In life we’d like to think that everyone gets what they deserve. Sadly, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced firsthand, sometimes fate decides it would be a lot funnier to not give everyone their just desserts and to see how everyone else reacts.
When it comes to sports we experience this kind of thing constantly — the best team does not always win nor do the best players always receive the most recognition. In light of this I have decided to list the biggest snubs ever experienced by a South Florida athlete.
These are not small quibbles over All-Star appearances or All-Pro selections, I am talking the major awards that put your name in the history books. For some of these guys it was just bad luck. But for those highest on the list, their greatest performances and efforts were simply passed up on because they were unloved by the voters.
Just missed the cut:
- Karl Malone over Alonzo Mourning (1998-99 NBA MVP)
- Eric Crouch over Ken Dorsey (2001 Heisman Trophy)
- Chris Carpenter over Dontrelle Willis (2005 NL Cy Young)
- Clayton Kershaw over Giancarlo Stanton (2014 NL MVP)
5. Dwyane Wade for 2008-09 NBA MVP
Winner: LeBron James – 28.4 PPG, 7.6 PRG, 7.2 APG, 49% FG, 20.3 WS, 31.7 PER
Snub: Dwyane Wade – 30.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.5 APG, 49% FG, 14.7 WS, 30.4 PER
This was Dwyane Wade’s best regular season. After only playing in 51 games the season before on a moribund 15-win team, Wade went into overdrive. He led the league in scoring, finished second in steals, seventh in assists and became the seventh player ever to record a single season PER above 30 (Anthony Davis has since made it eight). In other words, he had an all-time season, but not only did Wade not win the MVP that year, he somehow came in third behind both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Let’s just get this part out of the way. There is no objective way that Wade should have come behind Bryant. Wade outpaced him in every statistic – advanced or not – that you can imagine: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, PER, Win Shares, etc. What is tricky is determining whether Wade should have beaten LeBron in the MVP race. By traditional stats, Wade generally outpaced LeBron. LeBron did rebound the ball and shoot the three more effectively than Wade, but Wade beats LeBron in every other statistic including overall field goal percentage, which is impressive considering Wade is a guard.
However the advanced stats heavily favor LeBron. LeBron had an even higher PER than Wade at 31.67, marking the first and only time in NBA history that two players had PERs over 30 in the same season. Win Shares heavily favor LeBron: Wade’s 14.7 Win Shares are usually MVP-worthy but LeBron had an unfathomable 20.3 Win Shares. Team success also played a factor, Wade impressively took a 15-win team to 43-wins, but LeBron guided his team to the number one seed in the conference and 66-wins. Both LeBron and Wade did it with incredibly lackluster teammates as well. LeBron had a geriatric Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and “all-star” Mo Williams. Wade had Yakhouba Diawara, the dynamic rookie duo of Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers and the rotting corpse of Jermaine O’Neal. Despite the lackluster rosters for both teams, LeBron did have a much better supporting cast according to win shares (47.7 compared to Wade’s 29.4).
So the voters were left with an admittedly difficult task: the standard measurements we use to determine MVP were so even that other factors had to come into effect. If we look at the advanced metrics, LeBron was the clear and deserving winner. However if we properly contextualize the teams they were on, Wade’s herculean accomplishments seem even more impressive in dragging all that dead weight to the playoffs. This is one case where it is really hard to unilaterally declare this a snub. Although Wade had one of the greatest non-MVP seasons of all-time, LeBron had an extraordinary season of his own. I think all Heat fans really wish Wade had won this MVP but this was splitting hairs.
Or you could just take the easy way out and vote for Kobe.
4. Shaquille O’Neal for 2004-05 NBA MVP
Winner: Steve Nash – 15.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 11.5 APG, 50% FG, 10.9 WS, 22.0 PER
Snub: Shaquille O’Neal – 22.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 60% FG, 11.0 WS, 27.0 PER
This MVP race has been the closest — thus far — of the 21st Century. The two top vote-getters could not be any more different in their style of play. Both Nash and Shaq were in their first year on a new team and both were vital in making their teams championship contenders. Nash led the league in assists that year and ran the NBA’s No. 1 offense within the 62-win Suns. Shaq, meanwhile, led the league in field-goal percentage — it was his first year shooting better than 60 percent — and averaged a double-double along with nearly 2.5 blocks.
