Monday, November 23, 2015

NBA MVPs by Decade

Earlier this week I posted how Centers have dominated the MVP race, with nearly half of the total MVP awards going to Centers.

The following chart shows the MVP winners by decade, color-coded by position. You can see that Centers won the MVP for 16 straight years, from the 64-65 season straight through to the 79-80 season. And if a Center had won instead of Oscar Robinson in the 63-64 season and another in the 80-81 season instead of Dr. J, Centers would have won the award for 24 years in a row!



But it's been 15 years since the last Center won the MVP (Shaq), and 24 out of the 27 Centers who were named MVP won the award prior to the 82-83 season.

Is it because the 60s and 70s were witness to a few transcendent players who happened to be Centers (Wilt, Russell and Kareem)? That was my initial thought, but even in those years where one of those three didn't win, the winner was still another Center: Unseld, Reed, Cowens, McAdoo, Walton, or Moses.

One could look at it the other way, that the reasons Centers didn't keep on winning after the early 80s is because of the introduction of truly transcendent players at other positions: Larry, Magic and MJ being the main three.

Then there is changes to the style of play. Today's game is obviously one that minimizes the impact of a traditional Center. But that doesn't explain the lack of Centers in the 2000s.

My guess is that it's a combination of the above. Arguably, each position should have an equal chance at winning the award. The reason for the dominance of Centers in the first half of the League's history is due in part to the style of play but also to the fact that 3 of the top 5 Centers of All Time were playing. In the 80s and 90s we see a return to the mean with Centers winning 25% of the MVPs. The 2000s and beyond, with more backcourt-friendly rules and an emphasis on slash and kick-style offenses with long range shooting has diminished the impact of Centers on both ends of the court.

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