With the regular season winding down the talk invariably heats up over the regular season MVP. It is widely believed that the main contestants for this years honor include LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and Dwight Howard. However, to hear the media you would think that the race has been over for some time now.
They seemingly crowned King James the MVP from the beginning of the season as if for some reason it was spiritually preordained. But, if we take a closer look, we just might find that things are not quite what they seem.
Given the history of the award, players on teams whose winning percentage hover too close to 50 percent just don't seem to qualify...sorry Dwyane...and the fact that at least some offensive proficiency is typically considered a prerequisite for serious MVP consideration...sorry Dwight, we see that this competition is really just a two-horse race.
So, with apologies to Dwayne Wade and Dwight Howard, the MVP question becomes Kobe or LeBron? Lets take a closer look at some numbers posted by the two superstars.
We find that the scoring numbers are essentially a wash between the two, with LeBron averaging 28.3 points per game while shooting 48.5 from the field. Kobe plays about a minute and a half less and averages 27.2 points per game, and shoots .467 from the field.
Here Lebron’s 7.8 rebounds have the edge over Kobe’s 5.4. However, LeBron plays forward, a position that is played closer to the proximity of the rebounds, while Kobe typically plays guard and thus is positioned further from the basket where opportunity for rebounds are less frequent.
LeBron averages 7.3 assists to Kobe’s 4.9 assists per game. However, the assist numbers are a bit misleading, as the Lakers don't have nearly as many good shooters as the Cavs. Outside of Fisher, whom do the Lakers have who can shoot? "The Machine" has had a horrible year and Farmar has played even worse. They are shooting a horrific 37.4 and .403 from the field respectively. Pau Gasol is capable of creating his own shot as is Lamar Odom.
So just where are the assists supposed to come from? The Lakers traded their best shooter, Vladimir Radmanovic, at the trade deadline to create cap space thus diminishing an already suspect shooting corp. The Cavs on the other hand have an arsenal of good shooters in Mo Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, Wally Szczerbiak, and Joe Smith...thus the discrepancy in assists.
In my opinion, what really sets the two apart are some more important numbers that seem to be overlooked by the media and those prematurely proclaiming LeBron to be MVP. The Cavs are 2-7 against the league's top three teams, Orlando, LA, and Boston...teams they will need to beat to win the NBA title. The Lakers, meanwhile, have posted a 4-2 record against those same teams, while sweeping the season series against both Cleveland and Boston.
In this writer’s opinion, it is these games that DEFINE an MVP and it is here where Kobe clearly holds the advantage. Now add to the mix that Kobe's Lakers have dominated LeBron's Cavs in both head to head contests this year, and it just seems silly to overlook Kobe for the award.
When it comes down to the most important aspect of the game ... winning ... Kobe's Lakers have won just about every important battle they have faced. They have shown that they can play with, and beat the NBA’s best, both at home and away. Sure they have lost to some scrubs, e.g. Charlotte twice and Sacramento, but that happens when you have the Western Conference locked up so early.
More importantly, these teams surely won’t interfere with the Lakers ability to attain the ultimate prize, which is the NBA title. When it comes down to winning the big games against elite opponents, Kobe's Lakers are head and shoulders above the field.
Other factors also play a role in determining one’s justification for the award. It is easy for casual fans (and apparently the media) to overlook the impact that losing Andrew Bynum could have had on the Lakers. At the time of his injury he was arguably the Lakers most productive player.
In the five games preceding his injury he had been averaging 26.2 points, 13.8 boards and 3.2 blocks per game. Moreover, the Lakers were in the midst of a grueling East Coast road trip with away games against Toronto, Boston, and Cleveland looming on the immediate horizon. How the team fared would help determine just where the Lakers stood against the leagues best, so the injury couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.
When Bynum went down it wasn’t difficult to hear the collective air spewing from the Lakers bubble. They could easily have pouted and pulled the 'woe is me … here we go again' attitude. But Kobe would have none of it. He went into Madison Square Garden the following game and painted a masterpiece for the ages, which was just what the Doctor (Buss) ordered.
To Laker players and fans their leader’s message was loud and clear...This is the Lakers year and no amount of misfortune would derail them in a quest for the ultimate goal. That LeBron attempted to outdo him later in the week was nothing more than meaningless bravado, which the media ate up hook line and sinker.
They completely ignored the extremely different contexts in which the games were played. They made no mention that Kobe’s game came at a defining time in the Laker season. It set the tone for how the Lakers would respond to the extreme adversity of life without their big man. It would help define their character… their collective will.
Conversely, the Cavs game at the Garden held no such intrigue. As an Eastern Conference team the Cavs play at the Garden with regularity and as such the game was just another regular season game for them. Win or lose, it would not define their character or determine their fate. The Laker team, on the other hand, needed a big-time pick-me-up at a precarious time in their season and Kobe delivered big time on a big stage...Not merely for show but with purpose.
So ultimately in determining one’s worthiness for this years MVP, the question is simple. Do you base your selection on statistics or does the ability to win big games hold more weight. If your answer is the former than I suppose LeBron gets your vote.
However, if it is based on winning and the ability to lift your team up through extreme adversity, then your pick should clearly go to Kobe. So go ahead and proclaim LeBron the big winner, but for my money, at least until next year, I'll take Kobe as my pick for MVP.