Predicting the NBA's Most Valuable Player
"Ingredients of the MVP award"
Every time I read about who should win the MVP award I have a feeling that it is just public guessing. What is even worse is that the more I read about it the less I know for sure, because every writer or publisher has his own candidate and his own justification.
It is rather hard to understand this when there are tons of useful statistics available. Why can we not use some of them to determine the winner? With that mission in my mind I started.
First I examined the winners of the MVP award from the previous twenty years.
(*) - Games played and Wins estimated as if it were full season.
A couple of conclusions can be made within a blink of an eye.
All of the players above:
So these two conclusions can easily become two minimal requirements:
1) MVP candidate must have Tendex better than 20
The Team of the MVP winner:
More than half of the players above:
But of course not all of the conclusions above are equally important.
We all know that when a player is having a great year compared to others but his team is at the bottom of standings he will not even be considered for the award. On the other hand when a player is having only a good year but his team is by far the best in league he will draw a lot of attention from MVP voters. So I assume that those two ingredients are equally important.
Continuing my meditation, when a player is having a great year for the best team but he misses a meaningful number of games his chances for MVP are rather weak because the team without him is doing just fine.
Another issue regarding the MVP award is team improvement. We had great examples last year when two players, Nash and Shaq, fueled a huge turnaround in Phoenix and Miami respectively. Because having great improvement in the wins column is often connected with many wins, it is not as important as wins themselves but in expressive situations it can help.
On the other hand, winning fewer games than the previous year has some negative impact on MVP voters even if a player's team is still playing great. The explanation is pretty simple, everybody knows that this team can play better so less praise is kind of the expected experience.
There are also two additional factors, which are not necessary but can definitely help so I called them bonuses. Improved game comparing to previous season and being the best in one main simple category. Because it's always impressive when a great player has become even greater and winning points, rebs, assists per game shows the brilliance in some aspects of player's game.
With those ingredients of MVP in mind I came up with idea:
Let's name the final result as MVP Points.
I started with tendex as an index for a player's game. The best players in the NBA usually have tendex around 30 so to make team's wins equally important we can simply divide number of wins by two. Because 60/2=30 and best teams usually have around 60 wins. Then I added another conclusion to mix, games played divided by four (80/4=20 so it is important but not as much as tendex or wins) and the same with team's improvement (Wins minus Wins from previous season divided by four).
But unfortunately not all of the conclusions can be translated as simply as that because for example the best team in the conference can have a different number of wins each year.
So I compared every MVP winner from last 20 years with all other players on any given year and determined how to set these bonuses.
I found a perfect match with:
Kevin Garnett had the best tendex in the league (32,4), he played in 82 games. Wolves were 9th in West and they won 44 games. In previous season they had 58 wins. In addition Garnett was the best rebounder in the league. MVPP = 32,4 (tendex) + 22 (44/2 Wins) + 20,5 (82/4 games played) - 1 (less wins than previous year) + 2 (bonus for the best average of rebounds per game) - 5 (his team was worse than at third place in its conference) = 70,9 MVP Points.
Let's check another candidate, Dirk Nowitzki. He played 78 games with third best tendex in league (28,2). Mavs won 58 games, 6 more than previous year, and they had third most number of wins in West. MVPP = 28,2 + 58/2 + 78/4 + 6/4 (improvement in wins category) = 78,2 MVPP
Many saw Shaq as a leading candidate for MVP award so using the same formula: MVPP = 25,5 + 59/2 + 73/4 + 17/4 (improvement in wins category) + 5 (bonus for having the most wins in East with huge advantage) = 82,5 MVP Points.
But the MVP was won by Nash. Did the formula suggest the same thing? MVPP = 24,3 + 62/2 + 75/4 + 33/4 (improvement in wins category) + 4 (by far had the best assist average per game) + 2 (Suns won its conference but with close margin) + 1 (his own tendex has improved by 4!) = 89,3 MVP Points.
Many of experts argued that Nash wasn't even the best in his own team. But formula works even in that case: Marion - 87,7 MVPP and Amare - 88,5 MVPP so less than Nash.
Of course many doubters will think that it is just coincidence.
Wrong. Because using that formula we would predict correctly the winner of the MVP award from the previous full twenty seasons!
Of course all players from actual season don't have enough games played to qualify (70) but we can just assume that all their averages will not change until the end of season so tendex will also be the same.
To compare team's wins to previous season we have to estimate the number of wins using actual percentage of wins. For example Pistons have 43 wins and 9 losses. Their winning percentage is 0,827. Assuming they continue this pace they will have 82*0,827=67 (67,8 to be exact) wins at the end of season.
Finally using my formula let's predict top MVP vote-getters:
1) Chauncey Billups - 85,9 MVP Points
So providing the Pistons continue their pace for around 67 wins, historically Billups will be an easy choice. But the race for second place is very close with four possible players - Duncan, Nowitzki, LeBron and Nash. Nowitzki's only advantage right now is that his team is atop West but who knows for how long?
Editor's Note: Outstanding work Michael! We'll check back with 'wiLQ' after the regular season to get his final predictions.
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