Touching on the National Basketball Players Association’s first annual awards cycle, James was asked who would be named on his ballot as MVP – voting restrictions be damned.
Via ESPN’s Brian Windhorst:
James said that players can’t vote for themselves for awards. But who would his vote be for MVP this year?
“Myself,” James said.
Cleveland does have the best record in basketball at 31-8 since LeBron’s two-week absence to rest nagging knee and back pain, not to mention the league’s fifth-highest point differential all year long. Despite the Cavaliers’ early season struggles and December nadir, team success shouldn’t keep him from winning a fifth MVP – his squad is unquestionably among the NBA elite.
But what about James’ perceived lack of effectiveness compared his dominant seasons passed? Shouldn’t that prevent him from being a MVP contender on the level of Steph Curry or James Harden?
First off, we don’t subscribe to the belief that prior performance should influence awards voting. Individual hardware is about the season at hand only, and that James’ initial campaign back with Cleveland doesn’t quite match his trophy-hoisting turns with the Miami Heat in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 shouldn’t matter.
Then there’s the question of whether not LeBron is actually much “worse” now than he was then. Consider that his 2014-2015 is one of five such seasons in league history that a player has averaged at least 25 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per-36 minutes of play. And he’s doing it for a newly constructed super-team while playing a far different role than he did with Miami for the past three years.
The 30 year-old’s advanced numbers this season don’t stack up to those of his peak, and his overall defensive performance has been relatively shaky save for the schedule’s marquee matchups. But James no doubt has the historic counting stats befitting a MVP-winner even as we fawn over similar production from Harden, Curry, and Russell Westbrook.
If we’re staying true to the award’s name – “most valuable” – and nothing else, LeBron’s case is strengthened even further. Cleveland has won 17 more games this season than it did in 2013-2014; its lost nine of the 11 games during which James has been absent; and the team’s net rating is +9.8 with him running the floor and -5.9 with him riding the bench, a 15.3 point discrepancy that ranks as one of the biggest in basketball.
Will James win MVP this season? Certainly not. Is he as deserving of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as he seems to believe? Absolutely.