Here we go with new coverage during this COVID-19 pandemic where even the 2020 Summer Olympics are getting postponed. We had our own endurance event postponed, too, so we understand the disappointment. Welcome to the new world order … for now.
Welcome to our NBA Tuesday series: MVP award analysis. We’re not huge fans of the NBA—and haven’t been since it began to get quite suspicious in the mid-1990s—but we do like our sports history, so starting with the 1949-50 season, we’re going to be awarding MVP awards and analyzing the awards that were given out starting in 1956.
(Why 1950? Prior to then, the Basketball Association of America started in 1946 and then merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to establish what we now know as the formal NBA. That’s why!)
We have more than a year ahead of us with this featured series, and we will be using basketball-reference.com for our statistical and sabermetric information. The Win Shares (WS) system will be the foundation for much of our analysis, as well as the Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Rookie of the Year award analysis will begin with the 1964 season, too, the year the award was first given by a panel of voters.
Note: For the nine years of the American Basketball Association (ABA), we will combine our analyses and still award separate MVPs and ROTYs for that league during the 1968-1976 era of its existence.
We have no other set criteria here, although a pattern certainly will emerge over the next year-plus of NBA historical analysis. Enjoy!
1950 MVP: George Mikan
This was not a hard selection to make even in the absence of a real award given at the time. A 6-foot-10 center, Mikan was possibly the most dominant player in NBA history. He posted 21.13 WS for the 1949-50 season, and the only other player even close to that figure was 6-foot-7 center Alex Groza of the Indianapolis Olympians (17.92 WS). If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Groza was a college star eventually banned from the NBA for a point-shaving scandal while he was playing for the University of Kentucky in the late 1940s. He won two NCAA titles with the Wildcats as well as a gold medal on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team: Groza was a legend in his own right.
Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers posted a 51-17 record to tie for the Central Division lead with the Rochester Royals. Meanwhile, Groza’s team went 39-25 to win the Western Division by two games over the Anderson Packers (yeah, don’t ask). While postseason results do not factor into regular-season awards, it is worthwhile to note here that Mikan led the Lakers to the NBA title with an 11-2 playoff run, while the Olympians went just 3-3 on their way being eliminated in the Western Division finals by the Packers—a team the Lakers swept in the semifinals right afterward.
If Groza’s team had won more regular-season games than Mikan’s team, maybe there might have been some wriggle room for debate, but as it is, the clear choice for our MVP here is Mikan. Statistics are limited for the 1949-50 season, but he averaged 27.4 points and 2.9 assists per game. The NBA didn’t keep track of rebounds until the following year, incidentally. Groza led the league in field-goal percentage, while averaging 23.4 ppg and 2.5 apg. But those extra four points per game added up to more wins for the Lakers.