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2016-17 NBA Fantasy Recap: Who’s the MVP?

Time to crown a fantasy MVP.

NBA: All Star Game-Eastern at Western Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s the 2016-17 NBA fantasy MVP?

Ruminate over that for a second. Don’t jump to any conclusions. Trust me, it’s a much harder question than you think. I’d argue it’s even harder than answering who the actual MVP is (it’s Westbrook).

This might sound obvious, but it’s worth saying: in selecting a fantasy MVP, you have to consider the guy’s statistical impact across all categories. Yes, Harden and Westbrook dominate nearly all of them, but they consistently hurt you in one (turnovers) and occasionally are costly in field goal percentage. You have to consider the full picture.

But it’s even deeper than that. The fantasy MVP isn’t just the guy you arrive at after analyzing the stats. In other words, the fantasy MVP, at least in my opinion, isn’t just the biggest contributor. It’s the player who puts his team in the best position to win a championship; and two ways to measure that are by looking at average draft position (the “steals” are more valuable) and the MVP function on Yahoo, which provides a list of players who appear most often on the top 500 public league teams.

Think of this additional feature as the “winning factor” – similar to how actual MVP voters are told to account for how successful the team is, not just the individual. Right, James?

When you combine these two elements – statistical output and the winning factor – then you get your MVP; but you have to weigh them equally. For example, someone like Nikola Jokic, who was definitely a major steal in most drafts, simply didn’t produce enough to compete for the award.

I would like to tell you that I had some sort of crazy advanced metric, like points/rebounds/assists divided by average draft position times the MVP Yahoo ranking. So I just will. There you go.

First, I narrowed it down to this list of 10 (Kevin Durant is not included because he missed too many games/the playoffs in most standard fantasy leagues):

Russell Westbrook

2016-17 stats: 31.6 points, 10.4 assists, 10.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 2.5 3PM, and 5.5 turnovers, shooting 43% from the field and 85% from the line

ESPN Player Rater, which “ranks every player based on their statistical impact across scoring categories”: 19.24 (2nd)

Average draft position, per Fantasy Pros (combination of data from Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS): 1.7

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams, per Yahoo: <9.2

James Harden

2016-17 stats: 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 3.2 3PM, and 5.7 turnovers, shooting 44% from the field and 85% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 20.37 (1st)

Average draft position: 2.7

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 14.0

LeBron James

2016-17 stats: 26.4 points, 8.7 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.7 3PM, and 4.1 turnovers, shooting 55% from the field and 67% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 13.83 (11th)

Average draft position: 5.3

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: <9.2

Kawhi Leonard

2016-17 stats: 25.5 points, 3.5 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 2.0 3PM, and 2.1 turnovers, shooting 49% from the field and 88% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 14.49 (7th)

Average draft position: 10.0

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: <9.2

Giannis Antetokounmpo

2016-17 stats: 22.9 points, 5.4 assists, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, and 2.9 turnovers, shooting 52% from the field and 77% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 17.05 (5th)

Average draft position: 11.0

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 17.6

Anthony Davis

2016-17 stats: 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 2.2 blocks, and 2.4 turnovers, shooting 51% from the field and 80% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 16.29 (6th)

Average draft position: 8.7

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 18.0

Isaiah Thomas

2016-17 stats: 28.9 points, 5.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 3.2 3PM, and 2.8 turnovers, shooting 46% from the field and 91% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 14.12 (9th)

Average draft position: 27.7

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 29.6

Stephen Curry

2016-17 stats: 25.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 4.1 3PM, and 3.0 turnovers, shooting 47% from the field and 90% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 17.46 (3rd)

Average draft position: 3.0

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: <9.2

John Wall

2016-17 stats: 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.1 3PM, and 4.1 turnovers, shooting 45% from the field and 80% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 14.06 (10th)

Average draft position: 15.3

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 14.2

Karl-Anthony Towns

2016-17 stats: 25.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.2 3PM, and 2.6 turnovers, shooting 54% from the field and 83% from the line

ESPN Player Rater: 17.12 (4th)

Average draft position: 5.3

Percent appearance on the top 500 head-to-head public league teams: 10.8

Just missed the cut: DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gobert

So Westbrook and Harden, despite doing damage in some categories, were still the biggest statistical contributors this season. That obviously counts for something.

The guys who significantly outperformed based on their average draft position: Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Isaiah Thomas, and John Wall. It’s no surprise that these four guys appear most often on the top 500 public league teams.

The in-betweeners were eliminated from contention immediately: LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard (his player rater ranking is misleading – look at the drop from 6 to 7), and Stephen Curry. Later guys.

Westbrook was the next to go. But Alex, he led the league in scoring and averaged a triple-double for an entire season. He was also the first pick in a majority of drafts and didn’t lead as many squads to success as you probably thought. So…

That left me with five strong candidates: Harden, AD, Giannis, IT, and Wall. An incredibly dynamic group. Scorers. Facilitators. Shot blockers. And whatever the heck Giannis is.

I struggled to decide, I truly did. I tossed and turned at night, thinking about the significance of being MVP, of what this means in the fantasy world. It didn’t feel right to choose quickly. I had to grapple with it. No impulsive decisions. No regrets.

I was tempted to pick Anthony Davis - the star of my fantasy team, which took home a championship (Okay, I really wanted to mention this). But I had to remove all biases.

After much deliberation and many days spent staring at a blank computer screen, it was the Greek Freak that won me over. The dude averaged 5+ in the three major categories (points, rebounds, assists), was a force on defense (1.9 blocks and 1.6 steals), and shot a high percentage (52%). With the regular season ending, he became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. That’s not fair.

And while all of the guys on the list above seemed to somehow exceed expectations, no one did more than Giannis. The average draft position reflects that; and predictably, teams with Antetokounmpo thrived.

There was one additional factor that contributed to my decision: positional eligibility. The athletic freak that is Giannis could be played as a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, or power forward in Yahoo and ESPN leagues. That gave owners quite a bit of freedom when setting their lineups.

Couple that with the outstanding statistical production, the prime “winning factor”, and the dope name, and boom…you’ve got your MVP.

Congrats, Giannis!