A few months before we started NBA Tuesday, we looked at this year’s MVP Award for a different reason—and it may have been a major reason for a lot of the subsequent historical review on The Daily McPlay. That makes this a very special edition of our professional basketball series, of course.
We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it …
2008 NBA MVP: Kobe Bryant (original), Chris Paul (revised)
After being one of our finalists for the award in both 2006 and 2007, the Los Angeles Lakers star shooting guard—Kobe Bryant—won the MVP vote in 2008, although we have no idea why. He finished fourth in Win Shares (13.82) and eighth in Player Efficiency Rating (24.24). The Lakers won 57 games to post the best record in the Western Conference, so maybe the voters thought he was “due” … whatever that means.
Meanwhile, the best players in the NBA were New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul (17.79 WS, 28.31 PER), our 2006 ROTY winner, and Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James (15.23 WS, 29.14 PER), our 2006 MVP pick. Paul was first in WS and second in PER, while James was second in WS and first in PER. You can see just how much better they were than Bryant was.
Not only that, but the Hornet won 56 games in the Western Conference, so clearly they were just as good as Los Angeles was—with a better player atop the roster. The worst playoff team in the conference finished with a 50-32 record, so either team would have missed the postseason without their superstar, but Paul was clearly the better player.
As for Cleveland winning 45 games in the Eastern Conference, that was 8 games better than the lowest playoff entrant, so the Cavaliers, too, would have been lost without the King on their side. That means Bryant has no chance to leapfrog either Paul or James for this award.
The Hornets won just 39 games the prior season, and we see Paul as being the most valuable—over James—in this situation, as his WS total indicates, and his PER mark really isn’t that much behind, either. Paul was a dominant player during this season, and it’s a shame the voters blew this one so badly in an effort to fete Kobe.
Paul’s numbers—league-leading averages for assists (11.6) and steals (2.7), in addition to 21.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game—are impressive when considering that NBA-high combination of offense and defense. His 13.2 offensive Win Shares also was the best mark in the league.
For the record, Phoenix Suns center Amar’e Stoudamire, who we stripped of the ROTY Award in 2003, was the third-best guy in the league for a 55-win team, finishing right behind the top duo in both WS (14.61) and PER (27.57). That means Bryant was, at best, the fourth-best player in the league, playing on the third-best team. He never was anything but an also-ran candidate for this award.
2008 NBA ROTY: Kevin Durant (original), Al Horford (revised)
The six-best “rookies” in the league were Philadelphia 76ers power forward Thaddeus Young (4.5 WS, 16.5 PER), Seattle SuperSonics shooting guard Kevin Durant (2.3 WS, 15.8 PER), Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (5.5 WS, 14.7 PER), Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola (6.5 WS, 16.1 PER), Rockets power forward Carl Landry (3.7 WS, 21.4 PER), and Toronto Raptors small forward Jamario Moon (5.7 WS, 15.0 PER).
Durant won the ROTY vote, probably for the 20.3 ppg scoring average (on 43-percent shooting), while it’s odd to see two players at the same position from the same team doing so well. But Sciola had a decade-plus of professional experience in Europe before coming to the NBA, so he wasn’t a real “rookie”—and we can eliminate him from the analysis here, based on that reality.
Landry also played just 42 games, while the other four remaining first-year guys played at least 74 games each. Durant’s Win Shares total is too low, and his team won just 20 games, anyway. That leaves us with Young, Horford, and Moon to consider here.
With 40 wins, the 76ers qualified for the postseason in the Eastern Conference, as did the Raptors (41 victories) and the Hawks (37 wins). The thing here is that the 9th-best team won 36 times, so the Hawks barely made it—and never would have done so without Horford averaging almost a double double every night (10.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
Take away Young, and maybe the 76ers still make it. Same for the Moon and the Raptors. But it’s clear cut for the Hawks without Horford, so he gets our nod for this award.