Long-shot MVP? Bet on Ricky.

Ethan Strauss is the best in the [NBA writing/tweeting] business at provoking strong reactions with what can seem like crazy, “contrarian” takes on pro basketball issues. (I say “seem like” because ESS almost always explains what he means with nuance that can elude the more passionate/less detail-oriented readers.  When he’s trashing Kobe Bryant, I sometimes find myself in that camp of spazzes.  When the victim is Rajon Rondo, I happily nod in agreement.)  Today, he posited that the best “long shot” MVP candidate for basketball bettors is Andre Iguodala.  He didn’t say that Iggy will win MVP, or even that he thinks he has a good chance at it or would ever deserve it.  Just that, “[a]mong fool’s bets, Iguodala for MVP is wisest.” The thinking goes something like this: Denver has a chance to win a ton of regular season games (some predict upwards of 60), that MVP voters sometimes use a “This team won more games that they were supposed to, so [Player X] deserves the credit!” logic (Steve Nash cited as an example), and that Iggy should see a scoring/production bump as he transitions from Doug Collins to George Karl, a shift that would be akin to a McDonald’s All-American transferring from Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers to Kentucky or North Carolina.

Still, even if you’re talking long-shots, that’s crazy isn’t it?  I mean, Iggy has played eight years in the NBA, made only one All-Star Team (2011), and made ZERO All-NBA Teams.  The team he joins would’ve been expected to make the playoffs, Iggy or not, and they’ve been universally considered a “team’s team” with more credit going to the coach than any individual player.  Furthermore, Iggy’s points per game (a stat overrated by many, but certainly a factor in a wing player’s MVP candidacy) has dropped in each of the past four seasons, (probably) bottoming out last year at a measly 12.4.  Even assuming a numbers bump in George Karl’s uptempo system, an Iggy MVP seems as unlikely (or even more) than the 125:1 odds that Strauss found when preparing his piece.

But I appreciate the bold proposition, so I’ll see Strauss’s Andre Iggy and raise him one Ricard Rubio.  Ricky averaged 10.6 points per game on 35.7 percent shooting in his rookie year.  His win shares per 48 and PER were both slightly below average.  Worst of all, he tore multiple ligaments in his knee, including the all-important ACL, on March 9, 2012.  The injury leaves Rubio disabled from playing basketball on an ongoing basis, possibly until early 2013.

So why in the world would anybody bet on Ricky Rubio to win the MVP Award?  Two reasons.  The first is very simple: The odds are ridiculously low.  According to one website I found (I apologize if this is not credible, I don’t gamble and this was what I found on a Google search) you can get 500:1 odds on Ricky winning MVP.  If you choose Ricky and he wins (he won’t, but just go with it) your $20 bill become a briefcase (or small bag, at least) full of Benjamins.

The second reason is best phrased as a question: What if the Wolves start out really bad, and come on really strong after Rubio returns?  Last season, they were 21-20 with Ricky in the lineup, a winning percentage of .512.  Without him, they went 5-20, a pathetic .200.  The difference when extrapolated out to 82 games is 42 wins with Ricky, only 16 without him.  In other words, enormous.  Perhaps only LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland showed a more drastic and instant drop in team quality due to a single player’s absence.  With that in mind, what if the Wolves start slow this year… not 16-win pace slow (they’ve added too much veteran talent for the season to begin with disaster), but something like an 11-16 record on New Year’s, when Ricky comes back.  That’s a winning percentage of .407.  If Ricky came back and the team saw the same difference with him as last year (about .300) they’d go on a 39-16 tear and finish the year with 50 wins.  If that type of turnaround correlated directly with Ricky’s Return, one year after his injury derailed a promising Wolves season, could he win a fluke MVP Award?

He’d certainly need some statistical support to gather enough votes.  11 points and 8 assists won’t get it done — at least not without better shooting percentages or an unusual number of steals.  Something to get his advanced stats running hotter than last year.  But like Strauss says, “[i]n MVP races, story sometimes trumps logic.” How would the Rubio Story be told?  I’ll let Rick Adelman answer that:

You just know what he meant to us last year. I’m still in shock how much it affected our team when he went down. He created an atmosphere around our team that gave everybody a belief that they had the chance to win, no matter who we play or where we play.

There it is.  Will Ricky win MVP?  Nah.  But if I’m betting $10, I’ll take 500:1 on this story over the rest.



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