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What Makes an MVP?

The season may be young, but the stat stuffing is in peak form.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Only a handful of games into the season, there are a handful of players that are filling up the stat sheets at a torrid pace. Last night James Harden scored 41 points (through an efficient 13 of 20 from the field and 10 of 14 from the line), grabbed 7 rebounds (to lead the team), and dished out 15 assists (with only ONE turnover). Russell Westbrook has averaged 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 11.7 assists a game after four games into the season. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis tried his best to get New Orleans its first win (to no avail) and produced another gaudy stat line last night of 35 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.

So the question: What makes an MVP? While it’s likely these hot starts (among others, like DeMar DeRozan or Damian Lillard) will ease off, none of the three people listed above are on teams that exactly have clear alternatives. It’s not that hard to imagine Westbrook or Davis putting up obscene numbers for an entire season because they have no one to reliably help them. They would become a textbook example of a player that is invaluable to their team and a leader in the Association in various stats.

Yet what if they’re on losing teams? Since 1985, the MVP has almost always been on a team with top-2 playoff seed. The only exceptions are Karl Malone in 1999 (the Jazz lost a tiebreaker for the division and were tied for the best record) and Michael Jordan in 1988 (the Bulls had the 3rd seed). While Oklahoma City is currently 3-0, Houston is merely 2-2 and New Orleans is a dreadful 0-4. Would voters turn their backs on players putting up the aforementioned obscene numbers merely because of their team’s record?

In the end there’s technically no “correct” answer. Each voter can create his/her own criteria for award his/her ballot. Perhaps this year will witness the trend bucked and the MVP awarded to a player that is not on a top-tier playoff seeded team. Then again, if the Clippers continue to play well and secure a top -2 seed, perhaps the Clippers will witness either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin hoist the MVP trophy even if they are not the most statistically dominating player in the Association.