The regular season standings can have a significant impact on the NBA league MVP race, as the award is often given to a player who has led their team to a high seed in their conference. A player's impact on their team's success is one of the most important factors considered in MVP voting, and the regular season standings are a key indicator of this impact.
The importance of seeding in MVP voting can be seen in historical trends. Since the inception of the award, only two players have won the MVP while their team finished outside of the top three in their conference. Additionally, since the 2000-01 season, every MVP winner has played for a team that finished in the top two in their conference.
When Kevin Durant won the MVP award after leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the second seed in the Western Conference. Durant's individual statistics were impressive, as he averaged 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 50.3% from the field and 39.1% from three-point range. His impact on the Thunder's success was the key factor in his MVP campaign. His leadership and clutch performances with Westbrook sidelined with an injury helped the Thunder secure the second seed, and his value to the team was widely recognized by voters.
The reasoning behind this trend is that a player who leads their team to a high seed in their conference is often seen as having a greater impact on their team's success than a player on a lower-seeded team. This is because higher-seeded teams typically face tougher competition in the playoffs, and a player's ability to elevate their team's performance in these high-pressure situations is often viewed as a key indicator of their value.
An outlier example this would be the 2016-17 season, when Russell Westbrook won the award with his team finishing with the sixth seed in the West. Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the entire season, becoming the first player to do so since Oscar Robertson in 1962. His individual statistics were unprecedented, and his impact on the Oklahoma City Thunder's success was undeniable. Despite the Thunder's lower seeding, Westbrook's individual excellence was deemed to be more valuable than any other player's impact on their team's success.
Overall, the regular season standings can have a significant impact on the NBA league MVP race, as they are often viewed as an indicator of a player's impact on their team's success. While individual statistics and other factors are also considered in MVP voting, a player's ability to lead their team to a high seed in their conference is widely recognized as a key factor in determining their value to their team and the league as a whole.