MVP-ness, part one: Why LeBron James is the MVP of the league

March 24th, 2009 by John Krolik


Well, it’s time to pull back the curtain a little bit: For his MVP post for TrueHoop, Graydon asked me to give a take on LeBron James and his credentials. I replied late and most of what I said ended up getting killed in editing, but then I saw Ben Q. Rock over at Third Quarter Collapse post the full transcript of what he sent to Graydon, and I realized I can do the same. There will be a post dealing specifically with Wade and the issue of defense sometime in the near future. 


I actually run the MVP race for SLAM online , so you can check that out if it fits your fancy. But here’s a take just for you guys:

For me, there are three major factors to consider in an MVP race, and if you’re comparing two guys two out of three takes it (all of this assumes we’re talking about the best player on a team):
1. Size of Role On Team: Does the offense run through this guy on every play? Is he a good cog in a pre-existing system or is the system built around him? Defensively, is he hidden on the wings or is he in the middle? In crunch-time, is he the guy who’s the definitive difference between a win and a loss? (This one favors guys like Wade and LBJ  and doesn’t work as well for guys like Kevin Garnett last year.)
2. Efficiency in performing role: Is this guy gunning for stats, or is he doing it all efficiently? Does he put in a commitment to his defensive role every night? How much does he turn the ball over? Does he choke the offense? For this one, TS% and turnover rate are the main things I look at.
3. Success of Team. Pretty self-explanatory.
If you’ve got two of three, you get it, which kind of explains itself: If you’re performing more efficiently than a guy putting up bigger numbers on a worse team, it’s reasonable to infer you’d be hurting the success of a team if you were shooting more with less efficiency, and the same goes for a guy with a bigger role on a better team. However, if you’re both doing more and doing it more efficiently than another guy, I think you can say the reason his team isn’t as good isn’t the best player’s fault. 
And yeah, LeBron James is the MVP this year, and it’s really not all that close at this point. Frankly, I think Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade are the only other people who votes could legitimately go to if the season ended today.
Just quickly:
-In terms of role on team, only Dwyane Wade creates more points (Points+Ast*2) than LBJ, and it’s by a 2 point gap, with Wade playing many more crunch minutes , which are huge in terms of numbers. Add all that to what LeBron does on the boards and on the defensive end.
-When you look at +/-, it’s LeBron, CP3, and everyone else, with those two accounting for a positive value of 23.2 points per 100 possessions. When LeBron is off the floor, the Cavs are a -9.6 team. That would make them the worst team in the league. The second-best player on the team was dumped by the Bucks this off-season, and the Bucks weren’t lighting the world on fire when Mo Williams was their second-best player. The Cavs’ starters alone have missed 51 games this season. And this is the team with the best record in the NBA.
-In terms of efficiency, he’s on pace to set a PER record, and he’s got Kobe and Wade beat fairly handily in terms of TS%, with a turnover rate better than Wade’s, and on a per-possession basis his assist ratio is better than either of theirs. 
-And in crunch time, LeBron’s numbers are better than anyone else’s (In “clutch” situations, he averages what would extrapolate to 53.2/13.5/12.1 on 53%/44.4%/85% shooting), and more importantly the Cavs are the 2nd-best fourth-quarter team in the league and have been absolutely phenominal in clutch situations, losing only two games by three points or less. (On two controversial referee decisions-the back-to-back alley-oop fouls and, yes, the infamous “Crab Dribble” game.)
-And defensively, he’s been phenominal, head and shoulders above any other candidate. Just as an afterthought. 
I’ll leave you with a quick microcosm: During their current 9-game winning streak, the Cavs have entered 4 fourth quarters trailing and had one other overtime game. Within those games, LeBron:
-Directly accounted for (scored or assisted) 21 of the Cavs’ 35 points in a win over the Clippers
-Accounted for 34 of the Cavs’ 42 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to erase a 14-point fourth quarter deficit against the Kings.
-Accounted for 21 of the Cavs’ 25 points in the fourth quarter against the Magic, including a go-ahead g 28-foot three with the Cavs trailing with 47 seconds to go.
-Against the Blazers, accounted for the Cavs’ final 17 points, not including two Mo Williams free throws on an intentional foul to end the game.
This is the team with the best record in the league, and it’s almost entirely because LeBron is having an absolutely superhuman season in every imaginable facet of the game. I think that four players this season are having seasons that could have won an MVP award in previous years, and I think LeBron is head and shoulders above that pack. He’s been that good.