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The criteria remain the same whether we're talking about the Player of the Season, the Players' Player, the Ballon d'Or, or the MVP. The best player: a coveted title presented to the most esteemed talent.

This award is often referenced when debating whose name deserves the postnominal G-O-A-T letters to proceed. England's highest level of football – the Premier League – has been home to some of football's most mesmeric talent. The season's most outstanding player receives the "Premier League Player of the Season" award; think Thierry Henry, Ronaldo, Vidic and De Bruyne, who have claimed this award multiple times.

The NBA's version of this award is the MVP. The most valuable player. In recent seasons, the debate for who places this award atop their mantel has landed heated discussions where either or neither debater is correct. How do we define greatness in a league overflowing with talent? How can we assign this award to one player whilst snubbing a short list of names from the record books?

No one's top ten of an all-time list can have a name not featured in the MVP records. It sits eagerly at a decorated second place to winning a championship. A team wins the league – sure. But an MVP on a winning team is the driving force, and without their scoring prowess or defensive tenacity, the team will be a trifling runner-up and, over time, will be forgotten.

Although the most basic definition of this award is clear, the NBA's distinct criteria have become increasingly blurred over the years. Like a morning mist clinging to exposed skin, it's become somewhat of a hindrance to voters and NBA fans.

I've always seen the MVP as a player whose attendance on the court is mandatory, for without it, the team's success plummets.

Shaquille O'Neal in 2000. Arguably the best player season of all time. Shaq led the league in scoring and scoring efficiency – which means he made most of the shots he took. He fell a shy half a rebound behind Mutumbo for leading in rebounds and finished third in blocks per game. If you took Shaq out of a Lakers uniform and squeezed him into any other franchise, he's making a difference. That's the fact. And that's value.

You can pick any of Michael Jordan's seasons and use them as a threshold for MVP talent. His 1998 season, I think, is his best. He had the swagger of a multi-winning champ. There wasn't much left for other players to win after MJ finished wreaking hell on the league. He won the scoring title, steals leader, defensive player of the year, NBA first team, NBA defensive team, All-Star, and All-Star MVP; he also led the Bulls to a thirteen-win streak to secure first place in the Eastern Conference. There are great players; then there is MJ.

If the rosy-cheeked, innocuous primary school teacher taught us anything, it was that winning isn't everything. And they weren't wrong. Barkley's 1993 MVP trophy came without a championship. Sir Charles put his value on full display by leading his team to the most wins in his conference – by a landslide. He drove his new-found team to the finals to take on the indomitable force of the 90s Bulls, only to come second in a despondent 4-2 loss.

Value can come in many forms, and winning only adds to the list of needs to receive the award. Why would you be up for debate if you claim a championship but barely lead your team in scoring or capitulate any leadership opportunities? Likewise, what is your value if you're leading the league in scoring but can't, for whatever reason, will your team succeed?

A new season is upon us, and, at this early point, we'll likely be repeating a difficult debate of who the MVP is. Last year, we witnessed the ultimate debate. He is a force to be reckoned with in Philly, a point centre controlling both ends of the court, and the basketball savant who looks like he should be driving for Uber. All three harbour MVP qualities, and not one more than the other. Embiid has led the league in scoring and is a clear offensive and defensive beast on the court. Giannis is the most valuable player on the league's number-one winning team. Jokic continues to blow up the advanced stats columns with the number spot in win shares.

Embiid won the award. We must remember that it is a regular season award, and he was a juggernaut on the court. Being that big and skilled only results in players falling by the wayside as they attempt to combat the force. But, in hindsight, two teams finished above the Sixers that year. One of whom would go on to eliminate Philly in the second round. Again, we must remind ourselves this award adheres to the regular season. Regardless, a what-if-sized hole is left in my wonder as I reflect on the ruling argument against Jokic's virtue: he's already won two. He broke and set records in efficiency. He was top five in assists and rebounds – as a seven-foot centre. And, with Jokic at the helm, his team finished one loss behind Philly and went on to win the league.

The league is going to be in a similar predicament this year. Embiid is now an MVP and continues to lead the league in scoring. Jokic led his team victoriously to the finals in record-breaking fashion and is still, somehow, playing the best basketball of his career. LeBron is looking sharper than ever; KD is playing with an unequivocal coolness as he wets his short in poison before firing from literally anywhere on the court. Steph is averaging 30 points again, and Luka is still practising magic. We have all the familiar faces. All future Hall of Famers. At some point in their careers, all are worthy of winning the award.

But only one can. In a time when so many are averaging thirty points a game, and big men remain efficient as they extend to the three-point line, let's look to advanced stats to distinguish the great from the slightly greater. It might not be as obvious as the previous seasons, and this trend might continue as skill sets flourish pervasively. Still, one thing is certain: with meticulous diligence and a well-versed understanding of the criteria, the most valuable player can always be determined.

All I hope for this year is a fair and righteous outcome for the NBA's MVP award winner. If LeBron deserves the valued crown but is dismissed due to some historic, barely relevant stat. Or KD puts on a clinic that will leave indelible marks on the game but is tossed to the almost pile. Then, my fellow NBA enthusiasts, the league will again remind us that it is truly a business, not a platform for the utmost ball-is-lifers.

Enjoy the game. Soak in the greatness, and feel inspired by a league filled with MVPs.

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