By definition, the Most Valuable Player award is awarded to the player who is "most valuable" to his team.
How then do we define "most valuable"? In statistical circles, we can look at two different metrics: estimated wins added, (EWA) developed by ESPN's John Hollinger, or win shares, calculated by the folks at Basketball-Reference.com.
Let's look at EWA first. According to ESPN, LeBron James is responsible for adding 7.8 wins to Miami's win total this season. By itself, that number doesn't tell us a whole lot.
Last year James added 30.5 wins to Cleveland's win total of 61. Thus, he was responsible for 50 percent of Cleveland's win total.
This year, Miami has won 21 games, with James responsible for 7.8 of them, or 37.1 percent. This drop-off is expected, considering that Dwyane Wade is No. 2, with 7.3 wins, or 34.8 percent of the total. Bottom line, James is getting some help this season and doesn't need to shoulder as much of the load.
The EWA numbers, in my opinion, should be looked at as a ratio over games won by the team. This gives us the percentage of team wins a player is responsible for.
For me, the criteria for MVP has to include the following:
- Team has to make the playoffs
- Player should be responsible for at least 25 percent of team's wins
- Must play at least 75 percent of team games (62 minimum)
- Must play at least 75 percent of team minutes (30 minimum)
Using this criteria, the players who made the cut last year were James, Wade, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki. James, Wade and Durant were each responsible for slightly in excess of 50 percent of their team's wins. James' team, the Cavs, won the most games of that group (61), and he had the highest plus-minus, 17.78, of all those players.
This season, James leads everyone in EWA so far with 7.8. He has the fourth-highest PER (per-minute efficiency rating) of anyone in the NBA, behind Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and Howard. While we're at it, Paul is currently leading in win shares at 5.6, with James close behind at 5.0. But the Heat are having a much better season so far than the Hornets.
Only Bryant has a real argument here since the Lakers have a better record, and Bryant has a better PER so far than James. James does have a higher EWA, but that's because he has less help than Bryant, who is obviously splitting points with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and others.
In reality, I doubt James can win the MVP again. First, it's exceptionally rare in NBA history to win it three times in a row. As far as I know, only Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird have done it. For those of you wondering about Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, they basically traded awards during the late '80s/early '90s but never secured a three-peat.
Secondly, James is public enemy No. 1 for a lot of people right now. I don't think the media or the fans want to do him any favors by granting him another MVP award.
Lastly, he's bound to split the votes with Wade, which is going to hurt his chances.
Can he win it again? Sure. Will he win it again? Highly doubtful. The purpose of this article is simply to highlight the fact that he's having a really good year again and to include him in the conversation.
Personally, I think Durant is going to win it for the reasons mentioned above. He's the alpha dog in Oklahoma City, he doesn't have to split votes with anyone, and they're going to make the playoffs. I also think Amar'e Stoudemire will get some votes, considering how well the Knicks have played thus far.