As the NBA MVP race continues to boil into a soup of hot takes, advanced stats, and not-so-subtle call-outs, it’s important to look at an under-represented factor in the discourse: availability.
With the NBA world on the edge of their seats for the heavyweight matchup of Nikola Jokic vs. Joel Embiid, reports have surfaced that Philadelphia will rest their superstar center, and deny the world a surefire classic game.
While it is absolutely unfair to blame a player for the injuries that can derail their season, Games Played is an important and meaningful stat when discussing how much a player has meant to their team. Players can be held out by medical staffs and team officials, but putting themselves in a position to be available as much as possible is an important and valuable skill.
Excluding shortened seasons (either due to COVID or lockouts), the last NBA MVP to play less than 71 games was Bill Walton in 1977-78. Voters have clearly valued the consistency and durability of players for decades now, and it seems likely this will affect MVP voters in 2023 as well.
When evaluating the three leading candidates, Embiid has played 61 games, and after missing tonight will only be able to reach 69 games played if he plays all remaining contests. Giannis Antetokounmpo can reach a maximum of 67 games played, currently sitting at 59 with eight games remaining for the Bucks. Jokic has already played 66 games and will be able to reach 74 if he plays the eight remaining that Denver has.
While voters do not want the NBA MVP award to be a participation contest, it is important to understand the historical precedent that lies in reaching that crucial 70 games played (85% of the season) mark. Voters have not rewarded those who miss significant amounts of games, and for many, that could be a final tiebreaker for them. A diverse board of 100 people decides on who wins the award, and availability could be the final tally one way or another for any number of those deciding.
Earlier in the month, the NBPA and NBA reportedly reached an agreement on the concept of adding a “games played requirement” for NBA awards, including MVP. This would turn what has been an unwritten rule among voters into an official rule. It should be noted that no official games played” threshold has been reported yet.
While the NBA media continues to argue back and forth on the candidacy of the leading MVP candidates, it is important not to look past the simplest of criteria, showing up. As Jokic looks to continue the Nuggets’ winning streak from the top the Western Conference, Joel Embiid will watch from the sidelines as his Sixers have lost three of their last four with the Cleveland Cavaliers remaining in striking distance behind them. Voters will likely keep today in their minds when they do finally cast their ballots.