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Harbingers of fate

Award-winners, stat leaders foretell team success

Posted: Tuesday January 31, 2006 1:34PM; Updated: Thursday February 2, 2006 5:21PM
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Despite the sterling start to Ben Wallace and the Pistons' season, no player has won the Defensive Player of the Year and the NBA title in the same year since 1994.
Despite the sterling start to Ben Wallace and the Pistons' season, no player has won the Defensive Player of the Year and the NBA title in the same year since 1994.
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA gives out a host of awards each season for individual player accomplishment, the most notable of course being the MVP. But there's also the defensive player of the year, the rookie of the year, sixth man and "most improved" (since 1985-86).

That these awards are determined by voting rather than pure hard facts (just the stats, please) makes for the type of bias in which voters may likely look favorably on a player who plays on a winning team or one that overachieves versus a losing one.

In contrast, statistical titles, those for the leading scorer, leading rebounder, passer and shot blocker among others are all essentially objective. And though they may not carry the cachet of the honors rewarded with hardware, in some cases they are just as important to team success. Thanks to the Basketball-Reference.com's neatly organized list of past winners we can crunch the numbers:

Team Performance for Award winners, 1982-83 to 2004-05
Award Avg. wins Avg. finish Titles Runner-up Conf. Finalist 2nd Round Playoffs
MVP 62 2.2 48% 70% 83% 100% 100%
Sixth Man 54 5.6 17% 26% 35% 65% 96%
Defensive Player of the Year 52 4.7 13% 26% 48% 74% 100%
Leading Scorer 51 6.0 30% 39% 48% 70% 91%
Leading Passer 51 7.0 9% 22% 39% 61% 87%
Leading Rebounder 50 8.1 17% 22% 39% 43% 83%
Leading Shot Blocker 42 11.1 0% 4% 4% 39% 74%
Most Improved* 40 14.1 0% 5% 21% 21% 53%
Rookie of the Year 34 17.7 0% 0% 0% 13% 39%
*most improved first awarded in 1985-86
** finish is graded as 3 for a losing conference finalist, 5 for a second round loser, and 9 for a first round loser

Not surprisingly, the MVP has often gone to a player whose team ended up winning the NBA title 11 times in the last 23 seasons and no MVP led team has been knocked out before the second round.

Oddly, the Sixth Man Award also has been a pretty good harbinger for team success, thanks largely to a strong run back in the 1980s -- Bobby Jones/ Kevin McHale/McHale/Bill Walton all won the award with teams that won 60+ games and, as a group, collected three titles in four years. Toni Kukoc also helped the group's cause by collecting the award in Chicago's 72-win title campaign in 1995-96. Lately, though, the Sixth Man honor has been less indicative of success, with only one winner's team making it past the second round in since Kukoc's Bulls.

Leading passers and rebounders have been good for their teams in general, but have few titles to their credit. Dennis Rodman won three titles with the Bulls as the league's top board man while Moses Malone earned one in 1982-83 with the Sixers.

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