Also posted at The Sports Economist.
For the second consecutive season point guard Steve Nash has won the NBA’s MVP award. With two MVP awards can anyone question that Nash is the greatest point guard in the NBA today? Well The Daily Dime at ESPN.com has reached a different conclusion. The Daily Dime asked thirteen of ESPN’s NBA experts: Who are the greatest point guards in NBA history? Of the top ten players chosen, only three currently play the game: Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Gary Payton. Sixteen year veteran Payton is no longer a starting point guard in the NBA. Kidd and Nash, though, are still the leaders on their respective teams. And of these two, ESPN’s NBA experts rank Kidd the highest. This is odd, since Kidd received no votes for MVP this season.
Who is right – the MVP voters or ESPN’s experts? People can talk about leadership, attitude, hustle, etc…, but outcomes in basketball depend primarily on four factors: Shooting efficiency, rebounds, turnovers, and steals (or the ability to create turnovers). This past season Nash was clearly the more efficient scorer, and if we throw in Nash’s advantage in assists, he had a greater impact on the efficiency of his teammates as well. With respect to gaining and maintaining possession of the ball, though, Kidd was the better player. Kidd garnered more rebounds and steals, and committed fewer turnovers.
So who is better? In The Wages of Wins we explain how to measure a player’s Wins Produced, which takes into account all the statistics tabulated for the player. Analyzing the 2005-06 season we see that Kidd produced 23.7 wins, while Nash’s Wins Produced equaled 18.6. Both ranked in the top ten in the league, but of the two, Kidd ranked the highest. If we extend our analysis back in time, looking at each season since 2000-01 – when Nash first became a consistent regular season performer – a similar story is told. From 2000-01 to 2004-05, Nash had 60 Wins Produced, a performance that ranks him among the top performers in the game. Kidd, though, produced 94.5 wins across this same time period. Again, Kidd is more productive.
Does this mean Nash should not have been chosen MVP? There does not seem to be any consensus on what “most valuable” means, so I guess one can argue that by some definition Nash is the MVP. If we look strictly at “most productive”, though, ESPN’s NBA experts had it right. Of course, many of ESPN’s experts probably voted for the MVP award. So some of these people might have had it wrong also. Then again — and this is getting confusing — maybe “greatest ever” is defined differently from “most valuable.” Perhaps we could settle this debate easily if people took one of the first steps we are taught to take in research: Define your terms!