(left) earned a first-place vote for MVP, while Luke Babbitt
received a first-pace vote for the Sixth Man Award. (Sam Forencich, Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Before producing some of the best basketball action of the season, a good chunk of Monday was spent ripping apart a Boston Globe sportswriter's decision to vote for Carmelo Anthony over LeBron James as his MVP, denying the Heat forward the first unanimous win in NBA history. As illogical and indefensibly bad as that selection was, it's not clear that it was necessarily the worst pick of the awards season. I'm confident that you guys haven't forgotten that someone -- who still remains anonymous -- cast a third-place vote for Blazers forward Luke Babbitt for the Sixth Man Award.
There are all sorts of negative reactions to NBA award picks (disgust, confusion, fury, irritation) and the hoops world usually moves on after a few days. Before that happens, let's stop to weigh the merits of these two outliers -- aggravating Anthony versus bewildering Babbitt -- in an attempt to determine which one should stand as the worst of the season.
Let's break it down, with categories, scales, points and all that.
How bad -- on merit -- was each vote? Let's examine using a 1-to-10 scale, with 1 being "too legit to quit" and 10 being "the most illegitimate thing I've ever seen including every episode of Ricki Lake."
Carmelo Anthony: 8.
This was a really, really, really bad vote. Here's a great full-length takedown if you need all the gory details. Here's the short version: James was better on offense, better on defense, a better rebounder, a better playmaker, more durable, more efficient, had a greater impact by every widely used advanced statistic, played on a better team, led a team to a historic 27-game winning streak and had a bigger effect when he left the court than Anthony. He even had a better narrative, if you consider how much more difficult it is to improve from "great" to "historically great" than it is to go from "good" to "very good." There were legitimate arguments against James' candidacy through the first 30 or 40 games of this season, but he simply erased all of them down the stretch.
All of that said, Anthony did finish third overall in the voting, so by definition he's "in the conversation," even if only be default. He was also selected as an All-Star and will likely make either the All-NBA first team or second team. If you really, really, really wanted to stretch, and keep one eye closed while doing so, a lone soul could have cast a sympathy vote for someone like Kevin Durant or Chris Paul over James. They, too, would have been wrong, but we could have envisioned something like that happening last week before the results were announced. That makes this vote a degree or two more legit.
Luke Babbitt: 10.
Sorry, the same just can't be said about Luke Babbitt. It gets no worse than this. Unlike Anthony, Babbitt wasn't "in the conversation," unless by "conversation" you mean the question: "Who is the guy commentators refer to as a 'shooter' with the worst shooting percentage in the league?"
The accounting firm that tabulates the award votes -- Ernst & Young -- should have thrown this vote out on sight. Babbitt played the ninth-most minutes on the Blazers and didn't appear in 20 games because of his coach's decision. He averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds (somehow down from his 2011-12 numbers) and shot just 34.8 percent from three-point range despite the fact that 76 percent of his field-goal attempts were from behind the arc. He had the lowest Player Efficiency Rating of all of those players receiving a vote for the Sixth Man Award and he finished No. 360 out of 469 players in an ESPN.com database by that metric.
What's more, he managed to earn just 730 minutes total while being a member of the league's single worst bench unit. On top of that, his team tanked for nearly a month straight down the stretch and played only about 65-ish relevant games this season and he STILL couldn't regularly find his way onto the court. TOTALLY ILLEGITIMATE.
Potential For Swinging The Result
How close was each vote to altering the final results? On a 1-to-10 scale with 1 being "voting for Barack Obama in 2012 while living in New York" and 10 being "the Supreme Court decides Florida in 2000."
Carmelo Anthony: 1.
For months James was expected to win in a landslide and he obviously did just that. No individual voter -- or even a pack of a few dozen rouge voters -- was going to deny the Heat forward his fourth MVP. Miami's epic winning streak simply did away with any intrigue.
Luke Babbitt: 6.
On the other hand, this year's Sixth Man field was particularly deep and difficult to handicap. In addition to the eventual winner, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack and Kevin Martin all had solid arguments for the award. While Smith wound up winning the vote by 132 points and taking home well more than half of the first-place votes, every vote, including the third-place votes worth only one point, mattered far more than in an MVP race that includes five spots instead of three and saw James triumph over Durant by 442 points. The Babbitt vote wound up being a non-factor, but it mattered way more than the Anthony vote given the tighter race.
How big of a deal was each vote? On a 1-to-10 scale with 1 being "yawn" and 10 being "you will tell your kids about this in 10 years."
Carmelo Anthony: 9.
This pick was a gigantic deal and possibly a bigger deal than James winning his fourth MVP award. Which will be referenced more often, James' 2013 MVP selection or the fact that he was one vote shy of being the only unanimous pick ever? If James goes on to win additional MVPs -- who in their right mind really expects this to be his last one? -- then this specific one loses a major part of its shine, just like the 2010 MVP has been devalued (relatively) by his 2012 and 2013 awards. The vote will also stand out as early as next season: If James delivers another monster campaign in 2013-14, surely some media voices will demand that he be awarded the unanimous MVP vote that he missed out on this year. Even if the playing field is more crowded over the next few seasons, this vote will be raised the next time someone threatens unanimity, just as Fred Hickman's vote for Allen Iverson over Shaquille O'Neal in 2001 was brought up this time around.
Luke Babbitt: 0.
Not even a 1 to qualify for a "yawn" on our scale. A third-place vote for the Sixth Man Award really doesn't matter before, during or after it is cast. Not even in the most ridiculous of circumstances (like this one).
