Why Can’t Kevin Garnett Win the MVP Again?

1207163071Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: There is nothing more draining than an MVP debate, especially this year in the NBA. LeBron James? I could see it. Kobe? Sure, why not? Chris Paul? He’s having a remarkable season. Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Manu Ginobli? They all are worthy of consideration, but wait, what about the unofficial first-half MVP? The leader of what will likely be the greatest turnaround in the history of the NBA? The best player on the best team in the league? Nah, Kevin Garnett is out.

And so we ask, why is that again?

Before we dive in, let’s make it clear that the purpose of this exercise is not to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that KG should be the MVP, only that there’s not much compelling evidence that he shouldn’t be.

Last week, Bob Ryan wrote a column that both dismissed KG’s candidacy and spelled out exactly why he should be one of the front-runners—his lock-down defense on Stoudemire in the second half of last week’s game against the Suns. That’s been the nature of the debate for the last month. Praise for Garnett, followed by a shoulder-shrug about his chances.

There are two big problems for Garnett. One, he doesn’t have the holy-shit numbers of the others (more on that a bit), but the biggest problem for KG seems to the number nine, as in the number of games he missed with an oblique injury. During that stretch, the Celtics went 7-2, and that apparently caused observers to question whether Garnett was that instrumental to the team’s success.

Let’s look a little closer at that nine-game stretch. While two of their seven wins without Garnett came against the Spurs (who were without Tony Parker) and the Mavs, the other five came against Miami, the Clippers, Minnesota, Indiana, and New York whose collective record is 106-268, not exactly the cream of the NBA’s crop.

By the numbers, LeBron and Paul are having historic seasons, while Kobe is doing his Kobe thing. Garnett is averaging a healthy 19 points and 9.5 rebounds, very good but not overwhelming. But in Boston’s offense, Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce each put up about 14 shots per game, or about 18 percent each of the team’s total.

In LA, Kobe puts up 21 shots (25 percent of LA’s total), while LeBron puts up 27 percent of Cleveland’s shots. Paul is a whole other matter entirely in that he dominates the ball on every possession, a wise strategy as it turns out. So would Garnett be a more viable candidate if he took a few more shots? Maybe. Would the Celtics be better? That’s debatable.

Garnett’s MVP argument obviously doesn’t rest on his offensive numbers. It’s his defensive numbers that are off the charts. Boston’s team defense is the best in the league, and while a lot of that can be attributed to assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, it’s also true that the centerpiece of the defense is Garnett.

Others have attempted to describe the intangible benefit that Garnett brings (i.e. his presence and personality impact the rest of the team’s commitment to defense), but that’s a dangerous game, and we’ll leave it alone in this discussion.

What was fascinating was owner Wyc Grousbeck‘s comments to Dale Arnold and Michael Holley on WEEI that, according to the Celtics’ numbers, Garnett is holding his opponents to field goal percentages 13 percent below the league average. (Link via True Hoop).

Here’s what’s great/maddening about the MVP debate this year: You can make solid arguments for a number of different players. There’s no reason Garnett shouldn’t be one of them.