The Ridiculously Easy Argument for LeBron James as MVP of the NBA
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At some point during the Miami Heat's upcoming second-round matchup with either the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets, the American Airlines Arena will stand up and applaud as LeBron James lifts up the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the fourth time in his career.
Absolutely no one will be surprised when the best player in the world is named MVP. Again.
Sorry, I would have given you a spoiler alert, but it's not like LeBron has given you much of a reason to be surprised when the award is officially announced. It's become about as dramatic as the Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks first-round series was.
No voter fatigue is coming into play this season, and pure spite is just about the only thing that could keep LeBron from becoming the first unanimous winner in the Association's storied history. The argument for James as MVP is a ridiculous easy one, and it's a line of reasoning that you've heard over and over again.
He's the best player on the best team. The Heat couldn't have won 27 straight games without James, and they certainly wouldn't have put together such a large gap between themselves and the rest of the Eastern Conference if the forward hadn't played.
Just look at any number of stats for confirmation.
Yeah, yeah. We've all heard it before. There's nothing new in the discussion at this point.
Instead of rehashing the case for LeBron, let's take a novel approach and shut down the other "candidates" one by one. Sorry, but I can't write "candidates" without the quotation marks, as the next group of players is just that far behind the reigning—and future—MVP.
If you're going to try arguing for Carmelo Anthony, your argument will likely be based around the gaudy point totals produced by the New York Knicks superstar. It has to be, seeing as Melo is a subpar defender and a lackluster, unwilling facilitator.
Anthony might be an above-average rebounder for his position, but when was the last time rebounding skills were the primary argument for an MVP?
Again, the pro-Melo camp has to base their man's campaign around his scoring. That's quite problematic, seeing as Melo's scoring is already less valuable than LeBron's.
Anthony led the league in scoring, but points per game is more a glamorous stat than a truly meaningful one. Context is important or else you'll be left operating without broken-leg cues.
In psychological studies, broken-leg cues allow you to explain test results on a deeper, more fundamental level. If you look at the results of a hypothetical one-mile race without context and see that Runner A finished 30 seconds ahead of Runner B, you're going to assume that the former is the faster runner, right?
But what if I told you that Runner B was laboring away with a broken leg and still finished only half a minute behind his opponent.
At this point, don't you start thinking that Runner B is the superior racer?
Such is the case with points per game. They're a nice way to provide a cursory overview of the NBA's scoring landscape, but without factoring in the type of shots and the efficiency of a player, they're relatively meaningless.
With that firmly in mind, take a look at this chart (stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com).
LeBron wins the efficiency categories (victories indicated by bold font), while Melo takes the volume ones. Does anyone actually think LeBron couldn't win the scoring title if he decided that he needed to in order for the Heat to win more games?
Since Melo missed nine more games than LeBron, the Miami superstar actually scored 116 more points than his N.Y. counterpart, and he did so while attempting 135 fewer shots.
If you look at the two scoring studs' points per weighted shot (total points divided by the sum of field-goal attempts and 0.475 times the number of free-throw attempts), the numbers fall overwhelmingly in favor of LeBron. He scored 1.27 points per weighted shot, while Anthony checked in at 1.11.
So if Melo's scoring can't push him past the league's best player, what does? His rebounding?
Uh, no. LeBron's total rebounding percentage of 13.1 is significantly better than Melo's 10.8. Argue all you want for the differing systems that Erik Spoelstra and Mike Woodson run in order to win the rebounding battles, but LeBron is significantly better on the glass.
How about Anthony's defense and passing?
For Melo's sake, let's not go there.
Carmelo Anthony has a legitimate case for MVP runner-up.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) April 10, 2013
ESPN's Chris Palmer nailed it. Melo has a legitimate shot at MVP runner-up, but it's folly to seriously consider him for the actual award.
Right off the bat, let me admit that I love this Sports Illustrated cover. I want to blow it up and hang it on my wall so that I can look to it for motivation whenever I deem that necessary.
Based on his play during the 2012-13 campaign, Durant is backing up his words. He truly doesn't want to finish in second again, whether it's in the league MVP voting for a fourth time or in the NBA Finals for back-to-back years.
A certain quote by the Rolling Stones comes to mind, though: "You can't always get what you want." In this case, Durant isn't going to achieve his goal, as he still plays in a league that prominently features LeBron James in his prime.
In a way, Durant might get what he wants in roundabout fashion. He implied that he wanted to finish in first, but he didn't say it it outright. Technically, finishing third behind James and Melo wouldn't be coming in second.
There's a solid chance of that happening, and Durant didn't say he was tired of coming in at No. 3. While the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar might end up venting his frustration and blowing a 50-amp fuse if he finishes in the antepenultimate spot, it's not like he has much of a case to top the MVP voting.
There are usually two different definitions given when justifying an MVP choice. We have the "he's the best player on the best team" rationale, and the "he was the most valuable to his team" argument. Both are valid, and neither puts Durant ahead of LeBron.
Good luck trying to argue that the Texas product is better than the prep-to-pro member of the reigning champions. If there's a legitimate case to be made, I have yet to hear it. And I'd love to, so please, convince me.
