Editor’s Note: We officially confirmed the contents of this post more than a year later as a part of our sports-history series on NBA MVP awards.
They say obsession isn’t pretty, so this will close our reflection on the most overrated NBA player this century. To do it right, we look back at the 2008 NBA MVP award vote, which stands out as an egregiously poor decision by those who choose such stuff.
First, the facts: According Player Efficiency Rating (PER) numbers, seven different players registered higher quality of play in 2007-08 than did the winner of the award. Seven. Since when does an MVP award go to the eighth-best player? Only in the worst of times, really.
To review, these are the top-eight PER performances from that 2007-08 regular season—and where they finished in the MVP voting:
- LeBron James, Cleveland (4th): His fifth season in the NBA, James led the league in scoring (30.0 points per game, ) and posted career-best marks (at that point) in rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. The Cavaliers won 45 games, and you probably can’t name a single teammate of the King’s on that roster.
- Chris Paul, New Orleans (2nd): His third year in the NBA, Paul led the league in BOTH assists and steals, while also tossing in 21.1 ppg. Just 22 years old, he guided the Hornets to 56 wins and a division title.
- Amar’e Stoudamire, Phoenix (6th): His sixth season in the NBA, Stoudamire registered 25. ppg and added 9.1 rebounds per game for good measure. He also made over 60 percent of his two-point shots that year, while carrying the Suns to 55 wins.
- Kevin Garnett, Boston (3rd): His 13th year in the NBA and his first in Boston, his numbers weren’t stellar … just efficient. Garnett averaged 18.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg while playing in just 71 games to rest for the postseason, where he would lead the Celtics to the NBA title (irrelevant to the MVP debate).
- Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (11th): His 10th season in the NBA and the reigning MVP, he produced another all-around season of excellence with 23.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, and 3.5 assists-per-game marks as the Mavericks won 51 games.
- Tim Duncan, San Antonio (7th): His 11th year in the NBA, he did his usual number on the rest of the league, to the tune of 19.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, and 1.9 blocks per game. The Spurs won 56 games.
- Manu Ginóbili, San Antonio (10th): His sixth season in the NBA, the Argentine star put up 19.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, and more than two three-point buckets a game for the Spurs, as he and Duncan were undoubtedly the best set of teammates in the game.
- Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles (1st): His 12th year in the NBA, he scored 28.3 ppg while grabbing 6.3 rpg and dishing out a surprising 5.4 apg. Bryant also was the only player on this list to appear in all 82 games of the regular season (remember our assessment about volume?). The Lakers won 57 of those games.
Now, in terms of effective field-goal percentage, Kobe’s .503 mark was the worst on this list, except for Duncan’s mark (.497). Thus, once again, we see simply chucking the ball at the hoop paid off for Kobe, regardless of the outcome.
When we look at Win Shares (WS), Bryant’s total for the year (13.8) trails Stoudamire (14.6), James (15.2), and Paul (17.8)—that last number leading the league. So Kobe was four wins less valuable than Chris Paul, and he was only fourth best in the league in actual WS value.
The 4.3 WS accrued on defense by Kobe actually was the second-best mark of his career, trailing only the 4.5 mark he posted in 1999-2000, the first time he played on an NBA title-winning team. However, Ginóbili (4.5), Duncan (6.2), Garnett (6.2), Paul (4.6), and James (4.6) all posted better defensive WS marks than Bryant did.
On offense, Kobe’s alleged forté, three of these players—Stoudamire (10.9), Paul (13.2), and James (10.7)— produced better offensive WS marks than he did. Paul’s number led the league, of course, and you see that Paul was better than Kobe on both sides of the ball, as was James.
Basically, Kobe led the league in absolutely nothing, except games played, and his team didn’t win the most games, either. His all-around game was eighth best in the NBA, and yet somehow, Kobe ended up with the MVP award.
Take your pick between Chris Paul and LeBron James, but both those guys deserved the MVP award more than Kobe Bryant did in 2007-08. It isn’t even close, in any statistical measure available for scrutiny. At best, maybe you could argue Bryant was the third-best player in the NBA that season.
(For the record, we would have given the award to Paul, if the picture above didn’t give that away.)
Why did Kobe win the hardware? Perhaps, because James and Paul were so young, voters figured they had many more chances later to win the award, and with Kobe aging without an MVP award, the voters got together (collusion?) to decide in his favor. Regardless, this is absolutely ridiculous, as by this time in the late 2000s, sabermetrics already were taking over sports—and the voters should have known better.
We may never know the truth here, but it’s just another example (of many we won’t bother exploring here anymore) of how overrated Kobe Bryant was as a basketball player—not to mention his off-the-court travails which he seems to be getting a pass on in death.