Zo Knows: LeBron’s MVP throne is in jeopardy
Why did I deter away from Kobe in the very year that he won the MVP?
For starters, LeBron was a more prolific scorer, rebounder and passer that year, beating out Kobe in all three of those statistics, as well as a few more advanced metrics too.
But it was bigger than stats. It was more about stature. Sure, Kobe had just gotten Pau Gasol and took the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals that year. But when asked to rise above it all, deliver for his team, and push the envelope against what was probably a “slightly” superior Boston Celtics team, Kobe couldn’t do it. And I’m not talking about winning the series, he couldn’t even keep things respectable. The fact that Kobe allowed the Celtics to win that series in six games, and saw a 20-point lead turn into a loss, didn’t sit well with me. Mind you, this occurrence went down only a couple of weeks after LeBron James scored 45 points, with a bunch of ragamuffins, in a narrow Game 7 loss to the Celtics.
In my mind, that was all I needed to see. Here LeBron James was helpless and hopeless, and yet he nearly pulled off the upset against the Celtics all by himself. While Kobe, on the other hand, with goo-gobs of talent around him, went down in flames to that same Celtics team. When the clock struck zero on the 2008 NBA Finals, I knew a change had come; LeBron James was now the best basketball player in the NBA.
And I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people, knowingly or unknowingly, made a similar change in their stance, maybe not at the same time as me, but before too long. Because it was that following April that the writers named LeBron James the MVP of the NBA—his first of two consecutive such awards.
Here we are, two years later. Have the recent events of NBA Free Agency changed my mind at all? Has LeBron James gone from best player in the NBA to second-rate because he moved from Cleveland to Miami to join a three-headed monster?
Nah. Not at all.
Even when you factor in the more than disappointing performance in the Cleveland Cavaliers loss to the Boston Celtics, LeBron still remains the best player in the NBA. Kobe was nice during the regular season, and was awesome in the playoffs and in the NBA Finals. But LeBron still delivered, and while he didn’t come through in the end of that series, it’s hard to say it was all his fault when his second and third best players failed to do anything of remote significance in any of the Cavaliers losses to Boston.
With that established, I am not going to be cemented in this stance forever. In order for LeBron James to remain the best player in the NBA, he has to show it to me on the court. I can’t watch Miami Heat games and go, “Oh, LeBron could have scored 40 points tonight, but instead he let Dwyane Wade do it.”
Nah, that mess won’t fly. If LeBron is going to remain the best player in the NBA, he has to show it to me. He has to put up the 30 points, the 8 assists and grab the 8 rebounds. This isn’t “whatif.com,” this is real life. If he wants my MVP vote, he better put up some MVP numbers, have several MVP moments, and at the very least, be the MVP of his team. Quite frankly, if Dwyane Wade is the one doing the majority of the scoring, hitting the game-winning baskets and acting like the leader of this team, then how can I honestly sit there and give the MVP award to LeBron James?
Because he’s more talented?
Hell, Greg Oden has plenty of talent too, but I can’t give him an All-Star vote while he’s riding the pine or giving the Portland Trailblazers 20 minutes off the bench. I need to see the talent in action. I need to see the dunks, the shots, the passes, and “Yes,” I need to see them in large volumes.
Sorry, efficiency ratings don’t win MVP crowns alone—you have to compile the numbers behind Player Efficiency Ratings to make them worth looking at. Otherwise, they are no more valuable than the “Per 36” metric, which mine as well be named the “you would average this if you played a lot of minutes, but unfortunately, you’re not good enough to play a lot of minutes” statistic.
In all seriousness, what is about to happen? Is the most talented player in the NBA still going to exhibit his talent, or will he tone it down because the players around him are good enough to carry the load on most nights.
I have never been one of those that believe that a player’s actual value to his team determines his MVP status—quite frankly, that would make the MVP award a team award and not an individual award. However, in this special instance, LeBron’s team does matter.
If Wade and Chris Bosh combine to make the Three Kings of Miami an unstoppable force and LeBron James takes a back seat as a facilitator, I don’t know if LeBron can win the MVP award. As good as LBJ is, he’s not necessarily the best facilitator. Everyone says he’s “more Magic than MJ,” but that’s not exactly a correct assessment. Magic didn’t need to score to be effective, LeBron James does. Without the scoring, he’s just a big, not-so-quick point guard. In fact, without the scoring, he may not even be all that great of a point guard. It’s the fact that LeBron can get his shot, get to the rim and finish at any time he wants to that puts fear into opposing defenses and opens up the passing lanes for his assists.
Should LeBron take on a passive role, how much of that fear would be there, and how will teams play him? Will LeBron be as effective or prolific if teams play off of him and make him pass the basketball elsewhere? And Lord knows that if Wade gets the ball in a favorable position, it’s not all too likely to find its way back to LeBron on the same possession. That’s not to say the Heat will somehow fall victim to such a strategy, but perhaps LeBron’s numbers will.
And if LeBron isn’t putting up the numbers, who can surpass him in 2011 NBA MVP award race and possibly as the best player in the NBA?
Well, already many people think Kobe Bryant remains the best player in basketball. His two consecutive championships and five rings certainly give merit to that belief, and Kobe just might win another in 2011 (although our Power Rankings don’t necessarily agree). Then again, Kobe himself is slowing down, and is more likely to save what he has left for the NBA playoffs, rather than be in contention for the MVP crown.
How about Deron Williams? Some may consider that a stretch, but with Carlos Boozer gone, Williams will have to carry the bulk of the load for the Utah Jazz. Certainly, this big point guard is more than capable of doing it, as he has done it time and time against for Utah. It’s quite arguable that Williams was the best player in the sweep against the Lakers in the second round. He average 22 points and 9 assists that series, despite being the focal point of the Lakers defensive efforts. Who knows what he’ll do not that more scoring opportunities are in his future as someone on Utah has to make up for Boozer’s 20 points a game.
Then there is the two-time Defensive MVP, Dwight Howard. Why can’t he finally win an overall MVP award? It really wouldn’t take much. If Howard continues to play like that on defense, and brings his offensive game up as little as 15%, he’s a lock for the MVP award, especially if LeBron takes a step back.
And how can I forget LeBron’s own teammate, Dwyane Wade. Wade might see this as his opportunity to get one. Far be it from to me to suggest something so selfish for a guy who has been anything but that (basketball-wise) since bringing LeBron to Miami, but he has to think about his legacy to. Seriously, if LeBron is relegated to point guard then that means somebody else has to do the bulk of the scoring. As long as Wade doesn’t get “Steve Nashed” by LeBron and the writers, the MVP award could be Wade’s for the taking.
However, the guy that’s in the best position to dethrone the former King of basketball, is the very guy who was the runner up to him last season. Kevin Durant, unambiguous and not self-righteous, could very well hoist the MVP trophy a year from now. He’s the best pure scorer in the league, he has incredible rebounding skills, and he plays defense much better than even I thought prior to the start of this season. Then again, if defense mattered in this thing, Steve Nash never would have won two MVPs in a row.
Still, as much as some of us (perhaps including myself) would like to think that LeBron’s reign as King Monarch is over now that he’s a member of the newest oligarchy in basketball, LeBron James still has more talent than anyone else on the court. If anyone can convert himself from a 30, 8 and 8 guy to a 15, 12 and 12 guy, it’s LeBron James. And Lord knows if he averages a triple-double and leads Miami to 70 wins, it’s going to be hard for writers not give him the award. And it will be just as hard for me not to continue calling him the best player in basketball.
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