Long Live The King: LeBron James Leads Early MVP Conversation

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2009

CLEVELAND - MAY 05:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers receives 2008-2009 MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner David Stern prior to playing the Atlanta Hawks in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 5, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Last season, in his sixth year in the NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James won his first NBA MVP by averaging 27.6 pts, 7.6 rebs and 7.2 asts per game, and by leading his team to a 66-win season and the Eastern Conference finals.

This year, he could be even better.  

And with that, James leads the early list of MVP candidates in the 2009-'10 season.

While the Cavs matched their home loss total from last season (two) within the first nine days of this season, James shouldn't be blamed for the Cavs' early struggles.

In fact, James has, once again, single-handedly kept the Cavs relevant in the East with his unbelievable play night-in and night-out.

He's lead the team in scoring in all but three games this year (and tied with point guard Mo Williams in two other games).  But James certainly isn't a one-trick pony, despite his incredible acumen for scoring; he'll crush a team on the glass and with dimes too.  

LeBron has also lead the Cavs in assists in all but five games this season (and tied with Williams three other times).

Throw in the fact that he's been the team's highest rebounder in three games (and tied for the lead in three others), and LeBron should clearly win the MVP award, assuming that "most valuable player" means "player without whom, this team would win about five games all season."

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(And, with a starting lineup that would have likely included Anthony Parker AND Anderson Varejao without LeBron...believe me, the Cavs would be challenging the Nets for "worst team in the league" right now.)

But 'Bron's been the linchpin of the Cavs for years, and only managed to win his first league MVP last year.  So why does he deserve the repeat honor?

Well, for one, James' shooting percentages are up across the board.  Over the course of his career, LeBron has averaged 47.2 percent from the field, 33 percent from three-point land, and 74 percent from the free throw line.  

This year, 'Bron has raised those percentages to 51.1 percent field goal shooting, 36.8 percent from behind the arc, and 78.3 percent from the charity stripe.

'Brons likely never going to join Bird, Nash, and Dirk in the 50/40/90 club for an entire season...but for him to get his percentages anywhere close to there would leave no question about who to call the most dangerous player in the league, considering his array of talents.

LeBron can already pick your team apart from nearly anywhere on the court, as Oklahoma City's Jeff Green was reminded of on Sunday, when James' 44/7/6 guided the Cavs to a 102-89 win over the up-and-coming Thunder.

"It's tough to guard a guy who's that quick, that strong, that's making shots that deep," Green said . "He's one of the top players in the NBA."

ESPN.com's statistical rankings seem to agree with Green's assessment.  LeBron is the only player in the NBA with a PER above 30, based on ESPN's John Hollinger's statistical breakdown.  (The league average is 15.)

James has three of the top 10 statistical performances in the NBA this season (and two more in the top 25), according to ESPN.com.  No other player has more than two of the top 25 games.  (Those players being Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony.)

Basically, any way you break it down, James has been his usual, dominant self, and has shown no signs of slowing down after his MVP season last year. 

But James' passing ability and desire to involve his teammates on the offensive side is what makes him the clear frontrunner for MVP this season.

This year, James is averaging 8.0 assists per game—a career-high for him, and more than a full assist higher than his career average of 6.8 assists/game.

His insistence to get his teammates involved in the offense, coupled by the strongest supporting cast he's had in Cleveland, has made 'Bron and the Cavs more dangerous than ever.

They've already weathered the storm of opening up the season 0-2.  They're learning to incorporate Shaq-a-Claus into their offensive scheme (after realizing that a lineup of Shaq plus Varejao equals awful).  

And they've been keeping pace with Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta in the East, all because of the league's most valuable player this season (so far).

LeBron James...keep this level of play up, and you'll put Steve Nash's back-to-back MVPs to shame by the time you're done.