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by Ben Leibowitz
Discussing the NBA MVP race is a moot conversation at this point. Everyone knew Stephen Curry would be awarded that honor for the second straight year by the season's midway point. After all, the guy unleashed the most soul-crushing offensive season in league history while leading the Golden State Warriors to a record 73 wins.
There are still plenty of other elite players who made the 2015-16 season a glorious culmination of talent, however. How they shake out behind Curry in the hierarchy of top-tier players is a worthy topic of discussion.
PointAfter created a metric called Player Value Index (PVI) to measure the importance of each NBA player to their team's success. The sports visualization site, part of the Graphiq network, incorporated the following statistics into the PVI formula: Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), box plus-minus (BPM), win shares and usage rate.
These statistics are all at the forefront of the NBA sabermetrics movement, and are widely used in measuring a player's efficiency and/or value to his team. In creating PVI, PointAfter aims to combine the strengths of other stats (PER measuring efficiency, usage rate measuring raw use in offense, win shares taking team success into account) to create one holistic number.
You probably won't be surprised which player PVI pinpoints as the NBA MVP. However, it might spark some conversation about underrated players who deserve to be in the conversation for All-NBA teams.
[ Check out the Least Valuable Players in the NBA this Season ]
#30. Kyrie Irving
Player Value Index: 96.6
Irving's shooting stroke was off all season, which contributes to his stock being lower than it was at the end of 2014-15. But he's rounded into form through the first round of the postseason and appears primed to mature into Cleveland's second consistent option on offense. He's not second banana by much, though -- Kevin Love was ranked No. 31 by PVI.
#29. Brook Lopez
Player Value Index: 97.6
If a player puts up a quality season for the Nets but no one's around to watch it, does it matter? Lopez was rock solid for Brooklyn as the only foundational piece for the franchise with the worst future outlook in the league.
#28. Al Horford
Player Value Index: 99.9
Horford increased his range to the three-point line this season ahead of his pending free agency. He isn't the elite rebounder or rim protector that most expect big men to be, but the 29-year-old is a smart passer and versatile defender who'll undoubtedly fetch a max contract offer on the open market this summer.
#27. Dwyane Wade
Player Value Index: 99.9
D-Wade posted the worst true shooting percentage (51.7%) of his career this season. It appears as though he can no longer carry a team deep in the postseason as its main scorer, but you have to wonder what the Heat could accomplish if Chris Bosh stayed healthy.
#26. Hassan Whiteside
Player Value Index: 99.9
Whiteside's reputation as a guy who hunts blocks at the detriment of Miami's defense was only perpetuated further in 2015-16, his first full season in the NBA. He still can't distribute to his teammates from the post, either. But the 26-year-old is still a helluva presence down low, and erased the concerns of any remaining doubters who thought he couldn't sustain his production over a full 82-game grind.
#25. Gordon Hayward
Player Value Index: 102.4
It's a shame the Jazz couldn't squeeze out a playoff berth, because Hayward's play merited it. He's easily one of the most underrated wings in the NBA, but he needs to lead Utah to the postseason to get the respect he deserves from the average fan.
#24. Karl-Anthony Towns
Player Value Index: 103.4
People around the sport knew Towns was going to be great. But he likely surprised even the most optimistic of observers by instantly becoming a double-double machine for Minnesota. The former Kentucky Wildcat burst right through the rookie wall and played all 82 games for the Timberwolves, whose future looks bright with Towns as a piece for new president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau to build around.
#23. Reggie Jackson
Player Value Index: 103.8
In Jackson's first full season out of Russell Westbrook's shadow, he acquitted himself extremely well and graded out as Detroit's most valuable player by PVI. Yep, even more so than Andre Drummond.
Jackson quietly improved his shooting from downtown nearly eight percentage points to a career high 35.3 percent, giving defenders pause who want to skirt under Jackson/Drummond pick-and-rolls.
#22. Pau Gasol
Player Value Index: 103.8
Gasol was rock solid in his age-35 season for Chicago, but it appears he's headed for greener pastures this offseason after the Bulls crumbled around him. With the Spainard's penchant for passing and high basketball IQ, he'd be a perfect fit for San Antonio.
#21. LaMarcus Aldridge
Player Value Index: 104.6
It took a little while for Aldridge to adjust to his new surroundings in San Antonio, but he warmed up as the season went on and posted a career-high true shooting percentage (56.5).
#20. John Wall
Player Value Index: 105.9
The only major piece the Wizards lost last offseason was Paul Pierce, and they essentially replaced him with Jared Dudley and a mid-season trade for Markieff Morris. Nevertheless, Washington cratered to a disappointing 40-42 record and missed the playoffs.
Wall's production was virtually identical to 2014-15, if not better, but his lack of outside range has become more of an issue as three-point shooting is emphasized more with each passing year. Can a new coach help maximize both Wall's and Washington's potential?
#19. Carmelo Anthony
Player Value Index: 106.4
How much time does Anthony have left as a top-tier NBA scorer? He finished 13th in scoring (21.8 points per game) this year, and turns 32 this offseason.
#18. Jimmy Butler
Player Value Index: 107.4
Derrick Rose gets all the flak in Chicago for being injury-prone, but Butler hasn't played more than 67 games since 2012-13. His 15-game absence could have been the difference between the Bulls qualifying for the playoffs and crashing to ninth place in the East.
