The Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is one of the highest individual honors in professional sports leagues. It is given annually to the player deemed most valuable to their team in the regular season. But what exactly makes someone deserving of this prestigious award? There are several key factors that voters consider when selecting each season’s MVP.
Individual Statistical Dominance
The MVP award almost always goes to a player who puts up staggering statistical numbers over the course of the regular season. Voters want to see a player dominate the competition from an individual standpoint. Some common stats used to measure MVP candidates are:
- Points per game
- Rebounds per game
- Assists per game
- Field goal percentage
- 3-point percentage
- Free throw percentage
- Blocks/steals per game
While the specific statistical benchmarks vary by sport, the MVP usually ranks near the top of the league in multiple major categories. Simply averaging 20 points or 10 rebounds per game is rarely enough – the MVP candidate typically leads the league in scoring, rebounding, assists, or other stats. Statistical dominance is a prerequisite for winning MVP.
While individual stats dominate the discussion, team success is still an important factor in MVP voting. The award almost always goes to a player on one of the top teams in the league. While it is possible for an MVP to come from a lower seeded playoff team, they are typically leading a team to an exceptionally successful regular season.
Voters want the MVP award to reflect tangible team success, not just empty stats on a losing squad. Making the playoffs is the basic requirement – MVPs overwhelmingly come from playoff teams. More weight is given to players who earn top seeds or win their divisions. Carrying a roster to an elite win/loss record reflects tremendous value.
Recent examples of team success boosting an MVP resume include Steph Curry leading the 73-9 Golden State Warriors and Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA’s best record. Both players had dominant stats, but team success made them consensus picks.
Importance to Team Success
Voters don’t just look at raw team success – the MVP is usually the player deemed most responsible for their team’s achievements. Voters consider how important the player is to winning games and driving team success. A variety of factors are weighed when evaluating a player’s importance:
- On/off court impact – how team performance suffers when player is on bench
- PERSONAL IMPACT – HOW WELL TEAM PERFORMS WHEN PLAYER HAS BIG STATS
- Clutch performance in close games
- Ability to make teammates better
- Leadership, intangibles, work ethic
Advanced analytics have made it easier to measure a player’s tangible impact. But subjective factors like leadership and intangibles also influence perceptions of a player’s value. Voters consider both stats and observations when judging true importance to winning.
MVP voting relies heavily on statistical analysis, but narrative and storylines also factor into decisions. Voters are drawn to compelling MVP stories that make a player seem especially valuable. Common narratives include:
- Carrying an undermanned or injured roster
- Lifting a franchise from irrelevance to contender
- A breakout statistical season establishing superstar status
- A comeback season after setbacks like injury or trade
- A star switching teams and elevating new roster
- Winning with style/flash that excites fans
Narrative typically reinforces, rather than creates, a strong MVP case. But a player with good stats/team success and a compelling storyline gives voters an easy choice for MVP. Recent examples include Russell Westbrook averaging a triple-double for a 47-win Thunder team after Kevin Durant’s departure and Giannis Antetokounmpo winning MVP in Year 1 of the Bucks’ rise from mediocrity.
Consistency Throughout Season
MVP candidates need to produce at a high level consistently throughout the entire regular season, not just for a month or two. Maintaining statistical dominance deep into the season illustrates sustainable value. Voters are leery of players who post inflated stats for short bursts or compile numbers in meaningless games after their team has been eliminated from playoff contention.
Staying healthy enough to suit up for 70+ games is also important – it demonstrates reliability. MVPs typically avoid major injury absences or rough stretches of poor play. And they keep their foot on the gas even after clinching playoff spots late in the year. Consistently stuffing stat sheets on winning teams leaves no doubt about true value.
Most MVP discussion centers on big offensive stats, but defensive play is starting to factor into voting. Elite two-way players have an advantage, especially if backed by defensive analytics. Recent examples include Giannis leading the Bucks’ #1 defense and Draymond Green finishing as 2016 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up.
While defense alone won’t win MVP, voters are recognizing more often that limiting points prevents losing just as much as scoring. A candidate who dominates both ends, anchors an elite defense, and fills columns in the steals/blocks categories brings additional value beyond offense.