Additionally, if you take a gander at the above chart, there's no way you could possibly claim that Durant was more valuable than James to their respective teams.
James' Heat score more points per 100 possessions than Durant's Thunder when the superstars are on the court. When the two take a seat, Miami scores only 102.1 points per 100 possessions, while the Thunder drop to 103.
All in all, James improves the Heat offense by 11.3 points each 100 possessions, while Durant boosts the Thunder's scoring efforts by a relatively mild 9.1.
On defense, LeBron helps Miami hold opponents to 4.4 fewer points during the same number of trips up and down the court. Meanwhile, the Thunder are 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse when Durant steps foot on the hardwood.
Including play on both ends of the court, James' on-court/off-court margin for the Heat is 7.4 points per 100 possessions better than Durant's.
Of course, this is where the inevitable "LeBron plays with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh! It's not fair!" argument comes into play. Well, last I checked, the Thunder had these guys named Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin on their own roster during the regular season.
Here's one more chart that should put that irrational line of reasoning to bed for good:
One part of the graph should immediately jump out at you. Despite the perceived unfairness of LeBron's supporting cast, the Heat were actually outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions when the team's best player caught his breath next to Erik Spoelstra.
Can Durant say that?
Nope, and it's not even close, as OKC outscored its opponents by 4.4 points per 100 possessions when Durant rested.
Better player on the better team? Check that box for LeBron. More valuable to his team? Go ahead and check that box for the reigning champion as well.
Kobe Bryant had a brilliant offensive season, but offense is only half the battle in the NBA. Unless you actually put forth consistent effort on defense, you're not going to have a great shot at MVP while a player is submitting a historic season.
The Mamba's off-ball defense was absolutely atrocious during the 2012-13 campaign. He often appeared disengaged when his man didn't have the ball, no matter how effectively he played the part of lockdown defender while guarding an actual ball-handler.
Kobe played with his hands rather than his feet and often decided that he would rather stand and mark his man in the corner rather than slide over and play help defense.
Even still, Kobe's offense was so valuable that he managed to make a considerable amount of noise in the MVP running. You could make a legitimate argument that this was the best offensive season of his incredible career, one that leaves him as a lock for the Hall of Fame and in firm possession of a likely spot within the top-10 players of all time.
I'm not all that concerned with the argument, though. Kobe is still far enough behind LeBron that it's irrelevant.
People like to argue that the Los Angeles Lakers would be a lottery team without the services of No. 24. Well, that's true, but they were still pretty darn close to falling in the same category despite his presence on the court.
It's no secret that you need to win games in order to earn the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, and the Mamba simply didn't do enough winning. His Lakers only managed a 45-37 record, after all.
Above, you can see the winning percentages of each and every NBA MVP. From left to right, the MVPs progress in chronological order, starting with Bob Pettit in 1956 and finishing with Kobe's hypothetical—and ultimately nonexistent—award in 2013.
Only two players have ever been named the league's Most Valuable Player during a season in which their team won less than 55 percent of its games: Pettit and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1976). Kobe would make it three.
There's simply not much of a precedent for an MVP emerging from a non-dominant team. To buck the trend, a player must clearly establish himself as the premier star in the league, and that's something Kobe most certainly hasn't done this season.
Quick Notes on the Remaining Candidates
When I published the writeup on B/R's official 2012-13 NBA awards, only nine players showed up on the 48 five-man ballots that were turned in. We've already discussed four of them at length. Now, let's briefly run through the remaining five.
- Chris Paul: While the Los Angeles Clippers point guard performed at a remarkably high level once more, it's hard to be named MVP when you play over 500 minutes fewer than the favorite. If you're going to be on the court less, you need to be significantly better on a per-minute basis. CP3 has no argument there.
- James Harden: Things favoring the Houston Rockets 2-guard include his offensive efficiency, his clear-cut status as the No. 1 option on his team and his beard. I don't need to list more than one thing working against him: his defense, or lack thereof.
- Tim Duncan: The Big Fundamental was a great story as he fought Father Time, and his 2012-13 season was among the most impressive, but MVP doesn't stand for Most Impressive Player. Without playing more minutes, Duncan doesn't stand a chance against LeBron, no matter how well he might have staved off the ill effects of old age.
- Stephen Curry: Don't let his recent playoff outbreak skew your opinion of the baby-faced assassin too far in the positive direction. Curry was great throughout the 2012-13 campaign, but his defense was virtually nonexistent, and he didn't even make the Western Conference All-Star squad.
- Tony Parker: The French point guard was playing well enough to move up into the more lengthy section of this article before ankle injuries knocked him out of the MVP picture. Parker ultimately played in only 66 games.
As you can tell, LeBron James isn't just the favorite to win the MVP. He's the only reasonable option.
There are hundreds of other players in the NBA, but as soon as you start looking at their MVP resumes, they all fall apart. It's easy to poke holes in each and every one, with the exception of James'.
Just as we've seen three other times in the past four years, LeBron deserves to win the league's top honor.
To think otherwise is nonsensical.
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