No one has a bigger impact. No one does as much with as little. Back before The Decision, the aftermath, Miami Thrice and the Finals flameout, LeBron James‘ biggest call to the number one spot in this Game of Thrones was his ability to impact a game on all levels. For years he carried a somewhat pitiful Cleveland squad deep into the playoffs, and even made one Finals run where his second-best player in the Eastern Conference Finals might’ve been Daniel Gibson. He was the team’s point. He defended the best players. He ran every pick-n-roll. He shot when he wanted to, passed when he wanted to. The Cavs were completely his.
The league MVP award changed over the last 10 years or so. It’s not like it’s going to scrubs who don’t deserve it, but the criteria has definitely differed. For so long, it was given to the best player in the league, or at least one of the best on the best teams. It usually still does, but now perhaps the largest checkmark on the list of “Is this guy worthy of an MVP?” is how does the team play without him? What happens when that star player exits the game, gets hurt, leaves the team? It started in a way with Steve Nash who, despite being a mastermind of Phoenix’s send-us-back-in-time offense, pick-n-rolling his way deep into the playoffs, was rewarded as an MVP in a way because the team was so bad without him. That was the final straw. We didn’t always argue for the way he played; We argued for when he was absent.
In 2005, the Suns were 60-15 with Nash, 2-5 without him. His second MVP season: 54-25 with him, 0-3 without. Even in 2007 when he nearly won it for a third time, the team was 2-4 without him on the floor compared to 59-17 when he suited up. He didn’t deserve MVP because he averaged 16, 12 and shot incredible percentages. He deserved it because the Suns went from 29 wins to 62 in one year. That was a major argument. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s become the MVP ultimatum. How bad does your team get by without you? Are they still a playoff team or do they fall completely off the map?
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Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Antawn Jamison. Boobie Gibson. Larry Hughes. All of these guys directly influenced LeBron’s MVP chances when he was in Cleveland. They weren’t quite good enough, so it made James’ star shine even brighter. Yet it’s arguable that he didn’t have the biggest impact of anyone in the league on their team. Maybe it was James or it could’ve been Nash. Maybe it was Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady or even Kevin Garnett.
When you look at the present NBA, who do you think has the largest impact on their team? Many will say James and here’s why: in one year, with a similar team minus the King, the Cavs went from 61 wins to 19, first in the entire NBA to second-to-last. Boom. It’s hard to argue with those numbers.
But then again, if he has such a large impact, why didn’t Miami win 70 games and get a ring? He finally had some talent around him, finally some pressure of having to do it all was lifted from his shoulders. But yet even with the additions of James and Chris Bosh, the Heat won just 11 more games.
Chris Paul‘s name is regularly thrown into these arguments. He led a team which hands out big minutes to players like Marco Belinelli, Willie Green and Jason Smith to 46 wins in the Western Conference. He nearly beat the Lakers all by himself in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 22, seven and 12. The entire context of that offense is high screen-n-rolls for CP. Without him, David West probably never makes an All-Star team. Without him, that team’s talent level doesn’t look much different than the NBA’s lottery teams.
Or what about Dwight Howard? He’s turned a team full of awful defenders into a top five defense. He’s surrounded by one-dimensional has-beens or limited role players. His second-best player might be a 5-10 point guard that had a breakout year two years ago, only he never really broke out and came back down to Earth almost immediately. At the same time, the Magic lost in the first round to the Hawks, and fumbled their way to an all-together disappointing season. So how can Howard’s impact be that huge?
There’s Dirk Nowitzki. If you listen to Tyson Chandler, the Big German willed his team to a championship. Without him, they’re lucky to be in the playoffs. He’s their anchor, fourth quarter decision-maker and has been the organization’s glue for the past decade. He’s helped lengthen the careers of multiple old guys, and his shooting opens up the entire offense for a team that, surprisingly, lacks one-on-one creators.
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Or what about Derrick Rose? His rise coincided directly with the rise of Chicago. At age 23, he develops into an All-Star. Perhaps one or two years ahead of schedule, the Bulls also race to the best record in the league and a near Finals trip.
Blake Griffin. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant. I could keep going. It’s a question with no definitive answer, and no real way to quantify it. Yet, we always want to answer it.
Who do you think has the biggest impact on his team’s success? Why?
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