Previous Track Record
Historical precedent also influences MVP voting. Candidates with past MVPs and Hall of Fame pedigrees get more benefit of the doubt. Voters subconsciously factor in previous performance when evaluating current seasons. Established superstars and legends-in-the-making are rewarded for sustained excellence.
In close MVP races, voters frequently defer to players with prior awards and superstar reputations. Recent examples include late career MVPs for legends like Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Kobe Bryant. LeBron James’ sustained prime also helps explain his four MVPs. Consistent stardom year after year builds credibility with MVP voters.
While prior success helps some candidates, it can actually hurt those seeking repeat MVP wins. Many voters suffer from “voter fatigue” and are reluctant to give the award to the same player year after year, no matter how deserving. Back-to-back MVPs are rare – consecutive wins are even rarer.
Voter fatigue likely robbed Michael Jordan of at least one deserved MVP. It also explains controversial MVP denials for three-time consecutive scoring champ Michael Jordan in 1988 and Stephen Curry during his 73-9 MVP season in 2016. Once a player wins, voters look for fresh names the next year.
A player’s position and role can influence MVP voting as well. For reasons fair or not, MVP voters are often biased towards scoring and traditional offensive roles:
- 61% of MVPs are guards or wings
- 85% are primary scoring options
- Only 8 big men have won in the NBA’s 74 year history
Non-scoring roles like distributor point guards and defensive centers are undervalued. Perimeter scorers like guards and wings have inherent advantages. But unique big man scoring dynamos like Jokic help balance positional perceptions. Usage and role impact historical MVP bias.
As mentioned earlier, team success is hugely important for MVP hopes. But seeds 1, 8, and 5 actually have key disadvantages:
- #1 seeds – Too much help hurts. Voters penalize stars with other stars.
- #8 seeds – Best player on mediocre team rarely wins.
- #5 seeds – Worse record than top seeds, not underdog like bottom seeds.
Recent MVPs have come from seeds 2-4 – successful teams, but dependent on one star. Seeding trends can amplify or limit certain MVP narratives.
Unique Season Narratives
Specific team or league situations can shape MVP races in a given season. Some unique narratives that have influenced recent votes:
- 2017 – Triple-double narrative boosted Westbrook on OKC without KD
- 2019 – Giannis won partially due to voter fatigue on Harden
- 2021 – Jokic boosted by multiple stars missing time
- 2022 – Center position bias hurt Embiid behind perimeter stars
Special circumstances like significant injuries, superstar movement, or record-chasing stats impact voter sentiment. Unique narratives within specific seasons influence deviations from normal voting patterns.
Advanced analytics are playing a growing role in MVP voting. Metrics like PER, Win Shares, RPM, and plus/minus provide additional data to assess value. Voters weigh both traditional and advanced stats.
Analytics can help reveal unsung contributors outside raw points. For example, they boosted Draymond Green’s visibility as Golden State’s do-it-all cog. While still subjective, advanced stats remove some bias towards just scoring.
Prominent media voices also sway MVP voting. Candidates boosted by persuasive national columnists, analysts and talking heads gain momentum.
Media narratives amplify certain players and storylines. For example, triple-double fascination fueled the media’s Westbrook fixation in 2017. Media advocacy matters, especially among less informed voters.
Winning the Most Valuable Player award takes a special combination of individual excellence, team success, importance to winning, compelling narrative, and sustained performance over a full season. It also requires avoiding voter fatigue and positional bias. Unique circumstances each year shape specific races.
There is no definitive formula or checklist, but analyzing detailed MVP criteria makes clearer why and how elite players receive the game’s highest honor. Examining both statistics and context explains the factors distinguishing legends like Michael Jordan and LeBron James as they piled up multiple MVP trophies during their remarkable careers.
While favorites emerge each year based on stats and team records, the MVP debate always fuels fun sports discussions. The award’s subjective nature leaves room for interpretation, and reasonable people can disagree on close races. But appreciating what MVP voters value most provides key insight on why one incredible player ultimately joins the elite fraternity each season based on their overall value and importance.