentage from that range. Even with this jump, he’s remained as proficient as always from the field (60%). He’s even upped his rebound totals by .7 to 13.9 a game.

He even rates out well when looking at the team aspect of this all. There’s no doubt, at all, that his team would suffer drastically without him; they are, after all, built around his unique talents. His teammates are pretty good, contrary to some of the groundswell these days purporting them to be on the level of the 2001 76ers’ supporting cast, but they are not world beaters. Of the 4 MVP contenders I have ranked, I’d say his supporting cast is the weakest (with more weight placed on fellow starters than end of the bench).

The totality of Dwight’s season puts him in the driver’s seat, in my eyes, for the moment.  I still have to qualify my thoughts by saying for the moment. There’s a big ugly black mark on his resume; he has racked up an obscene number of technical fouls. He’s had so many that he tripped the automatic suspension barrier and had to miss Monday’s game. From here on out, every other technical earns him a one game suspension. His team is currently fighting for playoff seeding, so if he continues to get T’d up and continues to miss games, I’d have no recourse but to penalize him.


2 Responses to “An Additional Opinion on the MVP Race: Dwight Howard”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Howard doesn’t get enough attention as an MVP candidate. People see him as a mediocre offensive player who puts up above average numbers due to raw athleticism. That seems less true now. I love Rose, and I have a hard time not putting him up there, but his shooting just isn’t quite where I would expect an MVP candidate’s to be. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is the kind of guy that makes me wish the award could take playoff performance into account. As important as he is to the Mavs, I just have a feeling they aren’t really going to do much in the playoffs. I could be wrong though.


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