The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is easily the most coveted individual accomplishment in the league. Not only does the award recognize players who have reached the absolute pinnacle of the sport, but it also virtually guarantees an eventual entry into the Hall of Fame. In most cases, players who win the MVP generally go on to have successful postseason runs as well.
Yet the relationship between regular season and postseason performance isn’t always so clear. Former player and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett recently made the argument that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban changed the way the MVP award was given.
Kevin Garnett’s argument about Mark Cuban
Garnett presented his case on a recent episode of the All The Smoke podcast hosted by Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. At around the 52-minute mark, the topic of the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors team came up.
In case you don’t remember, that underdog team squeaked into the eighth seed in the Western Conference, only to bump off the number one seed Mavericks in the first round.
On the podcast, Garnett voiced his surprise that Mavericks’ superstar Dirk Nowitzki had earned an MVP that season. He went on to state that it was the first time a player who lost in the first round had ever won the award.
He then postulated that Nowitzki only won because Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban had lobbied for his case so strongly. Garnett referred to this as the “Mark Cuban effect,” claiming it ultimately changed the entire matrix about how MVPs were selected.
Fact-checking Kevin Garnett’s claims
Unfortunately for Garnett, not all of his claims hold up to scrutiny. To begin with, Garnett maintained that “up until Dirk you had to get out of the first round to be considered the MVP, or they would go ahead and give it to somebody else.” That statement alone is patently untrue: MVP voting takes place at the end of the regular season, before the playoffs even begin.
Of course, the winner of the MVP is not revealed until after the playoffs. But the decision is set in stone before a single postseason game has taken place. Even if you were to overlook that error on Garnett’s part, he puts himself even deeper in the hole when he claims that Nowitzki was the first player to win the MVP and not make it out of the first round.
Before Nowitzki, two players had already suffered that fate: Wes Unseld in 1968-69, and Moses Malone in both 1978-79 and 1981-82. Moreover, the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won MVP in the 1975-76 season for a Los Angeles Lakers team that didn’t even make the playoffs at all.
Dirk Nowitzki’s MVP season and playoff loss
Nowitzki’s 2006-07 season was a fantastic one by any stretch of the imagination. Playing in 78 games, he averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game.
Even more impressively, he joined what is a quite small group of players to shoot better than 50% from the floor, 40% from three-point range, and 90% from the line. He also lead the Mavericks to an impressive 67 wins.
Accomplishments like those made Nowitzki a no-brainer for MVP. His Mavericks team was also expected to put together a strong playoff run, with many analysts favoring them to make it all the way to the NBA Finals. Instead, however, the Mavs suffered a stunning six-game loss to the Warriors in the first round.
During that series, Nowitzki averaged 19.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. At first glance, those numbers don’t seem so much worse than his regular season output. Yet he shot only 38.3% from the floor and a miserable 21.1% from three-point range.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference