Welcome back to NBA Tuesday where we fix the past to make sure the future knows the truth is out there. After all, if the past was perfect, there would be little need for the study of sports history, right? Sometimes, our predecessors nailed it. Other times? Eh, not so much.
Read on to see what we mean (again) …
2006 NBA MVP: Steve Nash (original), LeBron James (revised)
Once again, media darling Steve Nash, point guard for the Phoenix Suns, won the MVP vote, despite finishing just 10th in Win Shares (12.35) and not even in the Top 10 for Player Efficiency Rating (23.30). So, one more time, we will be revising this award and giving to a worthy player.
We like Nash; he just wasn’t the MVP in 2005 or 2006. For the record, he was better this season than the last, and he will be better in 2007 than he is here—next year being the best season of his career. But we digress, as we must consider the real MVP for 2006 right now rather than explain Nash’s career production arc.
Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki was the best player in the league, topping all his peers in both WS (17.72) and PER (28.06), with Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James very close behind, finishing second in both sabermetric categories (16.26 WS, 28.06 PER). Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant was third best, finishing third in PER (27.97) and fourth in WS (15.29).
That’s our MVP pool right there: With Dallas winning 60 games, Cleveland winning 50 games, and Los Angeles winning 45 games, all three teams made the postseason. However, with the worst playoff team in the Western Conference making it in with a 44-38 record, it’s clear that the Mavs would have made the postseason without Nowitzki, making him a little less valuable than the numbers suggest.
Dallas didn’t have the best record in the NBA, either: Detroit won 64 times, and San Antonio won 63 times. Yes, Dirty would lead the Mavs to the Finals, but that’s not part of our equation here. The Lakers made the postseason by just one win, making Bryant’s contributions more valuable than Nowitzki’s efforts, in truth. And you know how we feel about Kobe: This may have been his best season, in truth.
Yet there is the issue of James and the Cavs: The worst Eastern Conference postseason team notched just 40 victories, so Cleveland definitely was missing the postseason without the King, and he was quite a bit better than Bryant, too, objectively speaking. In fact, you can see that LeBron just missed topping the NBA in PER by mere percentage points.
Here’s a look at all three players in traditional context, with a league-high mark in bold:
- Nowitzki: 26.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 blocks per game on 48.0-percent shooting
- James: 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals per game on 48.0-percent shooting
- Bryant: 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals per game on 45.0-percent shooting
This is what we would expect: Kobe’s scoring title was fueled by volume, while James’ all-around game was pretty incredible for a third-year player who skipped college. Nowitzki’s production was the best overall, although both Bryant and James produced more value for their borderline-quality rosters.
Let’s look at the rosters for Cleveland and Los Angeles, while we are at it: The next-best player on the Cavs was center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (8.7 WS), and the next-best Laker was power forward Lamar Odom (9.2 WS). This again shows us that LeBron was doing more heavy lifting than Kobe, and he was doing it better as well.
Both the Cavs and the Lakers would have missed the postseason without their star players; that’s clear. But James was better and did more for his teammates than Bryant did, period. And so, perhaps, the Era of the King starts a lot earlier than we ever expected it to with LeBron’s first MVP nod from us.
2006 NBA ROTY: Chris Paul (original, confirmed)
Our three best rookies for this season were Milwaukee Bucks power forward Andrew Bogut (5.5 WS), New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets point guard Chris Paul (10.4 WS), and Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger (5.1 WS). Clearly, Paul was the best of the bunch, and that’s why he won the vote at the time—even though his team won just 38 games and missed the postseason.
The Bucks made the postseason by grabbing the final slot in the East with 40 victories, while Indiana won just 41 games to slip in one spot ahead of Milwaukee. So, what do we make of this situation, where one player is clearly miles better than the rest, regardless of postseason positioning?
Well, the Pacers actually declined 3 wins from the prior season, and the Bucks improved 10 games. So that puts Bogut ahead on our list, no matter what the roster changes were in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, the Hornets improved a whopping 20 games (!) while also dealing with the ongoing fallout of Hurricane Katrina in the Big Easy.
Think about that for a second, and then you can understand just why we’re confirming Paul’s award on the spot.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!