2013 NBA MVP (04/24/13)

By John Ewing

The start of the NBA Playoffs also marks the beginning of the NBA award season. J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man Award while Paul George was named the Most Improved Player. The MVP will be handed out soon and LeBron James is going to win. Below we look at another measure that helps put perspective on how dominant LeBron has been this season.

We have many statistics that help us evaluate players from the classic points scored to more advanced stats including PER, Value Added, and Estimated Wins Added. These are fine stats that allow us to compare superstars like LeBron James to replacement level players. But when it comes to evaluating the stars, especially for the purpose of handing out awards, we need a measure that focuses specifically on these players.

That’s why we came up with WASSUP. WASSUP stands for Wins Above SuperStar Utilizing PredictionMachine.com. The purpose of this statistic (and we are using this term in its loosest of meanings) is to compare what happens when we flip superstars between teams. For example we take LeBron James and put him on the Thunder and then put Kevin Durant on the Heat and see what happens.


First, this is not a statistic sponsored by PredictionMachine.com. This is merely hypothetical take on the MVP race that makes many assumptions (more on this later). Second, we fully plan on further developing our simulation technology so that we and/or fans can easily simulate the above scenario with a high level of accuracy. Finally, even if WASSUP never fully matures into a defining statistic, it is one of the best acronyms in sports analytics based off of a beloved beer commercial.

MVP Odds throughout the 2012-2013 season.

Player Preseason All-Star Weekend Current
LeBron James 11/10 1/5 1/10
Kevin Durant 13/10 5/2 4/1
Chris Paul 13/2 12/1 20/1
Carmelo Anthony 7/1 15/1 50/1

Final standings.

Team Record
Miami 66-16
Oklahoma City 60-22
Los Angeles 56-26
New York 54-28

How it works:

To illustrate the difference in these players, we have outlined 82games.com’s On Court/Off Court statistics below. In the simulations, we trade each superstar in the MVP race (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul) for one another and simulate the 2012 season again with the players on their new teams. By comparing the differences in win/loss records we are able to get a better understanding of how players compare to one another.

Assumptions and Limitations: When running the simulations we assumed that all players were healthy and played their average 2012 minutes-per-game in all 82 games.

 Example: LeBron James for Kevin Durant

LeBron James On Court Off Court Net
Offense: Pts per 100 Poss. 116.5 104.3 12.2
Defense: Pts per 100 Poss. 105 108.8 -3.8
Net Points per 100 Possession 11.5 -4.5 16


Kevin Durant On Court Off Court Net
Offense: Pts per 100 Poss. 115.3 107.8 7.5
Defense: Pts per 100 Poss. 104 101.2 2.9
Net Points per 100 Possession 11.3 6.7 4.6

Not surprisingly the Heat are by far a better team when LeBron is on the court both offensively (+12.2 points per 100 possessions) and defensively (teams score -3.8 points fewer per 100 possessions). As for the Thunder, Durant makes them a better team offensively when he is on the court but defensively Oklahoma plays better when he is off the court. While LeBron has an edge offensively over Durant it is his defense that makes the biggest difference in the simulation.

Below are the results when we put LeBron on the Thunder and Durant on the Heat. 

LeBron for Durant Wins Losses
Heat 56.4 25.6
Thunder 69.2 12.8

By this simulation LeBron improves the Thunder by 9 wins and the Heat go from 66 to 56 wins. The first thing you might question is the number of wins by the Thunder. A total of 70 victories in a season would be good for the second most wins in NBA history. The Heat this season won 66 games and that was with LeBron sitting out of six games. Had LeBron played all six of those games you could expect the Heat to win at least four of those contests, which would put Miami’s win total at 70 games. Like we mentioned before, defense is the primary difference between LeBron and Durant. It is Durant’s lack of defense relative to LeBron that causes the Heat’s win total to drop.

When we flip-flop all of the superstars: LeBron/Durant, LeBron/Carmelo, LeBron/Paul, Durant/Carmelo, Durant Paul, and Paul/Carmelo we get the following win/loss records.

LeBron for Durant Wins Losses
Heat 56.4 25.6
Thunder 69.2 12.8


LeBron for Carmelo Wins Losses
Heat 52.5 29.5
Knicks 69.3 12.7


LeBron for Paul Wins Losses
Heat 54.5 27.5
Clippers 67.5 14.5


Durant for Carmelo Wins Losses
Thunder 57.4 24.6
Knicks 56.1 25.9


Durant for Paul Wins Losses
Thunder 62.8 19.2
Clippers 57.1 24.9


Paul for Carmelo Wins Losses
Knicks 55.8 26.2
Clippers 53.2 28.8

The WASSUP score for each player is calculated by adding or subtracting the difference in win totals (actual vs. simulated) when they are placed on each team. LeBron for example increased the win total for the Thunder, Knicks, and Clippers on average by 9.2, 15.3, and 11.5 games respectively. This gives LeBron a WASSUP score of 36.0. Below are the totals for each player.

  Thunder Knicks Clippers Total Wins
LeBron 9.2 15.3 11.5 36.0


  Heat Knicks Clippers Total Wins
Durant -9.6 2.1 1.1 -6.4


  Heat Thunder Clippers Total Wins
Carmelo -13.5 -2.6 -2.8 -18.9


  Heat Thunder Knicks Total Wins
Paul -11.5 2.8 1.8 -6.9

By the WASSUP measure LeBron relative to these specific three players is head and shoulders above the other potential MVP candidates. Durant and Paul are very close while Carmelo, a great scorer, is not on the same level.