by Evan Bruner
Reigning MVP Joel Embiid finds himself in a precarious position. He’s averaging 35.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. In a career that has been filled with incredible performances and top-to-bottom seasons, this campaign is perhaps his best work of all. Yet, Embiid is now a long shot to win the MVP according to oddsmakers, and is in danger of not being eligible for the award. This is due to the NBA’s new 65-game rule, which states a player must play in at least 65 games to be eligible for end-of-season awards.
Superficially speaking, this rule is sensible, even warranted. Far too often, stars sit out games, and any incentive to get them to play more frequently would be worth exploring. However, this rule creates a slippery slope. A player who plays in 66 games is fully eligible for every honor and end-of-season award, but one who participates in 64 isn’t.
Ideally, voters would account for games played in their voting process, rendering any policy on the NBA’s end unnecessary. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. This is largely due to the NBA’s obsession with per-game statistics. While most sports rely on cumulative stats to assess performance, the NBA largely neglects them in favor of per-contest metrics. Nearly everything points, rebounds, assists, etc, are evaluated on a per-game level.
The issue with such statistics is they tell little about a player’s value, especially considering the variability in games played. If a player leads the league in points per game but is seventh in total points scored, it’s more than likely they aren’t the most valuable player. Still, the league insists on keeping per-game numbers at the forefront of basketball discourse. This is where the 65-game rule comes into play. Because the most prevalent stats are unaffected by a player’s absence, the league feels the need to intervene.
However, a more complete understanding of statistics could likely accomplish what the NBA is trying to do. Looking at total numbers would discourage players from missing a large number of games. Voters would reward players who competed in more games, not out of principle, but due to the basic fact that the more games a player plays, the more value they accumulate.
The argument against Embiid’s MVP case shouldn’t be that he needs to play in 65 or more games; it should be that Nikola Jokic in 78 games provides more value than Embiid does in 64, even though Embiid has more per game value. This process wouldn’t disqualify anyone from winning MVP with fewer games; it just makes it harder.
The NBA is currently fighting a losing battle. In an attempt to get more players to buy into the regular season, it’s turning them against their own league. Even if the reasoning behind the rule is fair, it’s a somewhat flawed one that doesn’t fully address the NBA’s issue.
There are numerous things the league can do to attempt to combat load management and avoidable absences, but not all options are created equally. Instead of changing the game or its rules, changing how fans, specifically viewers, change the game may be the most fruitful.