Will the future treat this vote more favorably? On a 1-to-10 scale with 1 being "this voter could actually wind up looking like a genius" and 10 being "this vote is guaranteed to be terrible until the aliens from Space Jam are an actual thing."
Carmelo Anthony: 5.
Even though the MVP is a regular-season award and there's a separate Finals MVP designation, it's impossible to keep the postseason results from coloring our view of past award votes. Voting for Derrick Rose in 2011 made a lot more sense before James and company smothered him in the Eastern Conference finals, dispatching the Bulls in five games. Although no one gave Dirk Nowitzki any first-place MVP votes in 2011 (he did receive five second-place votes, three third-place votes, 11 fourth-place votes and 30 fifth-place votes), the Mavericks' eventual championship would surely have given Dirk voters a pass, if not big-time bragging rights for seeing the future.
Let's be honest: The Knicks probably aren't going to win the NBA title, but if things break perfectly, they could. If they do, and Anthony winds up catching fire like he did in April, the narrative for his selection that seems so flimsy now would get the rose-colored-glasses treatment. That's doubly true if the Knicks eliminated the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Imagine the "I told you so" potential for the Anthony voter should that play out. The 120 of 121 people who voted for James would still technically be right, because they voted on the regular-season performances, but history would remember this as the year James won the award but Anthony took home the title. Again, this is an incredibly long shot, but it's not impossible.
On the other hand, James is fully capable of putting an immense distance between himself and Anthony (through titles, additional individual awards, NBA records, etc.) over the next five to 10 years. That brings with it some incredibly harsh hindsight potential. Those who feel James got screwed here will hold those feelings twice as hard if the Heat win the title and he wins Finals MVP for the second straight season. Now imagine, for a moment, a world 20 years from now in which James has seven NBA titles (more than Michael Jordan) and seven MVP awards (more than anyone) while Anthony has retired without a ring or an MVP. How insane will it be if this Anthony vote is the only thing that kept James from doing something no one else -- not even Jordan -- accomplished? Insane enough that I'm already a little worried about it.
Anthony gets a "5" here because both extremes are still on the table.
Luke Babbitt: 7.
The biggest issue for Babbitt, a 2010 first-round pick who never found a regular rotation spot in three seasons and didn't get his fourth-year rookie option picked up, is that he's fighting for his life to remain in the NBA. He's struggled with his confidence since arriving in Portland and hasn't been able to turn his pure shooting stroke into reliable scoring. Even in the most optimistic projection, it's unlikely that he will ever be a true candidate for the Sixth Man Award. He's not a dynamic scorer or an overwhelming athlete. He can't guard either the 3 or the 4 position consistently. He is a lefty who can't attack to his right. And he fits well inside that tight "stretch 4" niche. There just aren't many recent comps who fit that profile and have placed well in recent Sixth Man races. His ability to prove this voter -- who might very well have been joking or casting a protest vote -- prescient is limited. That said, making the leap from "barely an NBA player" to "valuable reserve in the right system" isn't outright impossible.
How funny was this vote in what is supposed to be a totally serious system? On a 1-to-10 scale with 1 being "this vote was so boring that it belonged in Major League Baseball" and 10 being "this vote was so hilarious I could see J.R. Smith or Stephen Jackson doing something like this."
Carmelo Anthony: 4.
The Anthony vote would have gotten a clean 10 if it had actually been cast by Miami Herald sportswriter Dan Le Batard, who pretended to vote for Anthony to troll Heat fans despite being a generally pro-Heat and pro-James voice in recent years. While slightly offensive to the purists, there was potential for this to go down as one of the more outlandish and ballsy practical jokes in sports media history. Reading reports of James refusing to give an interview to Le Batard for the rest of his career would have only upped the comedic stakes.
As it stands, it's still funny that Anthony -- clearly not the second-best player in the NBA -- was the one to receive the outlier vote instead of Durant. It's just not the same, gratifying funny. It's more of a "slap your forehead and slump your shoulders" kind of funny, which winds up being a little bit sad. Honestly, the detailed explanation of the vote only further removed the humor and made it that much more serious.
Luke Babbitt: 8.
On the flip side, because we don't know the identity of the Babbitt voter, we are still able to assume that it's possible that the vote was cast as a random joke. Therefore, we are still able to freely laugh with the voter. We're also left with the tantalizingly unanswered question: Why did he or she pick Babbitt? Was it random? Was there a selection process involved? Was he chosen because he was sure to set off an outraged and confused reaction in the basketball blogosphere? Did the voter happen to cross paths with Babbitt at some point and feel a debt of gratitude needed to be repaid? Was it a homer pick that no one in the Portland media has been willing to 'fess up to? Was it a favor to his agent? Was it a media inside joke? All unanswered, maddeningly delightful questions.
It bears repeating for a fourth time: What was this nut thinking? Ludicrous is a first cousin of hilarious. After two weeks of processing these as-yet-unanswered questions, this situation has only gotten funnier.
Carmelo Anthony: 27 out of a possible 50 points.
Luke Babbitt: 31 out of a possible 50 points.
There you have it, Luke Babbitt for Sixth Man is your narrow "Worst Vote of the 2013 Award Season" winner over "Carmelo Anthony for MVP" by a mere four points, a decision that swung largely on the fact that we are still in the dark as to who made the call. I've wasted a fortnight trying to determine who voted for Babbitt and now I've concluded that I'd rather not know, as knowing would ruin this blissful ignorance.