In Recreation 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Steph Curry, the primary unanimous MVP in NBA historical past, and reigning 2015 MVP and champion, had a shitty sport. He shot 6-of-19 from the sphere and Golden State was outscored by three factors when he was on the ground. The sport was an anxious rock struggle from the tip, with the Cavs storming again because of a Draymond nut shot and subsequent suspension, from 3-1. The Warriors had simply set the common season report for many wins, breaking a report set by Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and had already had a miraculous comeback of their very own in opposition to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder within the Western Convention Finals. So, there are various variables to have a look at when contemplating why the MVP didn’t get his ring, however it was the start of an emergent pattern.
In 2017, MVP Russell Westbrook turned in probably the most outstanding, and divisive seasons in NBA historical past. Following the defection of who was purported to be the Jordan to his Pippen, Kevin Durant, Westbrook went on a tear, averaging the primary triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson. His workforce went 47-35, good for sixth within the West, an overachieving however nonetheless lackluster win complete for an MVP candidate. Nonetheless, the voters couldn’t resist the narrative, and gave the award to the participant with the very best stats. His workforce fell within the first spherical, happening meekly 1-4 to former teammate James Harden’s Rockets.
In 2018, it was lastly Harden’s flip. The perennial MVP bridesmaid and inventor of the trendy, once more divisive, heliocentric offense, had an plain season. He scored 30 with almost 9 assists per sport, on 36 % from three. Harden was joined by Chris Paul, one of many biggest level guards in league historical past, and his utilization price truly went up to 36% from 34% the earlier yr, as he reimagined the bounds of what a workforce may accomplish when one man has the ball almost the whole thing of each possession for a whole season. The Rockets blew what was in all probability their greatest shot at upsetting the Warriors (although 2019 may’ve and possibly ought to’ve been their yr as nicely), blowing a 3-2 Western Convention Finals lead. Harden performed admirably in Video games 6 and seven, getting 32 factors in each, however Chris Paul’s physique betrayed him and the Rockets merely didn’t have the horses to compete with the Warriors. Regardless of the 32 factors in Recreation 7, he shot 15 % from 3.
Giannis Antetokounmpo received the subsequent two consecutive MVPs, with Mike Budenholzer’s stunning effectivity machine constructed round him. The Bucks have been an everyday season juggernaut, profitable 60 and 56 video games respectively. However they have been crushed within the Jap Finals by the eventual champion Toronto Raptors after profitable the primary two video games of the sequence, they usually have been embarrassed the subsequent season by the Warmth, who stymied, annoyed, and plenty of thought on the time uncovered Giannis in what nonetheless, even now, is likely to be Erik Spoelstra’s masterpiece.
Nikola Jokic received the subsequent two. The second season was pretty controversial, because the Nuggets, like Westbrook’s Thunder earlier than him, completed sixth within the West (and one other worthy candidate was arguably extra necessary to his extra profitable workforce within the Jap Convention). However Jokic was rising as a complicated stat monster on a workforce with out its second greatest participant, Jamal Murray, recuperating from a serious ACL tear. In 2021, the Nuggets have been swept out of the second spherical by the Suns, and misplaced to the eventual champion Warriors within the first spherical of 2022, 1-4.
In 2023, NBA MVP Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers blew a 3-2 lead on the Celtics within the second spherical, going out unhappy in seven. Embiid was -27 in a laugher and scored 15 factors. The traditional knowledge was that the sensible massive man merely ran out of gasoline.
The primary ever NBA MVP was handed out in 1956 to Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks. There have been six groups within the league on the time and I don’t actually perceive how the playoffs labored that season and refuse to determine it out for this piece. However the subsequent season, MVP Bob Cousy’s Boston Celtics took house a hoop. Within the ‘60s, the MVP received the championship half the time, largely because of Invoice Russell and the Boston Celtics. Within the ‘70s, the MVP received the championship twice. Within the ‘80s, thanks largely to Larry and Magic (and Moses Malone), the MVP received the championship half the time. Identical for the ‘90s, because of Jordan with an help from Hakeem. Within the aughts, it occurred twice because of Duncan and Shaq, and within the 2010s, because of LeBron’s Warmth and Steph Curry in 2015, the MVP received three rings.
What all this implies is because it stands, solely because of Kareem’s common season dominance (six MVPs between 1971-1980), and postseason unhealthy luck within the ‘70s with first the Bucks, then the Lakers, adopted by a drought within the aughts of the identical size (with two complicated MVPs for Nash, and the shadow dynasty of the selfless Spurs maybe skewing the voting) the present streak of eight consecutive seasons with the MVP not profitable the championship is tied with the longest droughts in league historical past, which it might break subsequent season.
There are elements of the sport now that differentiate this drought from the one we witnessed within the ‘70s, and even the ‘00s. There wasn’t one dominant participant throughout this stretch that couldn’t get it performed within the postseason (Or within the case of Duncan’s Spurs, a dominant workforce with a delicate spoken chief voters didn’t maybe absolutely respect the significance of). There was a succession of them. There was numerous components you could possibly level to for why this has occurred: Harm luck, the borderline unfair dominance of the Durant Warriors who couldn’t justifiably have anyone participant worthy of MVP, and any variety of unhealthy bounces that ended up costing a workforce their shot, however these questions of circumstance happen each season. What’s most fascinating about this drought is the concept maybe, it has grow to be not a bug, however a characteristic of the MVP.
In 2021, Giannis was basically disqualified from profitable the MVP, as it’s purportedly an everyday season award (however historical past has proven us voters should not immune from contemplating postseason failure for candidates). Maybe this was a coincidence, or maybe, having received the award twice, he made the very best determination for his physique, and his postseason possibilities, he performed 61 video games, a profession low, and his utilization price dropped 5 factors from the earlier season.
In 2023, because the discourse heated up round whether or not Jokic needs to be the primary three-time MVP since Larry Hen, he seemingly took himself out of the operating. Jokic performed a career-low variety of video games, sat out 5 of the final seven with the Nuggets comfortably in command of the No. 1 seed, however even earlier than that through the closing two months of the season, noticeably took his foot off the gasoline because the workforce mailed in a comparatively lackluster March, throwing many championship prognosticators off the scent. If the Nuggets can overcome the Warmth, as they’re closely favored to do, that creates a outstanding sample of two gamers within the final three years who’ve come off consecutive MVPs to win the ring, however not the award the subsequent season.
The grind of the trendy sport, the pace, the defensive calls for, have by no means been extra intense. Simply getting by an NBA season along with your well being intact has grow to be a distinction, to take care of that streak all over the second, much more intense two month season of the playoffs is virtually a miracle. This has been accentuated by the three dominant gamers who’ve traded off the distinction over the previous 5 years all being massive males, or gamers who could profit greater than most from saving their greatest effort for the postseason, however it additionally could sign a seachange in what the award represents. Not a distinction for the league’s greatest participant, however a form of good attendance award for gamers extra motivated by a person distinction, quite than a workforce championship. The award has at all times purported itself to be for the common season, and now that’s doubtlessly all it is going to be, a hole accolade for greatest stats.
The message to Philly followers could also be — if Philly is comfortably of their seed by early spring — to encourage Embiid to take it simple in March and April, quite than push for a repeat of the award that’s changing into a scarlet letter.
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