By (And Beyond) the Numbers – LeBron James for MVP
As the NBA postseason tipped off yesterday, the debate as to which player should win the regular season Most Valuable Player award continued to rage. In a vast majority of conversations, it is a two-man race between LeBron James of the Miami HEAT and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Narrowing the list down to those two players may discount the contributions of players such as Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, but the debates do include the player who should, in fact, win the award.
By the Numbers
If going off the premise that the final two players in the conversation are James and Durant, let’s breakdown what puts them in the conversation and keeps the debate going. Their teams are the second seeds in their respective conferences—Durant’s Thunder behind the San Antonio Spurs out West and James’ HEAT behind the Chicago Bulls in the East. Oklahoma City finished the regular season with a record of 47-19 while Miami ended the season with a 46-20 record.
Both players finished the regular season with amazing statistics. For Miami, James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists on 53 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from behind the three-point line. For Oklahoma City, Durant averaged 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 49 percent shooting and 38 percent from behind the three-point line. When breaking down these statistics, the nearly dead-heat between the two players for the Most Valuable Player award is justifiable in any conversation. If anything, these major statistics may very well give a slight edge to James.
So, let’s drill down into their statistics even more.
James averaged 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and shot 77 percent from the free throw line during the 2011-12 NBA season. Durant averaged 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks and shot 86 percent from the free throw line. While statistics don’t always give the true story of a player’s impact on the defensive end of the court, by looking at these numbers alone, a slight edge can lean towards Durant here. Yet, that is why numbers can be very deceiving, as anyone who watches the NBA with regularity would nearly be required to admit James is the dominant defensive player of the two.
Beyond the Numbers
The numbers may be a virtual tie between James and Durant, but there is another factor that should come into play when making the determination to award the prize to James. Entering the 2011-12 season, both players had great expectations placed on their shoulders to lead their teams to the championship. After a Western Conference Finals berth last season, the logical next step for Oklahoma City was and is to acquire the opportunity to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. For James and the Miami HEAT, anything less than an NBA title after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s Finals would be considered a failure.
While each player and their respective teams had these great expectations placed upon them, the support they received throughout the regular season was significantly different. Durant and his Thunder squad have essentially become the darlings of the NBA, the up-and-coming “good guys” who find a majority of the NBA world somewhat rooting for them to find success. On the flip side, LeBron James and the Miami HEAT have been the NBA’s “villains” since the Big Three joined forces last year.
Nearly everywhere the Thunder traveled throughout the year, they were greeted with cheers and excitement. The HEAT always played to sold out crowds throughout NBA arenas, but while fans enjoyed the highlights James and his Miami teammates would provide, the crowds were there to boo and cheer against them. The fans would delight in each turnover, missed shot or loss.
That is why the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2011-12 season is LeBron James.
Last year, James got caught up in the self-imposed hype around the HEAT, embracing the villain role. He played angry and was unable to get past the new-found hatred from fans for anything related to James or his team. His statistics this season are essentially a mirror image of last year, but James was able to relocate himself and the internal mindset he has played with on the basketball court his entire life outside of last year. That difference allowed him to put up another historic season and with his soon-to-be-named third Most Valuable Player award, officially puts LeBron James in the record books as one of the all-time great regular season players in NBA history.
Like It or Not
The individual talent LeBron James has on the basketball court makes him one of the all-time great players and the Most Valuable Player award is a regular season award. With the expectations placed on him from even before he laced them up in the NBA, James has been one of the most influential and important players in the league. Everyone may like to point to his deficiencies when it comes to crunch time in the playoffs, but that holds no weight in the discussion when determining whom to name the league’s MVP. This may be one of the closest MVP races in league history, but James is well-deserving and is the right choice.