LeBron James: Is Dwyane Wade the Only Player Standing in His Way for MVP
When LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, it was a revolutionary change not only in both Miami and Cleveland, but in the entire NBA.
That is not to say that changes haven't occurred down in South Florida or in Ohio. The Cavaliers are in the midst of an NBA record 26-game losing streak. Dan Gilbert looks absolutely ridiculous for his predictions that the Cavaliers would win a championship before LeBron James would.
The Heat, on the other hand, are red hot (pardon the pun). Miami has won seven in a row and sit just a half-game back of the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. While one could argue that it has been a team effort and that Miami looked lost without Chris Bosh just a few weeks ago, the recent success must be credited to King James.
James is putting up MVP-worthy numbers, especially since the new year began. Earlier in the season, LeBron predicted that playing on the same team with Wade and Bosh would cost him a chance at the MVP, but that was part of the sacrifice of joining forces in Miami.
The question is: was LeBron James correct in his prediction?
The Scoring Dip
As expected, LeBron James's scoring averages per game dropped this season from his previous MVP numbers of the last two seasons. James is averaging 3.3 fewer points per game as a member of the Miami Heat this season than he did with the Cavaliers last year.
However, it is possible that this is simply an anomaly due to lower averages from the beginning of the season.
Since the first of January, LeBron James is the leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30.6 points per game. That number even eclipses his mark of 29.7 average points per game last year.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of this statistic is the fact that Dwyane Wade has also scored above his season average throughout 2011. It is not Wade that keeps James from scoring but only James who is responsible for his scoring figures.
It's hard to say that the Miami Heat have underperformed this season. After all, this is a team that is 38-14 and 29-6 since the rough start in October and November.
However, in some lights, the Heat have underperformed.
Miami has zero wins and four losses against the Dallas Mavericks and, more importantly, the Boston Celtics. The Heat have not consistently dominated opponents as many predicted when Wade, James and Bosh joined forces in Miami.
It's hard to say Wade or James have underperformed, but with all the expectations upon them, that is exactly how some might feel when it comes to MVP voting.
The Likeability Factor
It's no secret that LeBron James became a despised figure in the NBA after free agency this summer. Wherever he travels, boos rain down from the stands, and while the jeers are not as loud outside of places like Cleveland and New York, it is still unusual to see a player transition from one of the most popular in the league to one of the most hated figures in sports.
The fact of the matter is that people do not want to see LeBron James win the MVP award for the third straight year in a row. The negative attention may be a sign of respect for a player who clearly is the most talented player in the league, but it certainly is not a sign of acceptance or admiration.
In the end, the popularity factor will play a role in determining whether LeBron James can bring home his third consecutive MVP. In that case, it won't be Dwyane Wade who is costing him a chance at the hardware.
The Other Numbers
LeBron is still putting up lofty statistics. There is no doubt about that. However, a closer inspection of James's numbers this year tells another story.
The two-time MVP is averaging fewer assists than last year despite the clear improvement in supporting cast. His field goal percentage is down by nearly two percent.
Both personal fouls and turnovers have increased despite a slight decrease in minutes.
Defensively, James is averaging slightly fewer steals, but he is averaging half of the amount of blocks per game he did two years ago with the Cavaliers.
For most of these numbers, it is an individual result. LeBron can't point to Dwyane Wade for the decrease in blocks and field goal percentage or the increase in turnovers or personal fouls.
The Other Candidates
It's not that none of the other elite players in the NBA are legitimate NBA candidates. Simply put, there is no one out there that is better than LeBron James right now.
The only player averaging more points right now is Kevin Durant. Not only does Durant's team have a lesser record than LeBron's Heat, but James has a higher field-goal percentage, is a much better distributor and even rebounds more than Durant.
Amar'e Stoudemire has cooled off somewhat since his streak of 30-point games in early December. As the Knicks hover just a few games above .500, Stoudemire's chances at the MVP award also dwindle.
Some could consider Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose or even Dirk Nowitzki as candidates as well. Nowitzki's numbers have not been particularly impressive for an MVP candidate. Rose's numbers still trail that of James in nearly all statistical categories except assists. Howard seems destined for yet another Defensive Player of the Year Award rather than an MVP right now.
Dwyane Wade will not stand in the way of LeBron James. At the moment, LeBron James is playing at a level that is unmatched by any other player in the NBA. He is the best candidate and certainly deserves the award for the third straight season.
Could popularity play a role in the decision? Will his relative numbers compared to previous seasons sway voters in another direction? If the Heat fail to win the top seed in the Eastern Conference, will it affect his chances?
The answers to all these questions may be yes, but they have little or nothing to do with Dwyane Wade. If LeBron James wins yet another MVP, it will be because of only one person—LeBron James.