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What should be the games-played minimum for NBA awards?

What should be the games-played minimum for NBA awards?

Let's have an awards debate.

No, no, not that one. We've already been through enough nonsense, goalpost-moving, half-baked arguments and general toxicity in that debate. Let's zoom out a bit. Let's take a step back.

While most focus on what the criteria should be for winning an award like MVP — oops, I said it — and what makes one candidate more valuable than the other, I always find myself going back to a more simple question: what should be the parameters for even qualifying for the award? 

Or put another way: how many games should a player have to participate in to garner consideration for that award, or any award?

There's been an unwritten-rule feel to the question in the past. There are qualifications for stat leaderboards; you must appear in at least 58 games to qualify for the scoring title, for example. But we don't have anything firm for awards — at least not yet.

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, it would appear the league and its players are at least in agreement that something firm should be in place. From Charania:

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are in advanced discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement and the two sides are getting closer to agreeing on a stipulation that a player must play in a minimum number of regular season games to be eligible for major awards, sources tell The Athletic.

Top league and players union officials held a Competition Committee meeting on Friday to discuss an issue both sides are jointly motivated on: star players playing in more games, and staying healthy enough so that the NBA can display its best talent on a night-to-night basis. Both sides are in agreement on tying major awards to games played over the course of the season, sources said, a possibility The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov first reported on Feb. 14.

According to sources with knowledge of both sides of the discussions, while both sides still need to come to an agreement on the number of games that players would need to play in order to qualify for awards, the two sides do agree on the concept.

It makes sense that there's an amount of time you're on the floor to qualify as the best or most valuable something in the league. Some voters have their own cutoffs, or at least use games played (or minutes played) as a tiebreaker. Having a firm number in place gives players clarity and, to a nod of convenience, gives voters an objective measure to help trim their lists before sorting through their own criteria.

Finding that minimum is going to be interesting. There's a balance to be struck between setting the bar high enough to truly reward players for getting out there, but having it low enough to safeguard against injuries, team absences due to personal matters or even season maintenance (we won't use l*** mana****** in here). 

I've landed on 60% of games in recent years — 49 in an 82-game schedule — as a barometer, but 1) I'm not an official voter (hi, NBA) and 2) even that falls below the scoring title requirement, which is probably a sign to consider raising my personal bar higher.

"I know for me, it's pretty hard to justify voting for someone who hasn't gotten into at least 50-55 games," Chris Herring of Sports Illustrated told Basketball News.

Some of ESPN's most notable analysts think the bar should be higher.

"I think 65 games is reasonable now. Maybe even 60 if someone is just overwhelmingly better," ESPN's Zach Lowe told Basketball News. "I mean, we should just put 70 games in as the expected number of games for a healthy player at this point anyway."

"I want to examine the effects of the schedule, the back-to-backs or the stretches of three-games-in-four-nights," ESPN's Doris Burke tells Basketball News. "But off the top of my head, I'd say 65 games, or maybe even 70 to be honest with you."

Former head coach and current TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy (in)famously sets his bar at 80% of games, which is right in line with the 65-game suggestion from Lowe and Burke.

When I tossed the question out to social media, specifically in regard to the MVP, the most common answers I got were 65 and 70 games. 

(On a related note, I do think there should be a separate, higher requirement for MVP. It's the most prestigious individual award, and thus should be more difficult to qualify for. If a 60-game mark is required for Rookie of the Year, I'd be okay with 65 or 70 being the requirement for MVP. Having a bar for win rate — say, 60% of games played — would open the door for some lower-seeded players if they're dominant enough, but still lend itself toward the top-four seed precedent that's been set across NBA history.)

There's another question worth considering within this context: should there be a minutes minimum as well? Heck, should there only be a minutes minimum?

As some have noted, there could be ways for players to "game" the system, particularly late in the season, by appearing in a game and subbing out after a couple of possessions. That could go against the "spirit" of the requirement, though that player would also run the risk of altering some of their averages by pulling off this gambit.

But back to the heart of the question. What's more valuable, how often you're on the floor or how long you're on the floor?

Blake Murphy of Sportsnet brought up the All-Defense battle between then-Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle and Raptors do-everything defender OG Anunoby from a couple of seasons ago to highlight a potential flaw in the games-played debate.

Anunoby arguably impacted games to a higher degree than Thybulle did; Thybulle impacted more games than Anunoby did. Who's right? 

The answer may just be "yes", which is why it'd make sense to factor in both games and minutes. 

"I have to figure out where I land minute-wise," Herring said. "But I’m guessing it’ll end up somewhere in the 1700-1800 range, minimum. And if most or all things are equal, then I generally go with someone who’s been available most. It's definitely getting harder to have a staunch line in the sand for a number of reasons."

Murphy noted in another tweet that he'd like the bar to be set at 1600 minutes. Going with 1800 minutes — or 30 minutes per game across 60 games — does seem like a reasonable starting place.

There are still more pressing matters in award discussions, like positional requirements for the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams; if the teams aren't going to be positionless, there's no reason we shouldn't at least have the two-backcourt, three-frontcourt template that we have for All-Star teams. 

Ultimately, I do think adding a minimum — with games, minutes or both — is a solid starting place for making things better. It's a first step, not a save-the-ship move.

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