Comparison of leading NBA MVP candidates
In my mind, the two leading candidates for NBA MVP are two guys who are either dismissed or never mentioned whenever NBA analysts discuss the topic. Those two are Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett.
How I came to that conclusion
I recently tweaked the "Win Score" and "Wins Produced" performance evaluation formulas developed by the authors of "The Wages of Wins" in an attempt to reflect each player's offensive and defensive contributions to victory. To accomplish this, I used the exact method the aforementioned authors use, except that instead of taking only the player's "Position Adjusted Win Score" into account, I instead averaged each player's "Position Adjusted Win Score" with his counterparts' "Position Adjusted Win Score", according to data reported on the website 82games.com. I call the end result "Overall Wins Produced".
Sidebar: If you evaluate entire teams using the "Overall Wins Produced" formula, you will find that it is just as accurate as Professor Berri's straight "Wins Produced" formula, but that it tends to credit superstars with fewer wins, generally spreading the excess wins out over the exceptional (and often unsung) defenders on each superstars' respective team (see for example: Allen, Tony). I'm not uncomfortable with that, because I think in that way it distributes "wins produced" in a manner similar to the "Overall Wins Produced" baseball statistic developed by Bill James known as "Win Shares".
Sidebar II: Professor Berri's calculations use positional averages taken from production numbers produced over a ten year period. That did not work for my "Defensive Win Score" calculations, so I had to go through and update each positional average. Here is a comparison of the two. As you can see, production is way up overall, with the increase going most to the center position, and with power forward production actually decreasing. I believe that is because many of the superstar power forwards of year's past (Duncan, Bosh, R. Wallace, Garnett, O'Neal, etc.) are logging a lot of minutes at the center position, and the power forward position is often being manned by players who have games more suited to traditional small forwards (Lewis, Scola, Moon, Gay, Yi, G. Wallace, etc.).
Analysis of the MVP race
According to my calculations, if you go by "Overall Wins Produced", the MVP ought to be Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. However, if you go by overall performance regardless of minutes played, as reflected by "Overall Win Score", then the MVP would be Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. Garnett simply played fewer minutes to date than his rivals.
A couple of other interesting things emerge. First, both Bryant and James (especially Bryant) play excetional defense, if you consider the output of the men they are assigned to cover (their "counterparts") an accurate reflection of "defense". Less surprisingly, of the 6 contenders, Garnett's defense is the best.
In fact, amongst the top 6 MVP contenders as identified by me, only Steve Nash allows his counterparts to accumulate Win Scores that are above the positional average. Defense may matter more than we generally assume.