The NBA’s Next Great Idea: Offensive Player of the Year

By: 05.28.10  •  37 Comments

Kobe Bryant (photo. Nike)

If there was one standout shot from Kobe Bryant‘s 30-point near triple-double last night, it was the double-clutch jumper he hit off the glass over Goran Dragic after hanging in the air like Dwight Phillips. As TNT’s Doug Collins put it: “A great offensive play by the best offensive player in the NBA.”

Kobe has long been considered the best pure scorer and best clutch performer in the League, but is he the best all-around offensive weapon? It’s tough to argue against Kobe based on this Western Conference Finals series. Through five games, he’s averaging 33.0 points and 9.6 assists, hitting 53 percent from the field, 44 percent from three-point range, and 87 percent from the line.

As the NBA regular season was winding down and LeBron James had the MVP locked up, I began drafting a column (never finished) about how the NBA should create an Offensive Player of the Year award, which would have been a much tougher debate than this year’s MVP.

The NFL gives out Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, both of them separate from the league’s MVP award. Why shouldn’t the NBA follow suit?

As it stands, basketball’s elite defenders have their own award (DPOY), whereas the game’s top offensive players are lumped into the MVP discussion — where their team’s win-loss record holds just as much (if not more) weight than their individual stats. That’s not the case in the NFL. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson and his 2,000-yard rushing season can rightfully win Offensive POY on a team that missed the playoffs, while Peyton Manning can rightfully win MVP on a Super Bowl contending squad that almost went undefeated. The NBA would benefit from a similar model. Remember the great Kobe-vs.-Steve Nash MVP debate of ’06? If Kobe (35.4 ppg, 7th seed in the West) had walked away with OPOY and Nash (18.9 ppg, 10.5 apg, 2nd seed) took home MVP, everybody would’ve been happy.

If the NBA had given out Offensive Player of the Year in 2010, who would have gotten your vote? The top candidates:

* Kevin Durant — 30.2 points per game (led NBA), 47% field goals, 128 three-pointers, 90% free throws, eight games of 40-plus points.

* LeBron James — 29.7 ppg, 8.6 apg, 50% FG, 129 threes, four triple-doubles, nine games of 40-plus points, led NBA with 66.1 “clutch points” per 48 minutes.

* Carmelo Anthony — 28.2 ppg, 45% FG, 83% FT, seven games of 40-plus points, one 50-point game, fourth in NBA with 47.0 clutch points per 48 minutes.

* Kobe Bryant — 27.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 45% FG, 81% FT, eight games of 40-plus points, second in NBA with 51.2 clutch points per 48 minutes.

* Dwyane Wade — 26.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, 47% FG, four games of 40-plus points, third in NBA with 10.0 “clutch assists” per 48 minutes.

* Monta Ellis — 25.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 45% FG, three games of 40-plus points.

* Dirk Nowitzki — 25.0 ppg, 48% FG, 42% 3PA, 91% FT, third in NBA with 47.2 “clutch points” per 48 minutes.

* Steve Nash — 16.5 ppg, 11.0 apg (led NBA), 50% FG, 43% 3PA, 93% FT (led NBA), fifth in NBA with 43.6 clutch points per 48 minutes, led NBA with 13.6 clutch assists per 48 minutes.

When I originally started that OPOY column, I was all set to make my case for Durant. But looking at the numbers more closely, I think Nash, LeBron and Dirk would make up the top three, in some order. Taking team success (mostly) out of the equation, they did the most as far as putting points on the board, getting the job done in crunch time, and simply dominating on the offensive end of the court.

Would the NBA adopt the new award? The MVP, as confusing as its non-specific criteria can be, does make for great arguments and gives TV analysts, bloggers, and basketball writers like myself plenty of easy material to work with. And some people might think creating an OPOY somehow takes away from the tradition of the MVP, although I’d disagree. If anything, I think it provides balance next to the DPOY, and allows MVP an even higher pedestal.

Not to mention a new award creates new arguments, allows the NBA to make a shiny new trophy, gives players something else to shoot for — and perhaps most important to the League right now — represents another sponsorship opportunity.

As far as I’m concerned, the only hard part is figuring out whom to name the trophy after: Jordan, Oscar or Kareem?

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