Why LeBron James Is the NBA's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IMarch 22, 2012

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the New York Knicks at American Airlines Arena on February 23, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In 1988, Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan became the first player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award in the same season.

Six years later, Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon would become the second player to do so. He'd also be the last.

Since Olajuwon won Defensive Player of the Year in 1994, the award has been given out to centers and power forwards with the lone exceptions being point guard Gary Payton and small forward Ron Artest. If you haven't noticed, the award is predominantly given to the big men of the league who control the paint and block shots.

Thus the reason why Dwight Howard has won it the past three seasons and could be on his way to a fourth. The Orlando Magic center has continued to assert his dominance in the paint with his daunting size and freakish athleticism, but could see his reign as the DPOY in jeopardy. He's averaging only 2.2 blocks per game, the lowest he's put up since 2008, and is facing some stiff competition from a particular small forward in South Beach.

LeBron James seems to finally understand this whole working well with superstars deal. The former Cleveland Cavalier and two-time MVP had momentary trouble adjusting to playing with his new teammates in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last season. Tough to blame him. For his entire basketball playing career, James had been the focal point of the offense and never had the privilege of playing with another legitimate star.

So when he paired up with a player that plays exactly the same way as he does, of course some wires would get crossed early on. However, being the extremely smart and sensible player he is, James made some needed adjustments in his game, learned the tendencies of his teammates and improved enough to help lead the Heat to the Finals last season.

This year has been a completely different story. James might have won two MVP's and 60 or more games twice with Cleveland, but the 2011-12 season is by far the greatest and most efficient season of LeBron's career. James is averaging 26 points, nearly nine boards, seven assists, two steals and a block per and I haven't even listed the best stats, as well as the stats that aren't showing up that justify a DPOY for James.

On the offensive side of the ball, James has been nothing less than outstanding. Along with the team leading 26 points per game, he happens to be putting those numbers up on an absurd 54 percent from the field. It's the third consecutive year James has shot better then 50 percent, but has never shot as well as this, with his previous high coming last year when he shot 51 percent.

He's also shooting 39 percent from deep, another career high percentage.

How did LeBron get this efficient? It's not strictly because Wade and Bosh are making this job easier for him. LeBron took the necessary measures to improve on the aspects he struggled at last year and has made those some of the strongest parts of his game. His post game has seen tremendous improvement after working out with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer.

James went to work on his post game after struggling mightily with his back to the basket against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. The opposing defense constantly forced LeBron into post ups. James lacked the body control, footwork and basket awareness to consistently thrive, and it drastically threw off his game for the worse as he struggled in finding ways to score against the zone defense.

That's no longer the case. As a result of James posting up, the Heat have found a way to infiltrate and find ways to score near the basket without driving. Both James and Dwyane Wade have made the post up a large part of their game and have been making their defenders pay all season.

While LeBron still has some work to do to get on the level of players like Wade or Carmelo Anthony, the improvement he's shown thus far is incredible for a player who hardly ever used that move to score before. Prior to making the post up as a part of the game, it was either a drive or a long range jump shot for LeBron, who relied too much on the hero ball.

The Miami Heat aren't the Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron quickly recognized it. He matured as an all-around player, sought out help in order to improve his game and has now transitioned his practice to the professional circuit. As a result, LeBron has become a better teammate, and his team has seen dramatic improvement from that dreadful 9-8 start from last season.

Many will argue over who's team this is. In reality, it doesn't matter as long as they continue to work in perfect synchronization and don't end up pulling a Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook deep into the postseason. That seems impossible, however, as Wade and James are both mature enough individuals to keep their eye on the prizes and recognize each others talents and strengths.

However, there's been no question that LeBron has been the better player on this team and in the league overall. In Wade's absence early in the season, LeBron led this team to numerous wins as he and Chris Bosh shouldered the load. Mostly shouldering the load was LeBron, of course, who was electric in a role that he knew all too well from his days in Cleveland.

Does LeBron winning the MVP award seem like a sure thing? The Miami Heat are going to be a top three team with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant being his biggest competition. Bryant's Lakers won't achieve as good a record as the Heat, Rose's injuries essentially take him out of the running and Durant lacks in the defensive and facilitation department.

As long as James keeps this pace up, keeps the Heat near the top of the league and avoids any devastating injuries, a third MVP in four years should be in the very near future. Even playing alongside the likes of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shouldn't hinder LeBron's ability to win the award. He's still putting in the work and is the main reason this team currently stands near the top of the league.

