And the 2011 MVP Award goes to…
It might be a little too early to name the NBA MVP for 2011, but so far, the verdict is pretty clear. We are two-thirds of the way through the NBA season, and in one of the most surprising outcomes of the year, LeBron James has still been able to demonstrate his dominance on an NBA basketball season.
Why is that a surprise?
Well, conventional wisdom said that with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh now at LeBron James side on this new Miami Heat team, LeBron would likely take a step back and allow Wade and Bosh to do a lot of the things he was forced to do when he was in Cleveland. However, contrary to what most people predicted, LeBron James has had to continue carrying the load for his fellow teammates.
LeBron’s continual dominance, even when surrounded by two all-stars, is more of a knock on the Miami Heat than it is praise to LeBron. Coming into this season, LeBron was the best player in the NBA. The only question was whether his team would be too dominant for him to exhibit his basketball playing greatness. The Heat, apparently, aren’t that dominant. Miami, for lack of a better word, is underachieving. Sure, they aren’t fighting for the 8th seed or floating around a .500 record, but the fact that they don’t have the best record in the NBA, the conference, or are essentially tied with the Chicago Bulls just goes to show you how un-dominant this Heat team has been.
Going back to the MVP talk, clearly, this lack of dominance has helped LeBron’s MVP chances tremendously. He has had to stay in games longer than we expected him to. Due to a lack of an offense, he has had to continue creating scoring opportunities for himself in the fourth quarter. And most importantly, LeBron has had to be just as much of a facilitator this season as he was in Cleveland.
One of the most glaring statistics concerning the Heat’s need for LeBron to facilitate is LeBron’s Assist Ratio, which measures the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist. When you compare James’ assist ratio from this year, with Miami, to last season, with the Cleveland Cavaliers, this year’s assist ratio is only 6.4% lower than it was last year. That means that if you gave the basketball to LeBron James for the 29 possessions that he usually gets to control the basketball, he would finish the game with 6.4 assists this year versus the 6.8 assists he would have recorded on average a season ago with a worst team.
That’s a pretty amazing stat when you consider that LeBron is still asked to score 26 points per night for the Miami Heat, does a lot of rebounding and essentially gets the same number of touches per possession that Dwyane Wade gets.
Beyond the assists though, the play of LeBron James just continues to be the best basketball we have seen in some time. He is the most efficient basketball player in the NBA—by far. His true-shooting percentage rate is incredibly high for someone who is asked to do as much as he does (his usage and rebound rates are really high). And LeBron continues to be one of the premiere defenders in the league and has helped lead Miami to a great record and the fourth best defense in the NBA.
All that said, there are people who could challenge LeBron for the MVP award during the final third of the season. For example, Derrick Rose is having a hell of a season. Derrick Rose’s numbers of 25 and 8 are incredible for a player in only his third year in the league, and Rose might play well enough to win that #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. If Dirk Nowtizki can get the Mavericks back on track, he could be in the running. Chris Paul, the NBA’s second most efficient player, could also challenge LeBron. And if Amare Stoudemire plays the way he did for a 20-game stretch earlier in the season, maybe he will be worthy of the award.
Still, it looks like LeBron James is headed for another MVP award, no matter what those guys do. As it stands now, the players I just mentioned are long shots even if they have a spectacular last 30 games. Notice, I didn’t even bring up Kevin Durant, who while having another great season, just doesn’t measure up to LeBron’s all around game.
Actually, the only thing that is going to stop LeBron James from winning the 2010-2011 NBA MVP award this year, is LeBron James himself. If the Heat start to play like the world beaters we thought they were coming into the season and LeBron decides to step back as the Heat’s rank in the Easter Conference becomes solidified, we may not see enough of LeBron’s high level of play to give him the award. But based on a 50-game sample size, the Heat aren’t going to do that. Thus, making LeBron James the King, yet again.
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