[Editor's note: For the case AGAINST Tony's MVP candidacy, see SRJ34's post.]
The MVP debates have always been a strange one for me to follow. The subjectivity is what turns me off. So first, let's define MVP. It's a regular season award that should go to the Most Valuable Player on one of the best teams in the league. What is valued most in the NBA regular season? Well, wins. So it's only logical that the MVP of the best team should be the MVP of the entire league. He would be the Most Valuable player on the team with the most regular season value. With the field now narrowed, the discussion should become, ‘which player is most valuable to his team?' Without that player, what would the effect have been and how does that measure up as you compare potential MVP candidates from the best teams in the league? As you walk through my logic, I think the answer is an obvious one. Tony Parker should be the MVP of the league.
So, the most valuable players on the best teams are Lebron James of the Heat, Derrick Rose of the Bulls, and Tony Parker of the Spurs. We can immediately dismiss Rose from this discussion as he has been injured for too many regular season games. In addition, while he was absent, his team still performed well. As unfair as it may be, his team's good performances in his absence must decrease his value.
Which player, Lebron or Tony, is most valuable to their team? If the Heat were without Lebron, would they be in a worse state than the Spurs without Tony? If not, then what's the argument? If the Spurs without Tony lose more than the Heat without Lebron, then Tony is more valuable to the Spurs than Lebron to the Heat, and therefore the MVP of the 2012 regular season is Tony Parker. When we logically look at the two players' value, Tony is more valuable.
The Decision is one that will likely haunt Lebron forever. Choosing to play with arguably the other best player in the league was, if not cowardly, then at least extremely short-sighted. If the Heat were without Lebron, Dwayne Wade would step up and they would be relatively fine. Of course, they would probably not be title contenders, but the East is so mediocre that they may have been able to make it out of the East without Lebron. Basically, my argument is that Lebron's value as an MVP candidate should be cut drastically given that the team is not weak without him. By similar logic, this is why I didn't even mention Kevin Durant above. His MVP status takes a hit because James Harden and Russell Westbrook are so good. They all do the same thing very well, that is score, which dilutes Durant's value to his team because there are two other players on the Thunder that can excel in exactly the same thing that he brings to the team. Just as with the Heat, Wade brings the same thing to the team that Lebron brings. If you can be duplicated, your value takes a hit.
The circumstances that surround the teams have to be taken into consideration when choosing the league MVP, and if the Spurs were without Tony, they would have missed the playoffs. Tony's circumstances help his bid while Lebron's hurt his. Tony was on an island this year. With the many injuries to Manu, losing Tony would have been the death of the 2012 Spurs. Rather than finishing the regular season as one of the favorites, the Spurs would have missed them altogether. That, my friends, is what being the Most Valuable Player is all about.
Tony's MVP performance this year made everyone around him better. The great seasons of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard can be directly credited to Tony Parker. He was the catalyst. Without hurting his offensive prowess, Tony transitioned from being a scoring point guard, to a true point guard, flawlessly. In 2012, Tony had his best assist to turnover ratio as a professional at 3.03 and also registered a career best, 7.7 assists per game. But, I would argue, that assists actually understate Tony's year. He is a victim of the Spurs' excellent ball movement. When the Spurs are at their best, the ball skips back and forth across the court until a wide open shot is found. Tony drives, he passes, the ball is skipped, there's an extra pass made, and finally a three pointer. Sound familiar? Tony does not get the credit for these shots, even though he made the initial move that resulted in the three points.
How critical was Tony's play to the Spurs wins versus Lebron's play to the Heat's wins? If you're most valuable player is having a bad game, you should lose, right? And if he's playing well, you should win. If there is no drop-off in your numbers from wins to losses, one could argue that you are less valuable. As the MVP of your team, your play should directly affect wins and losses. The team should not be able to overcome a bad game from their MVP. The team should lose more often when its MVP plays poorly.
In 47 wins, Tony averaged 19.1 ppg, 7.9 apg, while shooting 50% from the field and 83% from the line. In 13 losses, Tony averaged 15.2 ppg, 6.9 apg, while shooting 40.8% from the field and 70% from the line. This makes sense. If the MVP doesn't play well, the team loses.
Now, in 45 wins, Lebron averaged 27.1 ppg, 6.4 apg while shooting 54.7% from the field and 78.5% from the line. In 17 losses, he averaged 27.2 ppg, 5.8 apg while shooting 49.6% from the field and 73% from the line. Those numbers are statistically equivalent, and he actually scored more in losses than in wins. In arguing which player is most valuable to his team, the fact that the Spurs lost when Tony played poorly and Lebron's play was constant between wins and losses has to increase Parker's MVP candidacy while decreasing Lebron's.
Look, I understand that Tony is not going to win it this year. I'm pretty delusional, but not quite that far gone just yet. He would have to be the clear choice to even have a chance. Lebron's ridiculous statistics make this an impossible battle to win. But, it should be clear that if you define MVP as I do, it's difficult to argue that Tony should not be a favorite in the MVP discussion. The problem with the MVP vote is that it's so subjective. If we could agree on that one definition (the player with the most value to his team, on one of the best teams in the regular season), the rest becomes easy and Tony jumps to the top of the MVP ballots. Unfortunately, we are a small market team that didn't get much press this year. (Shocking, I know.) And it doesn't help that there are people out there like Bill Simmons that want to throw out names like Kevin Garnet or Rajon Rondo. It clouds a debate that could be so much more straightforward.
Regardless of who wins it this year, I think the important thing to note is that Tony Parker has been our best player. He led this Spurs team, full of new and injured pieces, to the best record in the West. In a year when the schedule and our age should have led to our demise (according to conventional wisdom), Tony excelled and created a contender.
Most Valuable Player? Tony Parker is up there, way up there.