Definitive Blueprint for LBJ to Deliver Historic 4th MVP Season
When the coach of your team's greatest rival makes statements like this:
"LeBron, to me, is the favorite every year. The years he doesn't win it, it'll usually be because people are just tired of voting for him. Statistically, if you go all-around game, I don't know how you don't vote for him every year."
You're probably good at what you do and command respect.
Rivers is alluding to James, spurring memories of when Michael Jordan lost the MVP to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone in 1993 and '97, respectively, despite leading the league in PER in '93 and leading his team to a league-leading 69 wins in '97.
Obviously, I'm not stating LeBron James is Michael Jordan. What I'm attempting to convey is that James is deserving of the award every year, yet doesn't win it because, as Rivers said, voters are tired of giving their vote to LeBron. It could even be argued that James deserved the award in 2011, despite finishing third behind Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) and Dwight Howard (Los Angeles Lakers).
Winning the MVP award is going to be difficult for James. Although he leads the league in terms of being an all-around player, there are still so many voters who are aching for a reason to give the award to Kevin Durant.
We look into five ways LeBron James can secure a fourth MVP, as he continues to move his way amongst the upper echelon of the NBA's greatest players.
Win the Eastern Conference
In the NBA, your team having a great record has become far more significant to a candidate's chances at winning the league MVP.
Kobe Bryant average 35 points per game in 2006 and didn't win the award because Steve Nash led an Amar'e Stoudemire-less Phoenix Suns team to a 54-28 record, which was far superior than Kobe leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 45-37 record.
Dwyane Wade was also a casualty of having an inferior team that cost him his chances at winning MVP. Despite returning from several surgeries he had only a year prior and averaging 30.1 points per game to win the scoring title, he didn't win because James had a similar impact while leading his Cleveland Cavaliers to 66 wins. Wade led the Heat to a mere 43 wins.
With competition from Kevin Durant out West on an excellent Oklahoma City Thunder team, James is going to need to lift his team to the best record in the East, and possibly even the NBA to completely reassure a fourth MVP.
To be honest, the Heat shouldn't have much competition when it comes to winning the Eastern Conference crown. Derrick Rose's absence and a series of poor off-season moves should knock the Chicago Bulls out of contention, basically leaving the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers to contend with the Heat for the first seed.
If James can't lead his Heat past those teams, then it'll be a disappointment. Understood that the Heat unleash their finest product in the postseason. But without significant competition from a Chicago team that feverishly wanted the number one seed, Miami should be able to work into a number one seed even though its effort may be lacking in some instances.
Plus, the team has only improved outside of James. The team has achieved a second seed the past two years with inferior teams. Improving one of the weaker and inconsistent points—as well as constant improvement from James—of their offense should vault the team to the top.
Continue Improving the All-Around Game
As good as we thought LeBron James was prior to last year, he only maximized his attributes and potential by creating a post game and further developing his all-around game.
Defenses were wising up to the Heat's simple offense. They knew that they would do all they could to score near the basket and were willing to pack the paint and allow shooters to get open, in order to limit the drives of James and Dwyane Wade. That, as well as a well-run zone defense, were believed to be the most efficient ways to limit the Heat.
If you can find a way to limit James, then you've done all you can to assure a victory.
But then LeBron went and got himself a little bit of a post game. It's not much, he still needs a lot of help on his footwork and having go-to moves, but it's incredibly effective because of the influence he has when the ball is in his hands.
He's a rare player because it's a necessity to have the opposition utilize two defenders at a time to limit him, because even the likes of Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets) and Gerald Wallace (Brooklyn Nets) have trouble defending James as individuals. Having him in the post only forces the defenses prior agenda to adjust and throw defenders at him in the post. When they do so, that takes defenders off the perimeter and allows shooters to get open.
Outside of possible improvement at that facet, James has also shown just how effective of a rebounder he could be. Facing adversity without Chris Bosh in the lineup, James had a season-high 18 rebounds in a critical Game 4 against the Indiana, 15 rebounds in Game 1 and 15 rebounds in the historic Game 6 against Boston. In total, James finished with 10 or more rebounds in 10 postseason games.
When James hears the call to step up, he will. He recognizes he needs to take an elite approach to every facet of the game for the better of his team. His willingness in attempting to be the best on every part of the court adds to his desire of wanting to be a success as a teammate.
Make Teammates Better
For the first time since 2007, James saw his assists per below seven assists. He finished with seven assists per the year before, but only managed 6.2 in 2012, the third lowest of his career.
