Culture of Hoops

LeBron James and His Case for More NBA MVP Awards

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the middle of writing this article, the Atlanta Hawks’ Solomon Hill accidentally rolled onto LeBron James‘ ankle. James is currently listed as out indefinitely, which means that LeBron’s chase for a fifth NBA MVP is seriously hampered.

A few days ago, Los Angeles Lakers forward, Kyle Kuzma said that LeBron James, should have at least eight MVP awards. LeBron is arguably the best player of his era (all due to respect to the late Kobe Bryant) and perhaps because King James has established a high standard of excellence, he has been overlooked in voting. James, himself, after hearing Kuzma’s comments, said that he should have more than the four MVPs he currently owns. Is there an argument that can be made for that? If so, how many more should LeBron have?

First, let’s lay out his four MVP seasons:

2008-09: Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) | 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, 31.7 PER, 20.3 Win Shares

2009-10: Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21) | 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.0 block, 31.1 PER, 18.5 Win Shares

20011-12: Miami Heat (46-20) | 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 30.7 PER, 14.5 Win Shares

2012-13: Miami Heat (66-16) | 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER, 19.3 Win Shares

Of particular note for the above, James led the league in each of his MVP seasons in both PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and Win Shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a respective player. So, in other words, LeBron was the best player from both an individual and team perspective. Also, besides the strike-shortened season of 2011-12, James’ teams also had the best regular season record in the NBA.

To make a case for additional MVP awards to live in James’ trophy case, we’ll only consider campaigns in which he finished second or third in voting. While it may be easy to say, maybe even prove, that LeBron is at least top three every season, we have to accommodate the human factor of the MVP Award voters in order to be as fair as possible.

2005-06: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns, 924 points of 1250 max (57 FPV – first place votes) | LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 688 points (16 FPV), second in voting

It’s been hotly debated whether or not Steve Nash deserved his second of back-to-back MVP trophies this particular season, and consequently, whether or not LeBron was robbed of his first MVP. Nash averaged 18.8 points, 10.5 assists, owned a 23.3 PER, and 12.4 Win Shares, leading the Suns to a 54-28 record. James averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 boards, 6.6 dimes, had a 28.1 PER, and 16.3 Win Shares with the Cavs finishing 50-32, 14 games behind the Central Division-winning Detroit Pistons.

The numbers are great for LeBron and he’s definitely in the argument here, but so were both Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. Kobe averaged 35.4 points with a 28.0 PER and 15.3 Win Shares, as well as garnering the second-most first place votes with 22. Dirk led the league in both PER (28.1 with James) and Win Shares (17.7) and helped the Mavs reach 60 wins.

So, while it may be a solid argument that Nash shouldn’t have been the MVP, it’s a lot more difficult to say as to who should have been if not him. For the sake of this exercise, we cannot say that LeBron should have been the MVP here.

VERDICT: I actually would have given this award to Dirk.

2010-11: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls, 1182 points of 1210 max (113 FPV) | LeBron James, Miami Heat, 522 points (four FPV), third in voting

First, it should be said that I’m a huge D-Rose fan. Second, I have to admit that it breaks my heart in the tiniest bit to say that he shouldn’t have won the MVP this particular season, especially so handily. Rose averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 assists, had a 23.5 PER, and 13.1 Win Shares for the 62-win Bulls, who had the best record in the league. James averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 boards, 7.0 dimes, with a league-best PER (27.3) and Win Shares (15.6), while leading the Heat to a 58-win season in his first year with the Heat. In second place was Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic who averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.4 rejections; the Magic finished six games behind the Heat.

Basically, every game statistic leans toward King James’ favor over Rose with the four-win advantage of the Bulls over the Heat not being too significant when you consider James led the league in Win Shares. Plus he had to overcome playing on a totally new team, no matter how talented Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were, that still needed to figure out their roles. Of course, no one is crying over that “problem,” but sometimes it makes it harder.

VERDICT: I’m giving this MVP award to LeBron.

