The MVP race isn't a race at the moment. In Tim Bontemps' latest straw poll, which is usually very accurate, 94% of voters said they would pick Steph Curry as the MVP if the vote were happening right now. That is the correct choice. That being said, the MVP discussion is not just about no.1 - it's a selection of the elite in any given season, and Zach Lowe lost his cool about the way that discussion is framed every year.
Not a two-man race!!!
As we've been told many times, the MVP award is as much about narrative as it is about numbers and impact. The narrative part is brought in by media to dumb down a nuanced discussion and make it easier to write and pontificate about. That's why the MVP race gets boiled down to two players most of the time.
The same has happened this year - it's Steph vs. KD. Both guys have played spectacular basketball, and their teams sit at the top of the East and West. But that doesn't mean they are the only two guys playing at the very top level in the NBA. Zach Lowe lost it a little bit (I urge you to watch the first 60 seconds of the clip.)
“It's beyond stupid that we frame this as a two-man race. Nikola Jokić is averaging 26.5...STOP! [points at Richard Jefferson]...26.5 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 58% shooting, 66% on twos. Pick whatever advance stat you want. PICK ANY ADVANCE STAT YOU WANT..STOP!...ANY ADVANCE STAT YOU WANT! HE LEADS THE NBA IN EVERY SINGLE ONE. HE'S ON PACE FOR THE HIGHEST EFFICIENCY PLAYER RATING EVER!”
Zach Lowe, NBA Today
We rarely see or hear Lowe so fired up, and he didn't stop there. Lowe continued to point out the Nuggets are +14 with Jokić on the floor and -16 when he's on the bench. With all the injuries the Nuggets are dealing with, Nikola Jokić is basically the only reason they are not hanging out with the Pelicans and the Thunder at the bottom of the West.
Jefferson and Perkins tried to interrupt Lowe several times, but he just wouldn't have it in anticipation of nonsense from the former players. Once he had to take his breath, Jefferson tried to provoke Lowe with a pointless comment, but it got quickly shot down.
Jefferson: He got the MVP last year!
Lowe: SO WHAT?? He can't again?!?
I don't know if it's the new haircut, but I like this Zach Lowe. After RJ's joking attempt, Perk tried to give him a bit more sensible counter.
What's the criteria?
The MVP is not just about the numbers; it is contextual. You can't just add up points, assist, and rebounds, maybe deduct turnovers and throw out a name. There are a lot of ways to contribute, and that's why you need to watch games and understand analytics to create a logical case for someone.
That being said, a lot of people don't do their homework and then throw out ridiculous explanations. That's why Perk's intro was great, but he didn't stick the landing for me.
“This is the problem that I have with people that have votes in the MVP conversation. We're always moving the goalpost and I don't understand what's the criteria for MVP?!? Because I come here and I talk about Chris Paul, and I talk about his impact on winning, and I talk about what he's doing for the Phoenix Suns and how they have one of the best records in the league, and then all of a sudden we come and talk about Jokić's numbers.”
Kendrick Perkins, NBA Today
Lowe jumped in to ask if Perkins heard Jokić's numbers, and Perk said he heard them, "but they are sitting in the 7th or 8th spot." This is where Jefferson joined Perk in making the "winning matters" argument. And this is where they proved they still don't grasp all the numbers Lowe threw at them.
While it's not a perfect metric, the 30 point swing Jokić brings to the Nuggets (+14 with Jokić on the floor and -16 when he's on the bench) is the best we got to determine how significant a single player is to his teams' success. Lowe said Chris Paul would be no.5 on his list, behind Curry, Durant, Jokić, and Giannis. But the top 4 are in a league of their own, then there's a gap, and then Chris Paul is a clear no.5 for Lowe.
More importantly, Lowe is right to be so passionate about the fact that we need to have an MVP discussion about more than two players. We can argue about the outcome as much as we want, but the players we talk about all season stay in our collective memory for years to come. If we don't, performances get forgotten. Want proof?
The year the Warriors won 73 and took down the '95/'96 Bulls as the best regular-season team ever, the San Antonio Spurs won 67 frikin' games. When's the last time you mentioned the '15/'16 Spurs as one of the best teams in the past 25 years? Could you name me the starting five? Were Tim, Tony, and Manu all playing that year?
If you're not a Spur fan, you probably don't know. That's what staying in the conversation means. That's why Lowe has a point.
P.S. Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldrige, Tim Duncan. The bench? Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, David West, Kevin Martin, Kyle Anderson, Jonathan Simmons, Andre Miller, Boban Marjanović. Head coach Gregg Popovich, assistant coaches James Borrego (now coaching the Hornets), Chip Engelland (shooting guru), Etorre Messina (one of the best European coaches ever), Ime Udoka (coaching the Celtics), Becky Hammon (hopefully the first female head coach in NBA) and Chad Forcier. If you don't know, now you know.