Melo for MVP?

Posted on December 9, 2009 by

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Carmelo Anthony got off to a very fast start this season.  His performance across his first two games led Henry Abbott – of TrueHoop – to post the following: Carmelo Anthony’s trainer on his MVP-caliber client.  Abbott’s interview with Melo’s trainer explained how Anthony’s game has changed and why he was the league’s MVP (in the view of his trainer). 

The words MVP and Carmelo once again were heard when Melo scored 50 points – including two clinching free throws — against the New York Knicks towards the end of November.   After this game, Chauncey Billups – the starting point guard on the Denver Nuggets – noted the following: “‘Melo is one of the best players in the world. If you’ve got him going like that, then you’ve got to ride him.”

Anthony entered the league in 2003.  Across his first six seasons he has not exactly been part of the MVP conversations.  Last season he received no votes for the award.  And in 2007-08 he only received one 4th place vote – and this was his best career finish.

This season, though, seems different.  Melo currently leads the NBA in scoring.  And the Nuggets – as Table One reports – currently ranks 3rd in the NBA in efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  In fact, Denver is one of only three teams (after Boston and the LA Lakers) who are on pace to win 60 games this season. 

Table One: Efficiency Differentials after 25% of the 2009-10 Season

There are two factors that appear to dominate voting for the MVP award: Scoring and Team Wins.  Since Melo leads in scoring – and he plays for one of the league’s top teams – he must be part of the conversation. Right?

Well, maybe not.  For Melo to be MVP in 2009-10 he should – at the very least – be clearly better than LeBron James (the 2009 MVP).  We know Carmelo is scoring more points.   And as Table One reports, the Nuggets are doing better than the Cavaliers (a story for another day).  So in terms of scoring and team wins, Anthony is the better player.  But when we look at all the individual statistics – reported in Table Two – we see that King James is clearly doing more than Melo this season.

Table Two: Comparing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2009-10

The key differences can be seen with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, and assists.  When we turn to Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] we can see the size of the difference.  As of the games played on December 8, LeBron has posted a 0.396 WP48 and is on pace to produce 25.4 wins.  Meanwhile, Melo is posting a 0.188 WP48 – and if this performance continues – will produce 10.4 wins by the time the season ends.  Yes, Anthony is above average.  But when we look at everything it’s clear that King James is still King (at least in a kingdom of James and Anthony).

Okay, what if we shift our focus to the Nuggets?  Denver currently is posting a 7.36 efficiency differential.  If this mark continues it will be the best the Nuggets have ever done as an NBA team.  So the Nuggets – who reached the conference finals last season – have clearly improved.  But can we attribute this change to Melo?

For an answer we turn to Table Three (wow, three tables in one post).

Table Three: The Denver Nuggets in 2009-10 After 22 Games

Table Three reports what Denver’s players have done this season.  It also reports what the Nuggets could have expected given what their players did in 2008-09.  As one can see, Denver has improved by about seven wins.   Most of this improvement can be tied to the play of Nene Hilario.  Although Hilario is scoring less (due to declines in shot attempts and shooting efficiency), he has improved with respect to rebounds, steals, assists, turnovers, and personal fouls.   And this means Hilario is on pace to produce about five more wins than his performance last year would suggest. 

Not only is Hilario the most improved on this team, he is currently leading the Nuggets in Wins Produced.  Second on the team – although just barely – is Chauncey Billups.  And that means, Melo – the player some think is the best player in the league (and the player Billups thinks is one of the best in the world) – is currently only third on the Nuggets in Wins Produced. 

So is Melo MVP?  If we define this award in terms of scoring and team wins, Anthony has a case.  But if we define this in terms of a player’s contribution to wins, Anthony isn’t even MVP on his own team.

Let me close by noting the play of Ty Lawson.  Currently Lawson is posting a 0.189 WP48 and is on pace to 6.9 wins.   Such production surpasses what we see from Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings (yes, Jennings had dropped off quite a bit), and Jrue Holiday (all point guards taken before Lawson).  But all of this is also a story for another day.

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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