LeBron’s 4 MVP’s May Be All He Gets
From his days of winning state championships at St. Vincent St. Mary’s High School, through his nearly 14 years in the NBA, LeBron James has always been considered the most valuable player on the floor at any given time. James has captured four NBA MVP’s, winning all of them in a span of 5 years starting in 2009, with potentially the best stretch of play since Kareem Abdul-Jabar won four of six in the 70’s or Larry Bird rattled off three in a row in the 80’s. Still, despite being widely considered the best player in the world, it is likely James’ MVP total will end at four.
At age 32 and entering his 13th All-Star Game, the lack of MVP attention directed at James is not due to his lack of productivity. James’ team sits atop the Eastern Conference. His rebounding and assist statistics are up from his career averages while only one point below his career scoring mark. So, why is James not garnering more attention?
The landscape of basketball over the past few years has revolved around two teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both squads are deemed to be “super teams” led multiple All-Stars, yet Stephen Curry has stolen the spotlight with James fading into the background of the MVP discussion. Curry’s three-point barrage has led to back to back league MVP’s, with last season’s campaign leading him to become the first ever unanimous choice for the award. Last year, Curry had a four-point edge in points per game and a slight margin in steals per game, while James led him in all other major statistical categories, yet it was Curry who took home the hardware by a landslide. Rewind to two years ago, LeBron led Curry in all major categories, with Curry having a +.3 margin in assists per game, but again, no MVP.
It is easy to point to Golden State’s historic 73-9 season and assume their best player should receive the award, but that would fail to take Curry’s supporting cast into account. Fellow All Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green had significant roles in the Warriors success, as well as many of the open looks that Curry saw. This year the Warriors added another superstar and top 5 NBA player in Kevin Durant, and again, it is Curry and Durant who are receiving more attention than James. It is hard not to think popularity finds itself playing a role in the MVP discussion, just as it has played a role in Curry starting in the ASG over a guy who averages a triple double at the same position.
Although Curry and Durant are in the discussion for MVP, it is likely that Houston’s James Harden or Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook will win the award. To the detriment of James, the Rockets and Thunder require Harden and Westbrook to bear a load that allows them to put up statistics that LeBron simply does not need to on a nightly basis for his team to win. Nothing against Westbrook, a guy that averages a triple double, something that hasn’t been done since Oscar Robertson, probably should win the award. Even without the jaw dropping numbers of Westbrook, LeBron’s value comes in his ability to elevate teammates, exemplified by Kyle Korver’s open looks and big games leading up to the All-Star break, while still averaging better than 25-7-8. That merits a high level of consideration every single season, and that’s what LeBron has done since entering the league.
The supporting cast of Curry had no ill effect on his ability to become the league’s MVP the last two seasons, the same can’t be said for Kyrie Irving’s effect on James. Whenever LeBron’s name comes up in the discussion, there is usually someone there to quickly downplay his candidacy due to fellow All Star Irving. Yes, Irving can light it up from deep and is a magician with the ball in his hands, showcased by his 57 point performance against the Spurs two years ago, but for now, LeBron is still the catalyst for the Cavaliers.
Expectations of LeBron have continued to grow every single year he’s been in the league, even at age 32 when most players have reached their descent or found themselves looking for a new job. Nearly ten years ago, LeBron rattled off the Cavs final 25 points leading the team to an overtime playoff win against a superior Pistons team. Extraordinary performances such as that have set the bar so high for James, which leads to a skewed mindset on what it takes for him to be considered for MVP. While this may be the last season he’s considered as a serious MVP candidate, he’ll still always have his throne.
While he likely won’t win a 5th MVP award, LeBron’s value to the Cavs is unquestioned, and he knows what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end.