That's just one award. An award that LeBron has already won a few times. LeBron wants to add some new hardware to the trophy cabinet that also holds a vacant spot for a championship trophy as well as a Finals MVP trophy. James might have to wait for those, but there is another award that he could, and should, be taking home along with his MVP.

For players who aren't power forwards or centers, winning a Defensive Player of the Award is extremely difficult. Since the award was initially given out in 1982, only Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Michael Jordan, Michael Cooper, Gary Payton and Ron Artest were the players to occupy the one, two or three spot to win the award.

A small forward or guard hasn't won since 2004. Whoever votes to win the DPOY could make that change if they make the right choice by selecting LeBron as the latest recipient of the NBA's top defensive player.

We sometimes get too obsessed with looking at the numbers of a star player and making our judgment about them based solely on stats. It's unfair to the player, however, because you're simply not weighing every aspect and intangible. You're failing to recognize their ability to rotate, their ability to guard different positions and everything else on the floor that happens and doesn't happen to be counted by statisticians.

LeBron's offense has been nothing short of amazing. The fact that he can dramatically change a game as a scorer or facilitator makes him worthy enough to win an MVP. However, we've been failing to note how astounding and historically excellent James has been on the defensive end and why that should also contribute to his winning the MVP, as well as the DPOY.

The Miami Heat don't rely on individual defenders. All five players on the floor must work together on double teams, rotating and deterring the path of a pick and roll. They don't run a man defense, but they don't run a zone, either. It's five teammates working together, protecting the paint and doing their best to run out and defend the three-point line.

Not to say that they don't have time for focusing on one player when the situation occurs. Most notably, you'll see the Heat run this type of defense when they take on Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Instead of keeping a point guard or using rotations to defend Rose, they'll put LeBron on him.

LeBron will get the primary defensive assignment in every fourth quarter situation you will see because of how versatile of a player he is. He's quick enough to keep Rose in front of him and force him into contested jump shots, still strong enough to guard a small forward equivalent in size and has the vertical leap and aggressive mentality to defend a center as well.

Yes, LeBron James defends center. Think being 6'8" means anything? Not to LeBron. He's guarded the likes of Dwight Howard, effectively we should mention, and even pulled a Magic Johnson-type performance when he defended Marcus Camby to start a game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the absence of Chris Bosh.

Even his numbers in the game were eerily similar to Johnson's historic performance. James posted up 38 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals, one block and zero turnovers in 41 minutes. It was the most efficient game James has had this year and will probably be the most efficient game you'll see from any player this season.

Camby had two points on 1-of-6 shooting that game.

Outside of James and Lamar Odom, there is not one player in this league who can guard every position effectively. Once again, LeBron recognized that his team needed him when the lack of a capable defensive-minded center became a prominent issue. Joel Anthony was solid, but he wasn't aggressive enough on the defensive boards and couldn't match center's strength.

Dexter Pittman and Eddy Curry? We'll move on.

It's been LeBron who has taken the responsibility of playing the role of big man. He's started at power forward numerous times, has defended the opponent's center and is leading the Heat in rebounds at nearly nine per, also a career high. This isn't LeBron purely taking advantage of the Heat not having a center. This is LeBron recognizing that his team has a weakness and filling in that weakness on his own.

James is the team's most aggressive rebounder and that means a lot to a team that can't seem to get consistent rebounding outputs out of anybody. Udonis Haslem has been decent averaging eight boards per off the bench, but Chris Bosh's inability to go after every rebound has caused the Heat to give up far too many second chance points. He's not even averaging eight rebounds per.

LeBron has had no problem in controlling the boards. If you count Josh Smith as a power forward, then James is the best rebounder in the league to not be a power forward or center. He's grabbing more rebounds per than the likes of Carlos Boozer, Kevin Garnett and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kevin Durant is the next best rebounding small forward at a little under eight per.

James will have some stiff competition going for the DPOY. Howard may be averaging his lowest amount of blocks per since 2008, but he's still in heavy consideration to win it; Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka is averaging a league leading three blocks per, and even guys like Luol Deng and DeAndre Jordan could possibly sneak in as dark horse candidates.

However, it's tough to argue with someone who's effectively guarding every single position with the effectiveness that James has possessed this year. It's tough to argue with a small forward grabbing more rebounds than three of the league's top power forwards. It's even tougher to argue with someone who can guard Derrick Rose one night and then Dwight Howard the very next.

If the voters make it right, LeBron will become the first player since 1994 to win the MVP and DPOY. Fast don't lie, but neither do stats, strength, versatility and maturity. You can criticize him all you want, but let's not deny the fact that LeBron has become the best player in the league, and it's not even really close.


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