Jayne: Know who’s who before MVP voting

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

It’s like voting for the Oscars after watching the first three-quarters of all the movies.

You don’t know that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze. Or that Bruce Willis is dead. Or that Anthony Perkins is donning a wig and a dress to kill women in the shower.

You don’t know the ending, the twists and the turns and the surprises that will complete the story and provide a full portrait of the protagonists. You don’t know who will turn out to be the key figures who provide the most memorable moments, the ones that will define the work for posterity.

It would be ridiculous to vote under such conditions, wouldn’t it? It would be like writing a review of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band without hearing “A Day in the Life.”

And yet the NBA asks the media to do that every year at this time. It asks the designated experts to select the league MVP at the end of the regular season, even though their work is incomplete.

Ballots have been turned in for the NBA’s plethora of regular-season awards — before the most important portion of the season even starts (for the record, I don’t have a vote, just an opinion).

In this regard, the NBA is no different from any other sport. All the major sports vote for MVP awards based solely on the regular season and then have additional awards for the postseason.

And in other sports, this make sense. Take baseball, for example, where a player will get four or five chances a game to prove himself. The postseason offers a small sample size, one that can skew the results beyond normalcy.

There’s a reason the roster of World Series MVPs reads like a list of “Who?” There’s Pat Borders and Ray Knight and Rick Dempsey. There’s Bucky Dent and Donn Clendenon and Larry Sherry. There’s a host of players who happened to get hot for a week and put their stamp on a series, because that’s the way baseball works.

But basketball? Basketball is different. The typical team gets roughly 90 possessions per game, and an elite player is going to touch the ball on most of those. With only 10 players on the floor, the premier player has a better chance of asserting his will on a play, a game, a series.

Because of that, the cream rises to the top, and the postseason reveals who truly is the best player. Since they started handing out the NBA Finals MVP in 1969, not a single Pat Borders has won the award.

It’s not that the Finals MVP would always be the MVP for the season. It’s just that the postseason should be a factor in the voting. It should be taken into consideration when determining who has been the league’s Alpha Dog for a given season. Otherwise, the regular-season award is subject to ridicule.

Take 1997, when Karl Malone edged Michael Jordan for the MVP in a misguided career-achievement vote. After Malone’s Jazz met Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals, that vote looked utterly preposterous.

There are other examples, as well. In 1995, David Robinson won the MVP and then was obliterated by Hakeem Olajuwon in the playoffs. Would the playoffs have altered the MVP vote? We don’t know, but the postseason gave us a clearer picture of who was the best player.

All of which is particularly relevant this year. LeBron James has been the best player during the regular season, but until he demonstrates that he can assert himself at the most important moments, it is short-sighted to proclaim him the best player.

If LeBron shrinks from the pressure as he did in last year’s Finals, can you really say that he’s the one guy on the planet you would most want on your team right now? Of course not.

LeBron might be more Verbal Kint than Keyser Soze. And it doesn’t make sense to choose an MVP until we know who is who.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531 or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To “Like” him on Facebook, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian.”