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Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Should The Utah Jazz Have An MVP Candidate?

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz own the best record in the NBA. At 35-11, the team sits three full games ahead of the Phoenix Suns atop the league with 26 games left to play. With those impressive marks on their resume, should the Jazz have an MVP candidate?

In NBA.com‘s most recent MVP ladder, no Jazz player is mentioned among the league’s 10 most valuable players. Rudy Gobert’s name is listed as an honorable mention, but nowhere near real contention for the award.

As it stands, these are the current MVP front runners according to the league’s website.

  1. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
  4. LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
  6. James Harden – Brooklyn Nets
  7. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
  8. Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers
  9. Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns
  10. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Should The Jazz Have An MVP Candidate?

Barring a miracle rise from either Gobert or Donovan Mitchell to close the year, it appears likely the regular season will end without any Jazz player earning serious contention for the MVP award.

But not only are the Jazz outside of true contention, they are without a real candidate overall.

Looking back at the recent history of the MVP Award, is there a precedent set that says the Jazz should be in more serious contention? History doesn’t only say yes, it also says either Mitchell or Gobert should be the front runner.

Here’s a look back at the league standings dating back to 2000, how that team was represented in the MVP race, and who ultimately won the award that season.

2000: Los Angeles Lakers

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Shaquille O’Neal (1)

Actual MVP: Shaquille O’Neal

2001: San Antonio Spurs

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Tim Duncan (2)

Actual MVP: Allen Iverson (PHI Third)

2002: Sacramento Kings

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Chris Webber (7)

Actual MVP: Tim Duncan (SAS Third)

2003: Dallas Mavericks

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Dirk Nowitzki (7)

Actual MVP: Tim Duncan (SAS Second)

2004: Indiana Pacers

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Jermaine O’Neal (3)

Actual MVP: Kevin Garnett (MIN Second)

2005: Phoenix Suns

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Steve Nash (1)

Actual MVP: Steve Nash

2006: Detroit Pistons

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Chauncey Billups (4)

Actual MVP: Steve Nash (PHX Fourth)

2007: Dallas Mavericks

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Dirk Nowitzki (1)

Actual MVP: Dirk Nowitzki

2008: Boston Celtics

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Kevin Garnett (3) Actual

MVP: Kobe Bryant (LAL Third)

2009: Cleveland Cavaliers

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: LeBron James (1)

Actual MVP: LeBron James

2010: Cleveland Cavaliers

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: LeBron James (1)

Actual MVP: LeBron James

2011: Chicago Bulls

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Derrick Rose (1)

Actual MVP: Derrick Rose

2012: Chicago Bulls/San Antonio Spurs

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Tony Parker (4) Derrick Rose (11)

Actual MVP: LeBron James (MIA Fourth)

2013: Miami Heat

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: LeBron James (1)

Actual MVP: LeBron James

2014: San Antonio Spurs

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Tim Duncan/Tony Parker (12)

Actual MVP: Kevin Durant (OKC Second)

2015: Golden State Warriors

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Steph Curry (1)

Actual MVP: Steph Curry

2016: Golden State Warriors

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Steph Curry (1)

Actual MVP: Steph Curry

2017: Golden State Warriors

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Steph Curry (6)

Actual MVP: Russell Westbrook (OKC Tenth)

2018: Houston Rockets

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: James Harden (1)

Actual MVP: Houston Rockets

2019: Milwaukee Bucks

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1)

Actual MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

2020: Milwaukee Bucks

Best Team’s Highest Ranked MVP Candidate: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1)

Actual MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo

What Does History Tell Us?

With the recent MVP data in hand, the information paints a pretty clear picture.

Over the last 21 seasons, the team with the best record in the NBA has also had the top player on its roster win the MVP award 12 times.

On the 12 occasions that the team with the top record did not also have the MVP award winner, those teams had a player finish in the top five of the MVP voting four times.

There are only three instances in the last 21 seasons of a team finishing with either a share of the top record or the top record outright without having a player finish in the top-10 in MVP voting.

That last occurred in 2014 when the Spurs owned the top record in the league but saw Tony Parker and Tim Duncan earn the 12th most votes in the MVP race.

In 2012, the Bulls shared the top record in the NBA with the SPurs and saw Derrick Rose, the previous season’s MVP Award winner drop to 11th in the voting.

It is also worth noting that only once in the last 21 years has the league’s MVP award been handed to a player whose team did not have one of the four best records in the NBA. That occurred when Russell Westbrook earned the honor in 2017 while the Thunder finished with the 10th best record in the league.

Westbrook was named MVP after becoming the first player in the NBA to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson had done it 55 seasons earlier.

Do The Jazz Deserve An MVP Candidate?

N0w, moving back to the original question, should the Jazz have an MVP candidate? The overwhelming answer is yes, both from a historical precedent, and based on the numbers Jazz players, specifically, Gobert has put up this season.

Based on NBA precedent, either Gobert or Mitchell, both of whom own a claim as the best player on the best team in the league should likely be ranked no worse than the top five in the MVP race. Only five times in the last 21 seasons has the NBA’s best team failed to have a player finish in the top five in MVP voting.

A closer look at Gobert’s numbers makes the argument for a Jazz MVP candidate even clearer. As it stands, Gobert sits atop the NBA.com Defensive Player of the Year ladder, and for good reason.

The Jazz center ranks first in the NBA in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus Rankings. Gobert leads Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela, the second highest-ranked player according to ESPN by 1.52 points per 100 possessions.

That gap is equal to the space between Capela, ranked second, and Spurs forward Rudy Gay who ranks 15th according to ESPN. Gobert also ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots and second in rebounding, while leading the Jazz to the third-best offense and defense in the NBA.

The Jazz have been 464 points better than their opponents with Gobert on the floor this season, tops in the league, while ranking second overall in the NBA at 10.1 per game.

So, what have we learned?

First, we should recognize that the MVP Award doesn’t have an objective set of rules for votes to follow when making their selection. Having that subjectiveness is part of what makes the award more interesting, and why seemingly every season, at least one player of fan base feels slighted by the final decision.

However, even by those understandably subjective standards, there almost no precedent over the last 21 years that says the Jazz should not only a candidate but perhaps a front runner for the MVP Award.

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