What MVP really means has been a debate for as long as my 20-something self can remember. Is it the best player in the league? Is it the best player on the best team? Just how much do statistics factor into voting? What about boredom, bias, and anonymity from voters? It seems like the importance of each question weighs more or less depending on the season.
So it may or may not be surprising that, since 1996, only two players (Tim Duncan in 2002 and Kevin Garnett in 2004) have been the MVP and the highest-ranked in fantasy basketball in the same season, according to RotoMonster, especially when what only matters in fantasy leagues are statistics. A player can be as big of a jerk to the media as he wants and be the best as many seasons prior to the current one, but he’ll always have a chance to be the best player in fantasy basketball because no votes are taken into account. It’s just stats, though doing anything resulting in a suspension would cause a dip in fantasy value.
There are seasons worth discussing though when the MVP in real and fantasy basketball weren’t the same player, such as 1997 when Karl Malone hijacked the MVP from Michael Jordan. Had Jordan won, he would’ve repeated as both MVP and the best in fantasy basketball’s 9-category and 8-category leagues. Ironically, Malone would be the best in fantasy basketball one year later while Jordan would be the ‘98 MVP.
Then fast forward to the mid-2000s. I already wrote about Shawn Marion dominating from 2005 to 2007 even though he wasn’t the best player on his own team. Then Chris Paul’s fantasy basketball dominance came along in 2008, which is another weird season where a fair, even more logical case can be made for him winning the MVP over Kobe Bryant. Paul had one more year at the top of fantasy basketball before Kevin Durant took over, including one of the best statistical seasons of all-time in 2013. LeBron James would be second-best but they nearly flip-flopped when it came to MVP voting and rightfully so (Carmelo Anthony did receive one vote but whatever).
Some MVPs just aren’t made for fantasy basketball, no matter the season. Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson were often risky picks because of their durability and shooting percentages, whether it was free throws for Shaq or field goals for Iverson. It’s pretty remarkable just how much Shaq’s free throws weighed him down. Even going by per-game stats, Shaq was only a top ten fantasy option once (1994), though a clever owner could work around free throw percentage by punting that entire category, which was basically required in order to draft him.
It’s also worth noting that the best overall player in fantasy basketball doesn’t necessarily mean the best player in every fantasy basketball league. If each league voted for MVP the same way the media votes for theirs, there would be at least 25 different winners when taking every fantasy league into account. Heck, if I win my league, either Paul Millsap or David Lee has my vote. Meanwhile, Durant is on a team where the owner has tuned out, evident by his or her lineups never being set. Not only that, but Yao Ming is starting. (I wasted my first two picks on Jason Collins and Allen Iverson though, so I can’t say much.)
But you have to believe that fantasy leagues where money for the winner or crazy punishments for the losers will lead to the best overall fantasy basketball player making the biggest difference. It’s also possible that the winner of a Most Improved Fantasy Basketball Player award, if it ever existed, could swing a team’s fortunes as well.
So far, this season’s a different kind of beast where Durant is competing with Kevin Love, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis for the most valuable fantasy basketball player. In real life, the Heat aren’t as big of a story as in the past, which opens the door for a different MVP on the real hardwood as well, even if it’s clear that LeBron’s the best player in the world.
The drought may continue concerning 10 straight seasons where MVPs in both real and fantasy basketball haven’t been the same player, but it wouldn’t be a travesty if LeBron were the MVP yet is second-best on the virtual courts yet again. And really, it’s not even an issue. None of this isn’t meant to change how an MVP is voted for either, though anonymous voting really needs to end. But hopefully it makes for some weird, nerdy discussions, especially when the opportunity is there for the drought to end.
All fantasy basketball stats and rankings are from RotoMonster.