Three years later, Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks won the first Most Valuable Player award.
Later, the NBA either created or sanctioned awards honoring the best coach, executive, sixth man, defensive player, most improved player and even the best citizen .
There has been one significant oversight, and perhaps in this lockout-shortened season it would be a good time to add a new award. If you are going to recognize the top overall player and ones who excel at specialties, why not reward the best offensive player in the league with the Offensive Player of the Year award?
Perhaps a case could be made that the lack of such an award was not an oversight. There were times in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when the league was criticized for wild and crazy shooters, selfish players and ones who cared only about statistics. Perhaps some of the criticism fit, but much of it was ignorant like most generalizations are. Successful teams certainly featured players who played the game the right way.
There are always going to be self-centered players, although they usually don’t last long, particularly in this era when coaching has become so sophisticated. Coaches have become so demanding that if someone isn’t playing the game correctly on offense or defense, he sits.
And the players, even though they enter the league younger than in the past, are enormously talented and athletically gifted. Between the effort demanded by coaches and the athletic skills possessed by players, the game is played as well if not better than it’s ever been played. I liked the good old days as much as any but, please, these guys are at a different, more advanced level.
So if someone plays the best offense of anyone in the league, why not reward him?
Consider last season. Derrick Rose was the MVP and deservedly so. Kevin Durant finished only fifth in MVP voting, but he led the league in scoring at 27.7 per game. LeBron James finished third in MVP voting, was second in scoring at 26.7, but had a better shooting percentage than Durant — .510 to .462.
Let the argument begin.
Implementing the Offensive Player of the Year award would also set up the NBA’s own version of the triple crown. Dwight Howard finished second in MVP voting last season and won the Defensive Player of the Year award. But he also averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and shot .593 from the field. He would have had a strong case for being Offensive Player of the Year.
If such an award had existed in the past, players who were MVP and DPOY – Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson – would have had a chance for a triple crown.
While the league is, I’m sure, considering this suggestion, it should also follow through on remarks made by David Stern last spring. Stern said that he would consider including playoffs in award voting. That has been suggested in the past, but obviously the idea carries more weight when the commissioner addresses it.
Here’s a thought. What about voting after the first three rounds of the playoffs? By that time, value has been established. The Finals has its own MVP anyway.
There is usually a break of several days between the conference finals and the Finals. Two days before the championship series begins, the winners of all the awards could be brought to the site of Game 1 of the Finals for the announcement and a press conference. The next day, the Finals participants would have media availability to promote the championship series. With the Finals starting the next day, that would make three days of excellent publicity for the league, its top players and two best teams.
Regardless of when awards voting is held, it is evident the league needs to include more than the regular season. That was evident in 2007 when Dirk Nowitzki won the award after the Mavericks won 67 games but lost in the first playoff round to eighth-seeded Golden State. Nowitzki felt uncomfortable when he received the award after the Mavericks had been eliminated.
The only awards that regularly have competition from players on non-playoff teams are Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player. The MVP, DPOY and Sixth Man awards almost always are won by players from playoff teams. There has been no MVP from a losing team since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won it in 1975-76. He was the second player to do that after Pettit in the first year of the award.
There hasn’t been a new award added by the league since 1985-86 when the first Most Improved Player award was presented. You could make the case that most of the awards go to players who perform on offense – the rookie, sixth man and most improved. Why not single out and reward the player who is the most accomplished offensive player every year?
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.