2013-14: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, 1232 points of 1250 max (119 FPV) | LeBron James, Miami Heat, 891 points (six FPV), second in voting

I’m going to make this easy. Durant had the better game stats, particularly his league-leading 32.0 points per game versus LeBron’s 27.1, and the Thunder won five more games (59) than the Heat (54) during the regular seas0n. And, if you’ve caught on to the rhythm of this post, you will know the emphasis on PER and Win Shares I personally put on the MVP award. Relative to this, Durant led the league with a 29.8 PER versus LeBron’s 29.3 and 19.2 Win Shares against LeBron’s 15.9.

VERDICT: Just like his mom, KD is the real MVP for this season.

2014-15: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 1198 points of 1300 max (100 FPV) | LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 552 points (five FPV), third in voting

This award was between Curry and second-place finisher, James Harden of the Houston Rockets who averaged 27.4 points versus Curry’s 23.8, 5.7 boards versus Curry’s 4.3, seven dimes versus Curry’s 7.7, and Harden had more Win Shares, a league-leading 16.4 against Curry’s 15.7. But, Curry beat Harden in PER (28.0 versus 26.7), and more importantly in team wins (67 versus 56). LeBron’s Cavaliers won 53 and he finished with a significantly lower 10.4 Win Shares.

VERDICT: Curry earned this one, his first of a back-to-back.

2015-16: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 1310 points of 1310 max (131 FPV; unanimous) | LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 631 points (zero FPV), third in voting

Curry led the leagues in points (30.1), steals (2.1), PER (31.5), Win Shares (17.9), Field Goals Made (805), 3P Field Goals Made (402), Free Throw Percentage (90.7%), True Shooting Percentage (66.9%), Box Plus/Minus (11.9), and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player at 9.5). Oh, he and the Dubs also won an NBA record 73 games in the regular season. No big deal.

VERDICT: It was Steph’s world, and we were just living in it, until Kyrie Irving hit that shot in the NBA Finals and destroyed it.

2017-18: James Harden, Houston Rockets, 965 points of 1010 max (85 FPV) | LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, 738 points (15 FPV), second in voting

While LeBron did have a LeBron type of season, it was just Harden’s year. The Beard averaged a league-high 30.4 points, to go along  with 5.4 boards, 8.8 dimes, 1.8 steals, and he led the way with a 29.8 PER and 15.4 Win Shares while leading the Rockets to a 65-win season. James averaged 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.4 thefts, a 28.6 PER, and 14.0 Win Shares. Like I said, King James had a very good season, but Harden just did it a little better, enough to have earned the MVP trophy.

VERDICT: Beard showed out and deserved the hardware.

2019-20: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, 962 points of 1010 max (85 FPV) | LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, 753 points (16 FPV), second in voting

The Greek Freak wins the second of his back-to-back MVP nods, and again, it was somewhat close, but at the end of the day, it’s difficult to really feel compelled to reverse the decision and give the award to LeBron instead. Antetokounmpo, whose name I’ve actually memorized and spelled correctly (pronunciation is another deal, though), scored 29.5 points a night, grabbed 13.6 rebounds, dropped 5.6 dimes while also averaging a block and steal each night. He also led the league in PER (31.9) and had 11.1 Win Shares. His Bucks also led the NBA in wins with 56. LeBron led the league in assists with 10.2 and his Lakers to 52 victories. Other than that, Giannis pretty much has the numbers over King James.

VERDICT: The Greek Freak did the damn thing during the regular season and gets to keep the trophy; although I’m sure he’d gladly trade trophies with LeBron and the ones he eventually got with the Purple and Gold in the postseason.

So, out of the seven times above that LeBron finished second or third in MVP voting, there’s only one season in which LeBron could have justifiably said he was robbed. The other six seasons, well, sure we could argue, but the finer points prove that the player that did win earned the right to be called the NBA MVP for the respective season. That said, it’s amazing that LeBron James, on top of his four MVP wins, he was also close in seven other seasons. Greatness is surely measured through consistency, and the King has been the paragon of that every season he’s played, MVP win or not.

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