For all of the deserved MVP love LeBron James has gotten, it might be time to reconsider just how deserved the MVP praise he’s getting this year really is. No question, the King remains a superior talent that – despite a moderate dip in his numbers (especially in the metrics pool) – is cream of the NBA crop no matter how the field is sliced. In a vacuum, his stats so far, of 25.3/5.4/7.7/1.5/0.7/49.0/37.4/75.1, would legitimize a No.1 candidacy, let alone the No.3-No. 5 ranking he seems to be garnering across media outlets (SBNation, USA Today, Fansided).
Here’s the thing, though: the Cavs are vastly underperforming, are fifth in a pitiful Eastern Conference, have proven that they can’t consistently beat good-to-great teams, and to top it off, given the individuality factor involved in the award, there’s more deserving guys out there.
For starters, Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol, and James Harden have willed their teams to considerably better starts while keeping better division opponents at bay. Their stats also cement their positioning. I mean, Harden leads the league for Defensive Win Shares, for Christ’s sake. Anthony Davis follows closely because of his sky-high numbers and because he’s elevated a lopsided Pelicans team into the Western Playoffs race. From there, you have to argue that LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, and John Wall have done just as much as James to put their teams into contention, all while surmounting teammate injuries, exceeding expectations, and ultimately winning more than LeBron has.
The numbers also don’t lie.
In Offensive Rating, Davis, (127.3), Paul (126.7), Butler (125.1), Lowry (119.2), Lillard (119.0), and Curry (119.0) all rank higher than Bron-Bron. And James is the only player other than Lowry to have at least two teammates post in the top-20 for this metric.
In Defensive Rating, James is nowhere to be seen. Yet, Millsap (98.0), Curry (98.3), Aldridge (99.1), Gasol (100.2) are in the highest 20.
Paul leads in Offensive Win Shares (4.1). Meanwhile, Davis (4.0), Butler (3.5), Lillard (3.3), Lowry (3.3), Harden (3.2), and Curry (3.2) all trump LBJ.
When it comes to Defensive Win Shares, James fails to make the top-20. Instead we find Harden (1.9), Aldridge (1.8), Millsap (1.7), Curry (1.7), Gasol (1.6), Wall (1.6), and Lillard (1.6) in the highest ranked.
Win Shares is no different. Davis (5.3), Paul (5.2), Harden (5.1), Curry (4.9), Lillard (4.9), Butler (4.6), Lowry (4.3), Gasol (3.7), and Aldridge (3.7) all tower over James.
It goes on in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, Box Plus/Minus, etc, etc.
The observant will see that Paul Millsap was dropped into the mix when discussing advanced stats and that’s for three reasons. 1) The Hawks are playing far better b-ball than the Cavs 2) they absolutely trounced the Cavs recently 3) and Millsap might be their most consistent weapon thus far. Though his numbers aren’t as gaudy as all the other competitors brought up, one has to wonder if perhaps he doesn’t also deserve a place over James.
The argument can be made, and echoed endlessly, that this Cavaliers team would be atrocious without James given their lackluster start. And that’s certainly validated. But MVP talk has to take current league standing, projected versus actual team performance, cumulative talent levels surrounding a candidate, and metrics beyond the box score into heavy consideration. The Chosen One just isn’t living up to his own standards, or even those of the others mentioned, when scrutinized in these areas. His MVP candidacy should reflect that. Yet, everywhere you look, it doesn’t.