Why NBA MVP Debates About Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Others Are Useless Until We Define What ‘Valuable’ Means

If there is a version of basketball hell, this year’s NBA MVP debate would be a defining feature.

Most are familiar with the Greek myth of Sisyphus, if not by name then at least by story. After deftly defying death not once, but twice, Sisyphus is sentenced to the arduous task of pushing a giant boulder up a steep hill. However, as soon as he gets the massive boulder inches from the top, he perpetually regresses back to square one, forcing him into a cycle of frustration and futility.

This is the exact course the NBA MVP talks have taken in recent months. As soon as an analyst, fan, coach or player seems to be strongly defending a candidate, someone from the other side appears and forcefully pushes the rock down the hill, crushing the souls of everyone in their path.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with debate, especially when it comes to sports. It is the soul of the institution. Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker have been so good this season that it deserves a civilized and worthwhile discussion about which player should take home the league’s most coveted and respected individual honor in the regular season.

The problem is that the discussions have been anything but civilized and can hardly be considered worthwhile.

A good debate is like a tennis match, in which one excellent point is recognized and countered by another, much to the delight of the crowd. However, a more apt metaphor for this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player debate would be one player serving the ball and the other player refusing to return it, instead firing his racket as hard as he can toward the ball. server, yell obscenities and wave the middle finger. in the air.

While Antetokounmpo, Doncic and Booker all have strong cases, the crux of the debate has centered (pun intended) around Jokic and Embiid for the second straight season. Without going into too much gory detail, a large contingent of Embiid’s supporters claim that Jokic’s hulking frame is being backed up by superior rankings in a swath of stats and advanced analytics that make no sense or are meaningless. Jokic’s supporters counter that even if he doesn’t believe in advanced numbers, the reigning MVP has an equally strong case based solely on traditional counting stats, as evidenced by this sarcastic tweet from the Denver Nuggets after Jokic became the first player in the NBA. history in accumulating 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a single season.

The flames have been further fanned by the fact that Jokic beat Embiid for MVP last season. It even led Embiid to curiously suggest that missing out for the second straight season would confirm some kind of bias by the media, which votes for the award, toward him and/or the Philadelphia players.

“If it happens, great,” Embiid said of the prospect of winning his first MVP. “If not, I don’t know what I have to do. I’m going to feel hated. I feel like the standard for the guys in Philly or for me is different than everyone else.”

This is where we are. Players crying media bias. Fans insulting each other. Red-faced writers pulling their hair out, trying to convince their colleagues of their position.

The arguments have distracted us from the great basketball being played on the court, and the thing is, none of it matters. So is. It doesn’t matter, because the whole “debate” has ignored one main and crucial step:

The definition of terms.

Even the most rudimentary lessons on debate require, before the discussion begins, the answer to a basic question: “What are we talking about?” On page one From an ad from the National Speech and Debate Association, there it is in large, bold, underlined print: Definition of the terms of the debate.

“When we tackle a new topic for discussion, a good first step is to define the terms of the topic,” it reads. “Without a clear understanding of the key terms of an issue, we won’t know what each side must prove in the course of the debate to win.”

How the hell can we convince anyone else that Nikola Jokic is more valuable than Joel Embiid, if we haven’t even defined what “valuable” means?

It’s like sending 100 art historians to the Louvre and telling them to identify the most valuable painting: their version of the “MVP.” Some may take it literally, going back with the piece they feel is more expensive. Others would choose the one they felt had the strongest influence on other artists. Some might choose the one they like best.

For some, historically, the NBA MVP has been the best player on the best team. In that case, it’s not Jokic or Embiid, it’s Booker.

For some, he is the player who has done the most with the least. In that case, he can make a strong case for Jokic, who led his team to a nearly .600 winning percentage with the Nuggets’ second- and third-best players sidelined virtually the entire season with injury. .

For some, he is the most dominant player on both sides of the ball. In that case, the prize could go to Embiid, who leads the NBA in scoring and remains one of the most intimidatingly tight-fisted rim protectors in the league.

The term “valuable” has such broad and varied definitions that it is impossible to reach a consensus on what the word means, let alone who deserves to win the award. If we just handed out “Best Actor,” like the Oscars do with “Best Picture,” we’d at least have something in common. It would also be much more predictable, as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry or Giannis Antetokounmpo would have probably taken home the honor in each of the last 15 seasons.

The variation featuring “most valuable” leads to the kind of sports debate we all crave, but before we can have anything resembling a productive discussion, we need to define the terms, preferably for the person you’re debating with, but, at least, the minimum, yourself. Before you shout from the mountaintops that Joel Embiid is the NBA MVP, tell us what you think “most valuable” means. It could prevent a lot of confusion and save everyone hours, days, weeks of frustration and anger.

If you don’t define your terms, you’re simply pushing a 7-foot boulder up a steep hill, hoping someone else will push it down.


Leave a Comment