by Ryan Isley
With just a handful of games left in this shortened NBA season, it is looking more and more like the MVP of 2011-12 is going to come down to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Miami’s LeBron James.
If I had a vote, it would go to LeBron – giving him three awards and tying him with Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and putting him behind only Wilt Chamberlain (4), Bill Russell (5), Michael Jordan (5) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6).
I know, I know – this is a website that is based out of Cleveland and LeBron would be added to George Carlin’s seven dirty words if Cleveland fans had their choice. That being said, it is impossible to ignore what LeBron has done this season.
Most people want to automatically hand the MVP to Durant and say that Durant has had the better statistical season than LeBron. The chart below shows both players’ numbers for the year in a blind test. Which would you rather have?
3PT FG %
It isn’t as easy as you might have thought, is it?
“Player A” is Durant while “Player B” is LeBron. You can see that Durant has a slight edge in minutes played, points and 3-point shooting percentage and a sizeable lead in free throw percentage while LeBron has a decent lead in assists and field goal percentage and the two average the same amount of rebounds. LeBron also holds a major edge on Durant when it comes to plus/minus – 400 to 269.
Offensive numbers are great, but we need to look at defense as well – another category in which LeBron holds an advantage over Durant.
While Lebron has been named to the NBA all-defense team for three straight seasons and is a pretty certain lock to be named to the all-defense team again this season, Durant has never been named all-defense and his name is never really discussed when talking about this year’s team either. Durant’s steals (1.4) and blocks (1.2) are both up over his career averages of 1.2 and 1.0 respectively, while Lebron’s steals (1.9) are over his career average of 1.7 and his blocks (0.8) are right on his career average. However, LeBron has shown the ability to guard each of the five positions on the court this season when needed.
Think about this when you look at LeBron’s stats this season – he has won two MVP awards already and is having a career-best year in shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage and rebounds per game, and is having his second-best career season in steals and at the free throw line. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who has already had some really good seasons.
One of the main reasons that LeBron would receive my vote is that he has had to play a greater role on the Heat this season that he did last season because Miami’s other superstar – Dwayne Wade – has missed 14 games this season due to either injury or just because he is being given a night off to rest.
Of the 14 games Wade has missed, LeBron played in 13 of those games and is averaging 29.7 points in those games. The Heat are 12-1 with LeBron playing and Wade sitting while they are 32-16 with both of them in the lineup.
The argument that some people have made against LeBron is that he is surrounded by a better supporting cast than Durant. While that seems to be an easy argument because the Heat are thought to have a “big 3”, that is just simply lazy and not true this season.
When you look at the second best player on each team, it is Wade for Miami and Russell Westbrook for Oklahoma City. While in the past Wade has been better than Westbrook, the fact is that this season Westbrook is the superior player. Westbrook has averaged more points per game and more assists per game than Wade while not missing any games.
Looking at the third best player for each – Chris Bosh for Miami and James Harden for Oklahoma City, it isn’t a clear advantage for the Heat despite the fact that Bosh is a starter and Harden comes off the bench. In 35.2 minutes per game, Bosh averages 18 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while Harden averages 16.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in his 31.7 minutes per game. By the way – Harden is 6-foot-5 and Bosh is 6-11. How many people would take Bosh over Harden? I think it would be less than you think.
You can argue that the Thunder would be no better than probably the six-seed in the Western Conference without Durant, but you can also argue that the Heat wouldn’t be any better than the six-seed in the Eastern Conference without LeBron. What would have happened to the Heat without LeBron when Wade was out, or when Bosh was forced to miss games? Would the Heat have been as good without LeBron? Of course they wouldn’t – just like Oklahoma City wouldn’t be as good without Durant.
It isn’t just about the top three players on each team, either. The Heat have used 15 different starting lineups in 62 games – or roughly a new starting lineup every four games. Only LeBron and Mario Chalmers have started all but one game while 10 other players have started games for the Heat this season. For Oklahoma City, Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka have started every game while Kendrick Perkins has started all but one game.
Want an MVP moment? You need to only look back a few days to find one (of many) LeBron has had this season.
Against the New Jersey Nets this past Monday, LeBron showed just why he should be considered as the MVP of the league. With his team struggling on the road playing one of the worst teams in the league, LeBron put the Heat on his back and carried them to victory. With the Heat trailing 89-84, LeBron scored the final 17 points for the Heat on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor and 7-for-7 shooting from the free throw line. He finished the game with 37 points on 11-for-19 shooting and hit 14 of the 15 free throws he attempted.
Instead of giving LeBron credit for that game, most people want to blame LeBron when Miami loses – whether he deserves it or not. For an example, just look at the game the Heat played against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago last Thursday. With the Heat trailing by one with less than a minute to play, LeBron nailed a three-pointer off an assist from Bosh – a rebound that Bosh grabbed off a Wade miss. LeBron missed his next shot and then split a pair at the free throw line with the Heat up by two.
With the game tied, Wade missed a jumper at the buzzer and the game went to overtime – the Heat lost 96-86. Instead of anyone questioning Wade for his two misses in the final minute, everyone wanted to point to the free throw that LeBron missed.
However, according to 82games.com, LeBron is actually better at the free throw line (68% to 64%) and from the field (38.6% to 37.8) than Wade is this season in the clutch – defined as 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points. Wade gets a free pass because he has a ring and LeBron is still looking for his first.
LeBron may or may not get that first ring this season – that’s a debate for another day – but he certainly should be walking home with his third NBA MVP once this season has ended.
Think Ryan is wrong (or right)? Want to make a case for Durant? Think Ryan has lost his mind? Leave a comment or email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org