With the NBA season officially underway, it’s time to revisit last year’s post about the connections between MVPs. To get right to it, here is the updated version of the image at the center of everything:
We see here every player who has won the NBA MVP award. They’re connected if they ever played on the same team, even if they were together before one or both of them had won—so Westbrook and Durant are connected, even though when they were both on the Thunder Westbrook hadn’t won yet. The thickness of the edges—the lines connecting the players—reflects how many years they played together; the color is more or less based on the team they shared.
Two major things have happened since last year’s post. First, Westbrook won the MVP. This means we’re developing a new little cluster over there on the left. The crazy thing is that this would still have been true if the voters had (correctly) given the trophy to the other major contender, James Harden (I’m from Houston), since he was also on the Thunder. He has a reasonable shot at winning it sometime in the next few years, so that little cluster might still grow.
The second major event is that Derrick Rose joined the Cavs, connecting him to LeBron James. I’m proud to report that, unlike virtually everything else I have predicted on this blog, I pretty much correctly called this one: Last year, talking about how the graph might grow more interconnected with time, I said:
Derrick Rose could be a key player here; often these guys start moving around when they’re a little worse, either because of age or, as with Rose, injury.
It was an obvious thing to guess, but so were a lot of things that didn’t pan out. Anyway, with these two events, our overall interconnectedness has grown quite a bit. Last year 22.5% of MVPs were solo artists; this year, we’re down to 18.8%.
What’s next? I still have hope that we can connect the two major clusters. Step one is for Kawhi Leonard to win the MVP; I don’t really want that, since I dislike the Spurs, but he is the favorite in Vegas at the moment. Step two is for someone from the other cluster to switch teams; again, Rose might play a big role here, a Bob McAdoo for our troubled times. And, down the road, who knows what will happen with Westbrook—it’s hard to imagine that guy ever taking fewer than 20 shots a game for an NBA season. Someday he might have to travel to make that work.
Bonus content: Now that I have a big list of the entire careers of MVPs, I can ask hard-hitting questions like, when did the NBA have the most (past or future) MVPs playing at the same time?
Of course, you could also ask when the NBA had the fewest MVPs, but the answer there is dumb: From 1951-1954, Bob Cousy was the only guy in the NBA who would ever win an MVP, in part because the award had not yet been invented. In the modern era—say, 1980, when they introduced threes— there are two answers, both kind of weird. In 1981, there were six (Kareem, McAdoo, Dr. J, Bird, Magic, and Moses), but only because Bill Walton was in the middle of an injury that lasted two entire years. And then in 1994, you also had six (Ancient Moses, Barkley, Karl Malone, Robinson, Olajuwon, and Baby Shaq), but only because Jordan was on his mysterious baseball walkabout.
Anyway, the answer for most at once is 2010, when there were 12 active MVPs. That year LeBron won it for the second time. Back then, every winner of the 00’s was still around, in various states of collapse (Shaq, Iverson, Duncan, Garnett, Nash, Nowitzki, Kobe). And every winner of the 10’s (so far) had just joined the league (Rose, Durant, Curry, Westbrook). LeBron was the pivot.
We’ve had 11 concurrent MVPs a bunch of times: Once in the 80’s, twice in the 90’s, and four times since then. But today, we’re sitting at just 9, with Nowitzki almost certain to retire before we can boost the numbers much. Still, everyone else is either young enough to play another 5-6 years or is LeBron James, so we’ve got a shot to get back up there—and who knows, maybe Rose will join them all.