Currently, there is an intense debate over who is more deserving of the 2014-2015 NBA MVP. The three main front runners are Steph Curry (PG, Golden State Warriors), Russell Westbrook (PG, Oklahoma City Thunder), and James Harden (SG, Houston Rockets).
All three players had remarkable seasons and you could make a case for each one (despite Westbrook’s team not even making it to the post season).
All three players were leaders in Points scored in their respective positions:
- Steph Curry = 1900 points
- Russell Westbrook = 1886 points
- James Harden = 2217 points
While Harden scored more total points, he actually scored less than Westbrook per game (keep in mind that Westbrook also missed several games in the beginning of the season, due to injury). Both are in the running for the SCORING TITLE this season:
- Westbrook – 28.2 pts/g [95% CI: 25.8 , 30.6]
- Harden – 27.4 pts/g [95% CI: 25.2 , 29.5]
- Curry – 23.8 pts/g [95% CI: 22.0 , 25.5]
The difference between each player and the margin of error of their difference scores is as follows:
- Curry compared to Westbrook = Difference: 4.40 pts/g with a 2.99 Margin of Error
- Curry Compared to Harden = Difference: 3.62 pts/g with a 2.79 Margin of Error
- Harden Compared to Westbrook = Difference: 0.78 pts/g with a 3.22 Margin of Error
From this, it appears that, while Harden scored more total points, Westbrook appears to average more points per game than the other three. Of course we don’t know how we would have performed had he not missed games early in the season. Both Harden and Curry played in 80 games while Westbrook only played in 66. This, along with his team not making the playoffs, may end up hurting him in MVP Voting.
While there are some differences in production between the three players, all of them were incredible at putting up points. In relationship to the average player at their respective positions, Curry and Westbrook were both 3.2 standard deviations better than the average, while Harden was an astonishing 4 standard deviations better than the average shooting guard.
Points Aren’t Everything
While scoring a lot of points is important, it isn’t everything. A key aspect of a player, particularly an MVP, is whether or not he makes his teammates better. What is the value of the player to the team and how is he able to contribute to helping the team win?
One metric that is useful to help answer this question is Wins Produced, from David Berri and Martin Schmidt. The metric is designed to understand a player’s contribution to winning and it factors in not only the players stats for that season but also how an average player would have contributed given the same opportunities (minutes played), allowing us to understand how much more effective the player was then the average player that season.
To compare these players to the average for their position groups, I took every player in the league who played in more than 200 minutes during the season. The Wins Produced for Curry, Harden, and Westbrook are:
- Curry = 18.8 Wins Produced (0.344 Wins Per 48min)
- Harden = 16.9 Wins Produced (0.263 Wins Per 48min)
- Westbrook = 11.2 Wins Produced (0.237 Wins Per 48min)
The Wins Produced and Wins Per 48min for all three of these players is exceptional. When we compare the three, we see that Curry produced a bit more wins and wins per 48min than Westbrook and Harden. Note that Westbrook drops a little bit here which could, again, be reflective of the fact that he played 14 less games that the other two. Curry appears to make larger contributes to help his team win games.
Curry produced approximately 17 more wins than the average point guard. Westbrook produced 9 more wins than the average point guard and Harden was able to produce approximately 13 more wins than the average shooting guard.
Who Should Be Crowned MVP?
I don’t know that there is a simple answer here. All three of these guys played incredible this season. If I were casting a vote, my vote would go to Curry. While he scored about 300 total points less than Harden and he averaged slightly less than both Harden and Westbrook, he did have a slightly less variance from game-to-game points (although not significant). Additionally, because of his consistency and ability to help create more wins for his team per 48min, I believe he is deserving of the MVP. The MVP provides the most value to his team by helping them succeed.