NBA: The Four Different Definitions of MVP, and the obvious solution

Luke Zylstra
3 min readOct 22, 2018


It happens every season. The MVP discussion begins, and the narratives start flying. No one can agree, and each year the exact same arguments are brought up. Let’s solve the debate once and for all.

Definition 1: The Best Player

This one is simple. Who’s the best player in the league? Who would you choose to win one game? Who deserves the highest 2K rating? Who would you draft 1st overall for the season? This is probably what MVP was originally meant to be, but it’s certainly not what it is anymore. If it were, Michael Jordan would’ve had 10–15 MVPs, and LeBron would probably be around 10 right now, too. However, voter fatigue plays a big role in MVP voting, which is why MJ didn’t rattle them off throughout the 90s.

2017–18: LeBron James (Harden)
2016–17: LeBron James (Westbrook)
2015–16: LeBron James (Curry)

Definition 2: Narrative of the Year (aka Most Outstanding Player)

This is the real definition used in the voting. Whose “turn” is it? Who has the narrative throughout the season? This is why Russell Westbrook won it in 2016–17 because he averaged a triple-double, but wasn’t even a finalist it in 2017–18… despite averaging a triple-double again. This season, the candidates for MVP are LeBron, Giannis, AD… that may be it. Harden probably won’t get two in a row. Curry and Durant will split votes. The winner will be whoever can own the narrative. If the award was called “Most Outstanding Player”, this would make sense.

2017–18: James Harden (Harden)
2016–17: Russell Westbrook (Westbrook)
2015–16: Stephen Curry (Curry)

Definition 3: Best Player on Best Team

We haven’t seen this definition used in awhile. Some argue this is the only reason Curry won it over Harden in 2014–15, when the Warriors won 67 games, the first season of their dominant run. Since, this definition hasn’t been overpowering.

2017–18: James Harden (Harden)
2016–17: Kevin Durant (Westbrook)
2015–16: Stephen Curry (Curry)

Definition 4: Most Valuable to his Team

Every season, there’s always that one guy who’s like “Well TECHNICALLY, the most VALUABLE player is Anthony Davis because his teammates are so bad!” The word “Valuable” can throw people off the scent. Obviously, if your team sucks, you’re more valuable to your team. But that’s not the point, okay?

2017–18: LeBron Jamess (Harden)
2016–17: Russell Westbrook (Westbrook)
2015–16: Anthony Davis (Curry)

The Solution

So here’s what we have. The MVP voters have been handing out Most Outstanding Player. When looking back on past seasons, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I do wish there was an award for the best player in the league. Wouldn’t it be cool to look back and see who the writers voted for as the league’ best player each season? So, we need to give out both.

Most Outstanding Player: Winners
2017–18: James Harden
2016–17: Russell Westbrook
2015–16: Stephen Curry

Best NBA Player: Winners
2017–18: LeBron James
2016–17: LeBron James
2015–16: LeBron James

There. Fixed it. @ Adam Silver