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Should MVP, other NBA awards officially be tied to games played?

Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 06: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets watches alongside Seth Curry #30 on the bench during the game against the LA Clippers at Barclays Center on February 06, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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In a sense, the NBA MVP award — and others such as Defensive Player of the Year or Rookie of the Year — are linked to games played, because media voters consider it. It is one of the arguments why Joel Embiid finished second in MVP voting the past couple of years (or why Embiid didn’t win Rookie of the Year when he played just 31 games that season).

However, it’s not official. Players do not need to play in a specific number of games to qualify for an MVP vote. This season, if a voter wants to put Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or Kawhi Leonard down on their MVP ballot, there is nothing to stop them.

That may change in future years. The NBA and players union are discussing a minimum number of games played to qualify for MVP and other postseason awards as part of the new CBA, reports Mike Vorkunov at The Athletic. The NBA is looking at it as a way to help slow its load management problem, with key players sitting out games for rest and recovery during the too-long season, an issue that is starting to impact the bottom line.

The possibility of tethering awards to appearances would not only have an impact on who gets recognized by the league, with its most prestigious honors serving as an incentive structure, but it would also be an attempt by the NBA to solve one of its most nettlesome issues — load management. The league has sought ways to get its best players to play more games in recent years as the practice of limiting time on the court has increased...

Some sources, who have been granted anonymity to speak freely about ongoing negotiations, believe that this will land in the final CBA in some form, but negotiations are fluid and there are no guarantees about what will ultimately be in the final agreement.

A more logical solution than games played may be a minutes played number, if for no other reason than it is much easier to manipulate the games played figure.

It should be noted that while players take the heat for load management it is not always their call — teams monitor players using tracking and biometric data (the latter during practices) and will force a player to miss a game or two if they see their body as worn down (in the name of avoiding injuries, which are more likely when muscles are fatigued). Some teams are more stringent about this than others.

Also, how much a player suits up does matter already to voters.

I have been honored to be a voter for the NBA postseason awards for years now (something I take very seriously), and while I wouldn’t dare speak for other voters, I do factor minutes played into my decision on awards and know others do as well. That is particularly true of awards such as MVP or Defensive Player of the Year, where your value to your team diminishes with time missed on the court. I don’t have a hard-and-fast cut-off number (and I use minutes played over games), but in general, if one player is in 75 games and another is in 67, the player in fewer games would need to be exponentially more impactful in those minutes to move ahead of the player who shows up most nights. It’s a big factor for me when I fill out my ballot.

It looks like in the future voters won’t even need to worry about who qualifies and who doesn’t based on games played, the NBA will make that call.