LeBron James will attempt to keep Durant from taking the MVP Award away from him.
A topic of much debate this year is whether or not James can produce another season with a similar level of performance and whether he can win yet another back-to-back MVP as he did in 2009 and 2010. Although there is a possibility of James putting together a similar stat line for the entire season, statistics suggest that it is unlikely he will be able to earn his fourth MVP Award this season.
An analysis of the last 25 MVP Award winners (with Michael Jordan from '97-'98 removed due to his retirement) indicates that LeBron's performance last season was approximately equal to or better than the average MVP performance in field goal percentage, three point percentage, steals per game and points per game, while being under the average age.
He slightly under-performed in free-throw percentage, rebounds per game, assists per game, blocks per game and turnovers per game.
James certainly deserved the award last season, as he outperformed half of the significant measures of an MVP's average performance and was fairly close to reaching the average for the other half. However the question arises whether or not James can put forth the same level of performance as the year before, and whether he will be able to win the award for a second year in a row.
A closer look at the season performances that followed the impressive seasons of the last 25 MVP Award winners paints a better picture of what to expect from James next season.
On average the season after winning the MVP Award, the player puts forth worse season averages in field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, rebounds, steals, blocks and points. The MVP winners do see a slight increase in performance in three-point percentage, assists and turnovers.
With these changes in performance applied to the performance of LeBron James from last season, it is estimated that his performance will remain or become worse than average in free-throw percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, turnovers and points while the remainder of the measurements, except for three-point percentage, also decrease to a number closer to the average.
This indicates that it is likely that LeBron James will follow up last season's performance with another commanding year that will arguably be one of the top performances in the league. However, his performance will drop enough that it is unlikely he will repeat as the MVP this year. Although he may still have a performance worthy of the MVP Award, the statistics suggest it is unlikely that he will be voted the MVP this upcoming season.
Of the last 25 MVPs, there has been a total of six repeat MVP performances, including a repeat by James, which equates to a 24 percent rate of MVPs winning two years in a row. This suggests that there is a chance that he could repeat due to a similar level of performance, however the data from past MVPs suggests there may be more at play influencing the chances of a potential repeat.
If LeBron James puts forth a performance similar to the estimate based on average change in performance by MVPs, it appears that it is unlikely he will be voted to win the MVP Award. Therefore there may be a contrast effect that occurs from a player winning the MVP with a commanding performance a year before.
The contrast effect would cause voters to focus more on the fact that last year's MVP did not have the same level of a dominating performance as the year before, and are likely to use this comparison to determine that another player is more deserving of the MVP Award.
For example, if Kevin Durant were to have a similar or better season than last year and LeBron James was to have a slightly worse season as estimated earlier, it would be much more likely that Kevin Durant would this time be voted MVP.
It appears to require a much more impressive performance from a previous MVP in order for that player to retain the MVP Award due to the heightened standards that come from winning the year before.
Therefore, though it is a possibility that LeBron James is crowned the MVP for an additional season, it appears to be unlikely based on the past 25 MVP Award winners' experiences. Even though statistics suggest it is unlikely that James repeats, the numbers can't necessarily take into consideration the fact that James may be the greatest player the NBA has seen since Michael Jordan. Therefore James may be able to defy the odds and earn not only his fourth MVP Award but his second back-to-back crowning.