In terms of the advanced statistics, these two were neck-and-neck. Nash had 10.9 Win Shares on the season and Shaq had an even 11.0. If we adjust to Win Shares per 48 Minutes Shaq was marginally better — 0.211 to 0.203. Both Nash and Shaq led their teams to the No. 1 seed in their respective conference. Both also had a lot of help from their teammates. Shaq was tied with Dwyane Wade in Win Shares that year. Nash was behind both Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in Win Shares. So what makes this race a snub versus a toss-up that merely did not go Shaq’s way? Simple. Defense.
Although Nash was incredibly effective at creating offense with both his exemplary shooting and passing, his defense (much like any player in a Mike D’Antoni system) was practically worthless. Not only were the Suns ranked dead last in defense that year, but Nash had a abysmal defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions when a player is on the court) of 110. Shaq had an exemplary defensive rating that year of 100. Part of the discrepancy is because the Heat were actually built to play defense but ignoring half of someone’s game in MVP voting is downright lazy.
3. Kevin Brown for 1996 NL Cy Young
Winner: John Smoltz – 24-8, 2.94 ERA, 276 Ks
Snub: Kevin Brown – 17-11, 1.89 ERA, 159 Ks
Kevin Brown’s 1996 season remains the finest single pitching season in Marlins history. He still owns the Marlins single season records in ERA, WHIP, WAR, and strikeout/walk ratio. His ERA+, which adjusts for era and ballpark, was an astounding 215 – far outpacing what Josh Johnson or Jose Fernandez have ever done in a Marlins uniform. He also did this pitching in over 230 innings, so his durability and consistency were never in doubt. Amazingly, despite leading the NL in some important categories, Brown received only 2 of 28 first-place votes in a race against one of Atlanta’s stable of Hall of Fame pitchers, John Smoltz.
Of course Smoltz had an excellent season of his own. He pitched an incredible 253 innings, had nearly 300 strikeouts, led the NL with 24 wins, and had the second highest WAR among NL pitchers that year. The big problem is that, not only was Smoltz probably not the best pitcher in the NL that year, he also might not have been the best pitcher on his own team that year. Greg Maddux had the lower ERA (2.72 vs. 2.94), the higher ERA+ (162 vs. 149), and a nearly identical WAR (7.1 vs. 7.3). The biggest difference between Smoltz and Maddux (and Brown)? Wins and strikeouts.
Pitching wins are stupid. Wait, scratch that — all stats that apply wins to a single player are stupid: wins are not a QB stat or a pitcher stat or a goalie stat. All of you can remember times that a player played really well but his team lost the game, and all of you can remember a time a player played mediocre or even bad and yet the team somehow won the game. This is what happens when you arbitrarily assign a stat meant to measure team success and apply it to the “most important” player.
The strikeout difference is more compelling. Smoltz did have over 100 more strikeouts compared to Brown, and that is certainly worth mentioning and applauding. But at the end of the day the pitcher’s job is to minimize runs. You minimize runs by making sure no one gets on base. Smoltz allowed nearly twice as many earned runs as Brown (83 compared to 49) and his WHIP, while still very good, was clearly inferior to Brown’s (1.001 compared to 0.944). Although Smoltz had a very good season, I’d rather have a pitcher that gives up half as many runs even if he doesn’t rack up as many strikeouts. The voters awarded Smoltz for being on a better team and accumulating meaningless wins. Smoltz did have more strikeouts than Brown, but Brown had him beat by every other pitching measurement.
2. LeBron James for 2010-11 NBA MVP
Winner: Derrick Rose – 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, 45% FG, 13.1 WS, 23.5 PER
Snub: LeBron James – 26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 51% FG, 15.6 WS, 27.3 PER
Let’s call this what it was — the blacklisting of LeBron James. LeBron had just come off back-to-back MVPs in Cleveland and had just left the Cavaliers with his very public and ill-conceived “Decision.” Voters tend to get bored of voting for the same players over and over again – even Michael Jordan never won three MVPs in a row. But this was something more than voter fatigue, this was a referendum on LeBron’s decision to join the Miami Heat. That is because the selection of Derrick Rose was not just selecting the best non-LeBron season, it was selecting Derrick Rose because he was the anti-LeBron James.
The 2010-11 MVP vote was the coronation of Rose as LeBron’s replacement. They both had been number-one picks who had been chosen by their hometown teams. Whereas LeBron had “abandoned” his team, Rose, the dynamic young guard molded and inspired by his hero Michael Jordan, would “stay” and lead his team to greatness. He would take the mantle of Jordan and make Chicago a power again. That very year the Bulls won over 60 games and had the best record in the Eastern Conference. It just fed into the media narrative: LeBron’s selfish ways did not serve him as well as Rose’s way did. Rose elevated his game like Jordan would do… Thus Rose not only won the MVP, but he won it in a tremendous landslide. Although it may be premature to bury him completely, it appears that in the haste of finding basketball’s white knight, the voters selected the first NBA MVP who will not be a Hall of Famer.