James assist percentage also dipped to 33.6 percent, the lowest since 2007, as well. However, his usage rating rose from the season before and he even finished with an offensive rating of 118. He also led in win shares for the fourth consecutive time.
It's difficult to conceive why James' assists numbers reached their lowest point in five years, but it may just stem from the lack of Wade on the floor. Although James finished with a tremendous record when he was playing without Wade, he's more likely not to end up with as many assists without the second best player on the floor.
As one of the few consistent players on the team, Wade has become a perfect complement to James.
Even though James' numbers may have fallen a little low, he's still the team's facilitator in charge of making plays happen. Those facilitating duties have only improved with James adding a new facet to his game in the post. By posting up, he's constantly attracting the attention of the defense because he has the ball in a high-percentage area.
James no longer needs to rely on penetration starting from the top of the perimeter, in order to create open opportunities for his teammates waiting along the perimeter. Rather than doing so, he puts himself in a better situation with a considerable size advantage over his opponent, while also creating better shots for his teammates, since they will be open because of all five players looking towards James.
Now equipped with a plethora of wing players by his side, James is only going to find his assist total rise with the introduction of more consistent shooters.
Stay in Contention for DPOY
Analysts speak of LeBron James' Game 6 against Boston so highly because of the legendary performance he had on the offensive end.
Sure 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists is impressive in the biggest game of your prestigious NBA career, but you know what's better? Doing the same thing, but also holding a future Hall-of-Famer to nine points on 18 field-goal attempts, five rebounds, one assist and three turnovers. That future Hall-of-Famer was Paul Pierce, a former Finals MVP and one of the best NBA players in the past decade.
Now, I completely recognize that Pierce doesn't exactly measure up to James. However, this is still James coming up huge in a tight spot, despite finishing on awful terms the game before. Plus, Pierce is still an excellent player who is completely capable of going off for 30 points on a team where he is the primary focus of the team.
But that's just one instance against one of the few elite players James has stepped up to and defended with elite efficiency. James spent time in the postseason successfully defending a myriad of stars, including scorers Carmelo Anthony (New York) and Kevin Durant (Oklahoma) as well as sharpshooter Danny Granger (Indiana) and the always deadly Paul Pierce (Boston).
He didn't spend all his time defending opposing small forwards, either. The staple of James' 2011-'12 season was the fact that he dabbled in defending every single position on the floor. Usually we see him guard point guards from time to time, but we've hardly seen him defend the power forward position as much as he did last year.
Guarding the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire (New York), David West (Indiana), Kevin Garnett (Boston), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma) and even Kendrick Perkins (Oklahoma) in the postseason, James' speed and aggressive defense was key to his new-found ability to defend those who had a height advantage on him.
James wound up finishing fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year, finishing behind Tyson Chandler (New York), Ibaka and Howard. James finished with 112 votes and the next guard or forward to receive votes was Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies), who finished sixth with only 36 votes.
Be LeBron James
LeBron James fought through the sacrifices and adjustments he had to make in his first two years with the team to become the player he is today—an NBA champion who has the potential to go down as the greatest ever.
With that first championship, James now has confidence he's never had before; and for a player who relies so heavily on his confidence to get him going, that's a huge deal. James was being held back by his previous failures and misfortunes, always carrying the burden of his team losing and taking the brunt of the criticism.
Now with that title, James can avoid the scrutiny that he couldn't seem to escape since 2010.
What James did in the 2012 Finals that was different from the 2011 Finals was play how he should in those types of situations. He became the leader who demanded the ball at the end of games on offense and then proceeded to make the stop on the defensive end. It was how we've seen James play for nine years, but he managed to apply it to the NBA's highest stage for the first time.
The NBA had never seen James play with such confidence and it stems from him stepping up to the occasion and taking charge. Games such as the Game 4 he had against Indiana with his team down 2-1 in the series or Game 6 against Boston with his team down 3-2 were true testaments to the potential James has when he's confident and believing in his abilities as the league's top player.
James finally broke through that mold last season. He played comfortably off the ball, in his usual isolation setting and, most importantly, in the post. James continued to excel as a facilitator who could score at will and make the right pass, something that no other 6'8", 250-pound small forward could think of doing.
If James continues to play as he has the first nine seasons of his career, which has only resulted in three league MVP's, eight All-Star games, five All-Defensive First Team nominations and six All-NBA first teams, then he shouldn't have any trouble winning a second consecutive MVP and a fourth in five years.