At the 2008 Olympics, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade combined with the rest of the “Redeem Team” to destroy the notion that the U.S. cannot play with chemistry or cohesiveness by winning the gold and not dropping a game over the course of the tournament.
Determining which of those three was more valuable was a more difficult task than most of the teams’ games as they won by an average in of 27.8 points in their Olympic contests.
Was it D-Wade who had a bounty of highlight-reel plays and a game-high 27 points in the gold medal game? Maybe LeBron deserved the nod as he was a man possessed on both ends of the court.
Or did Kobe outdo both of them as he took on and succeeded in the role of shutting down the opposing team’s best perimeter player, in addition to nailing a clutch four-point play at the tail end of the gold medal game to boot?
The Olympics did not answer this question as they do not hand out an outstanding player trophy, and thus the debate for who should be christened as the top U.S. player has carried over to the NBA regular season where they are the three leading candidates for the MVP award. Here are the pros and cons to each player’s candidacy.
Out to prove that he is still one of the most explosive players in the game after an injury-plagued 2007-2008 season, Wade has had his finest statistical season. He is leading the league in scoring with 29.8 points a game with a .489 shooting percentage to go along with 7.5 dimes and five rebounds per game.
Only Chris Paul has averages more steals per game than Wade’s 2.3 steals a game and Wade is the top shot blocker out of the guard position with 1.4.
Wade’s signature moment of the season came when he dropped 48 points and dished out 12 assists against the Bulls in a 130-127 double-overtime victory on March 9.
What separated that performance from his other 40-point outbursts was that he hit the game-tying three-pointer near the end of regulation, then stole the ball from John Salmons with three seconds left and made a running three-pointer as time expired in the second overtime.
Aiding and hurting his case is that he is carrying a highly inferior roster to that of LeBron and Kobe. There is no Robin to his Batman as rookie Michael Beasley is not a true second scoring option yet and Jermaine O’Neil is past his prime.
The Heat have clinched a spot in the playoffs, but if Kobe could not win the MVP by taking a team with Smush Parker to the playoffs in 2005-2006 and putting up great numbers (35.4 points per game in 05-06), than Wade in all likelihood will have a difficult time getting the necessary amount of votes.
The reigning MVP is averaging 27.2 points per game and is shooting .467 from the field, his highest percentage since the 2001-2002 season.
Most importantly, he has already helped the Lakers clinch the top seed in the Western Conference and has them just one game back of the Cavilers for the best record as of April 3rd.
Benefiting Kobe’s play the past two years has been the added roster depth in that it has given Phil Jackson flexibility to decrease his minutes, which allows arguably the best clutch shooter to be fresher in the fourth quarter.
Kobe was in Wade’s position a few years ago, having to carry the load for all four quarters, but now he has the confidence in his teammates to get them involved early and take over when the situation calls for him to do so, with the Houston game last Friday being a prime example.
Of course, Kobe can still try and rip the heart out of a team from the get-go like he did during his 61 point outburst at Madison Square Garden, a record at the storied arena, in February. It would aid Kobe if the Lakers could acquire the top record, as LeBron has superior stats.
Nobody attacks the rim quite like LeBron. It is a poetic brute force. Watching him try to overpower or outmaneuver defenders on a full head of steam makes him appear to be a combination of Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson.
With a per game average of 28.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists LeBron is making it easier to believe that he could become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season.
Not only does LeBron have gaudy stats, but he has also become a premier defender since the Olympics. All of the credit cannot go to LeBron, but he is one of the key reasons the Cavilers have allowed an NBA-low 91.3 points per game.
According to ESPN.com statistician guru John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating system (which measures seasons all the way back to 1973), LeBron is having the third best season ever with a 31.52, trailing only Michael Jordan’s 31.89 1987-1988 and 31.79 1990-1991 seasons. Wade has a 30.16, while Kobe is at 24.48.
One of the few negatives there was to gripe about LeBron the past two seasons was his free throw shooting, but he has responded by shooting 77 percent from the charity stripe.
LeBron will not admit it, but he was making a statement when two days after Kobe lit up the Knicks for 61, he abused the Knicks’ miserable defense for 52 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.
Wade has lifted the Heat from 15 wins a year ago into the playoffs with a week-and-a-half to spare, but their 40-36 record (as of April 3rd) weigh down his chances as only two players, Moses Malone (twice) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have ever won an MVP from a team with less than 50 wins.
It is just tough to envision voters bypassing the just as gaudy stats and better record LeBron has put up.
Kobe has done everything asked of him, but LeBron has been a little stronger across the board which is why The King should be crowned with his first MVP award, but in the court of public opinion the real MVP will come down to who leads his team to a championship.