Ignoring this convenient narrative, the actual comparison of Rose to his competitors proves that this dogmatic decision also left some other deserving candidates in the cold. Rose’s 13-Win Share season was dynamic. He was exciting, explosive and not afraid to make the pass or take the big shot. This ignores that three players (LeBron being one of them) had higher win share totals and five players had a better WS/48 number than Rose. Although LeBron had the best season in terms of win shares as 15.6, the voters also ignored the worthy candidacy of Dwight Howard. Howard averaged a 23 and 14 all season, shot nearly 60%, blocked 2.4 shots a game and eventually won Defensive Player of the Year. He also posted a 14.4 win share total. If the voters were adamant in not awarding LeBron, Dwight should have been the guy to get it.
1. Roberto Luongo for 2003-04 Vezina Trophy
Winner: Martin Brodeur – 38-26-11, 2.03 GAA, .917 SV%
Snub: Roberto Luongo – 25-33-14, 2.43 GAA, .931 SV%
I won’t mince words: the voters flagrantly failed. This was an embarrassment for the entire sport. Martin Brodeur was a fantastic goalie, perhaps the greatest goalie of all-time, but his 2003-04 Vezina is fraudulent. During the 2003-04 season, Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils were statistically the No. 1 defense in the NHL. Yes, Brodeur’s proficiency in the net had something to do with this but Brodeur also faced the least shots of any starting goalie that season. In other words, his skaters minimized the chances Brodeur had in even facing shots. To further emphasize the great defense of the Devils that year, the two starting Eastern Conference defensemen of the 2004 NHL All-Star game were both Devils. One of whom, Scott Niedermeyer, would later go on to win the Norris Trophy that year. Oh, and by the way, Niedermeyer is also in the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Luongo had the distinction of playing for the 22nd ranked defense in the league. Luongo not only faced the most shots in the league that year, but he faced the most shots IN THE HISTORY OF THE NHL. The two “best” defenseman on the Panthers that year according to Defensive Point Shares (Mike Van Ryn and Lyle Odelein) combined for 6.2 Defensive Point Shares. Scott Niedermeyer had 6.9 Defensive Point Shares that year by himself. In fact, the Devils combined for nearly 23 more cumulative Defensive Point Shares than the Panthers that year. In spite of all this, Luongo’s save percentage was several degrees higher than Brodeur’s. To illustrate this more effectively, Brodeur allowed 154 goals that year compared to Luongo’s 172. Brodeur faced 1,845 shots that year and Luongo faced 2,475. Luongo allowed 18 more goals than Brodeur, but did so facing 630 more shots (a save percentage of .971). That’s a staggering difference.
Let me further put these numbers in perspective. The metric Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) measures how many more goals a goaltender stopped when compared to a league average goaltender facing the same number of shots. This “average” goaltender is adjusted each year to account for the average save percentage of each season. In the 2003-04 season, Brodeur had a GSAA of 10.31. Impressive, but more than three times less than what Brodeur was able to do in his best season. Luongo had a GSAA of 48.42! Not only was this by far the highest GSAA that season, but only three goalies have ever had better GSAA seasons. If we use the Goalie Point Shares (GPS) metric, Brodeur had a 12.5 GPS. Once again an impressive number, but not his best by a mile. Luongo’s GPS was 20.9. Not only was this, once again, the highest GPS that season, but it is also the highest GPS EVER recorded. Yes, according to at least one metric, Luongo had the best season ever by a goaltender, and came THIRD in Vezina voting.
What explains this? Well it is actually quite simple: the curse of the win “statistic.” Luongo had a losing record as a goaltender that season, and the Vezina Trophy has only been awarded to a goaltender with a losing record once – Charlie Gardiner way back in 1932. Luongo was penalized for playing on a miserable team, and Brodeur was rewarded for playing on a terrific team: even though Luongo clearly did substantially more with substantially less. This is clear even if you do not use advanced statistics like GSAA and GPS. Even more insulting is that Miikka Kiprusoff came in second in Vezina voting despite only playing in 38 games that season. However, unlike Luongo, Kiprusoff had a winning record. Luongo is not only the greatest Florida Panther of all-time, but the numbers suggest he is one of the best goaltenders of all-time. Yet his Hall-of-Fame candidacy may be jeopardized because of his lack of Vezinas. The same people who denied him a rightful Vezina in 2004, may yet hold that against them when they decide his entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Follow Cole on Twitter @CPress_17