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A Performance Fit for An MVP

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

On the night when he received the award, Kevin Durant looked every bit the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. He put together a dominant 32 point, 12 rebound, nine assist performance coupled, of course, with a resounding 112-101 win for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

USA Today’s Sam Amick put it simply:

“It was fitting enough that Durant looked so deserving of the MVP trophy that he received before the game”

Durant’s Game Score of 27.3 was a 2014 playoff-high, would fall top-30 among all games this season and was a tick higher than the 24.9 Durant averaged this season. This got me thinking, what’s the history of MVP performances on the night a player is crowned MVP? Did past MVPs dominate the court and so obviously lay claims to the MVP trophy like Durant did last night?

You may be surprised to find that while Durant has some peers, the majority of MVPs perform below standards on their MVP night:

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Looking at the past ten MVP recipients (starting with Kevin Garnett in 2003-04), Durant finished fourth with an increase of 2.4 compared with his yearly Game Score average. You’re probably asking, wait, 03-04, that’s not Ten MVPs~! You fool. Well, ONE MVP wasn’t able to play on the day he received the award. I’m sorry to do this to a great colleague like Bobby but, yeah, it was Dirk who was sitting at home when he accepted his MVP award in 06-07.

LeBron James tops the list with a +7.4 thanks to a 34 point, 10 rebound, 4 assist, 3 steal, 31.7 Game Score domination of the Atlanta Hawks in 08-09. James also takes the third spot with a +3.5 performance two years ago in a great individual performance but ultimately a Heat loss against the Indiana Pacers.

Kobe Bryant slips in between LeBron with the second spot on the list with a +5.2 in 07-08. We’ll take a look at the full list in a bit but I just know you can’t wait to find out who the duds were, who completely choked on their MVP night.

I initially came in thinking Steve Nash or Derrick Rose were good choices but believe it or not, Garnett gives us our biggest stinker with a 10.1 Game Score performance in 03-04, a 12.1 decrease from his yearly average.

Following Garnett is LeBron during his infamous playoff run of 09-10 who saw a 7.4 decrease from his yearly average. Derrick Rose and Steve Nash (x2) confirmed my belief with a few dud performances. Ironically, on the night of Nash’s biggest decrease (04-05), his Phoenix Suns still won by 25 points. Go figure. The Suns aren’t alone though as the MVP’s team were 5-5 on MVP night.

Durant does have one distinction all to his own, as his performance is the biggest playoff Game Score increase (+8), whereas Garnett again is the worst with -9.2, here’s how the others stack up:

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As promised here’s the full list of MVP Night performances sorted by difference:

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Durant’s performance may have solidified his distinction as the NBA’s MVP, but don’t think it’s a common occurrence. Durant is in the minority of recent MVPs to perform better than average on MVP night. I’m sure Durant is hoping to be in another minority — only two of the last 10 MVPs have went on to win the NBA title.

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