#17. Draymond Green
Player Value Index: 107.7
Klay Thompson might be tagged as the second Splash Brother in Golden State, but Green is the second-most valuable cog in the Warriors' ruthless machine. He's a two-way jackknife who's perfect for the modern NBA game, dishing out assists from all over the floor and defending 1-to-5 on the other end.
#16. Anthony Davis
Player Value Index: 109.9
Maybe it's time to hold off on anointing Davis as a future MVP. The Brow took a step back in his fourth season as the Pelicans slipped to a 30-52 record. Then again, maybe the pesky torn labrum that he's played through for years finally got to him this season. We should get a much more accurate barometer of Davis' potential next year.
#15. DeMar DeRozan
Player Value Index: 110.9
DeRozan might not fit the mold of the ideal offensive star from a sabermetric standpoint, but he was the best second banana in the NBA this season alongside Kyle Lowry. He's a 6-foot-7 wing who can create his own shot, gets to the line (where he shoots 85 percent) and competes on defense.
#14. Kemba Walker
Player Value Index: 115
Walker was arguably the most improved star of the season, guiding Charlotte to a 47-win campaign behind an improved jumper. He has a legitimate shot to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team next year.
#13. Paul Millsap
Player Value Index: 115.2
Millsap's league-wide profile is rising, thanks to his all-around versatility and ascension to being the face of the Hawks. But the disruptive defender is still underrated by the casual fan.
#12. Isaiah Thomas
Player Value Index: 116.2
The first-time All-Star proved he could be the offensive focal point of a playoff team. Think Phoenix and Sacramento regret trading him yet?
#11. DeMarcus Cousins
Player Value Index: 118.8
Six years into his professional career, Cousins still hasn't come close to tasting postseason play. Sacramento's eternal dysfunction is mostly to blame for that, but Boogie isn't the type of big man to facilitate out of the post and make his teammates better (league-high 35.4 usage rate).
#10. Damian Lillard
Player Value Index: 122
Who would have imagined the Blazers would be the No. 5 seed in the West this season after finishing with the sixth-best record in the conference last year with LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum still on the roster? It took a herculean effort from Lillard and new backcourt running mate C.J. McCollum to get it done. Barring injury or a drastic decline, there's no chance Lillard goes unrecognized as an All-Star again next season.
#9. Paul George
Player Value Index: 123.1
George burst out of the gates with a monstrous autumn to thrust himself into the outskirts of the MVP race early on. He faded a bit come springtime, but showed in Indiana's first-round matchup against Toronto that he can near carry a team to victory against a 56-win squad. If the Pacers get him a worthy supporting cast, as he had with Roy Hibbert and David West several years ago, Indiana could easily return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
#8. Kyle Lowry
Player Value Index: 130
Lowry led Toronto to its best record in franchise history (56-26), a mere game behind the Cavaliers. He's the face of a team on the rise, embodying the bulldog-like approach the Raptors hope to emulate.
#7. Chris Paul
Player Value Index: 139.6
With Blake Griffin injured for much of the second half, Chris Paul stepped up his impact on the Clippers and carried them to a top-four seed in the West. CP3's value was demonstrated in the playoffs after he broke his hand. LA quickly bowed out to Portland in the first round without their floor general running the show on offense and providing tough defense on Damian Lillard.
#6. Kawhi Leonard
Player Value Index: 140.2
If there's any player PVI is underestimating in terms of per-minute impact on the court, it's probably Kawhi Leonard. He plays fewer minutes than his fellow MVP contenders, hurting his raw offensive output for statistics like VORP, and his defensive chops aren't entirely accounted for by PER -- both stats in the PVI formula.
#5. James Harden
Player Value Index: 150.8
Harden was the clear-cut runner-up for MVP in 2014-15, but a stunning collapse from Houston coincided with the return of Harden's infamously lackadaisical defense and a slight decrease in efficiency on offense.
#4. Kevin Durant
Player Value Index: 153.4
Durant no longer controls games like he did a couple years ago during his MVP campaign, largely because Russell Westbrook has grown into a larger role. But he's undoubtedly still a superstar who can carry a team by himself when given the chance. Will he elect to leave the Thunder this offseason to do so without Westbrook at his side?
#3. LeBron James
Player Value Index: 158.5
It's finally, definitively happened. You can no longer say LeBron James is the best player in the NBA without drawing quizzical looks from your friends. That's partially due to the meteoric rise of Stephen Curry, but it's also because King James' jumper isn't what it used to be. His three-point percentage has steadily declined from 40.6 percent in 2012-13 with Miami to a below-average 30.9 percent this season in Cleveland.
#2. Russell Westbrook
Player Value Index: 163.7
Westbrook's relentless energy and athleticism makes him the most explosive, versatile guard in the game. His 18 triple-doubles tied Magic Johnson (1981-82) for the most in a season over the last 40 years.
Though Kevin Durant is the only guy in OKC with an MVP on his mantle, Westbrook has surpassed him in terms of on-court value for the Thunder. That's largely because he has the ball in his hands so often. Westbrook's usage rate of 33.1 percent trumps Durant's 30.6 percent, and he averaged double-digit assists for the first time in 2015-16.
#1. Stephen Curry
Player Value Index: 186.5
Was there ever any doubt? Curry's ceiling is seemingly limitless. We'll all be spellbound to see what he does as an encore in 2016-17.
Article: Courtesy Point After
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