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NBA MVP: Best player in the league or best player on the best team?

Cleveland Cavaliers former superstar LeBron James. (Source: Wiki Commons)
Expert
1st March, 2015
13
1796 Reads

I disagree with much that is said about the NBA MVP race, both in general and specifically regarding this season.

My perspective on the MVP race is simple: the award should go to the best player in the league, not the best player on the best team, not the player who supposedly has the best storyline and not the best player who has not previously received the honour.

How do we determine who is the best player in the league? If we were doing a draft of all of the NBA players right now, who would be chosen first without considering age, salary cap restrictions or any other factor other than skill set/current performance? In other words, the NBA MVP should be selected the same way that we all picked teams when we were kids on the playground.

Of course, we have a lot more tools at our disposal to evaluate NBA players than we had when we picked teams on the playground but the principle is the same: pick the best player, period.

Is there any doubt that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, the player who would go first in any draft of all of the league’s players?

James won four MVPs in a five-year stretch before finishing second to Kevin Durant last season. This is supposedly a down season for James, but he ranks third in scoring (26.0 ppg) and seventh in assists (7.3 apg).

James is not as dominant as he has been in previous seasons – his shooting percentages from all ranges and his rebounding have declined – but he is still more dominant than any other player.

His Cleveland Cavaliers are awful when he does not play (2-9) and one of the league’s best teams when he does play (35-14). They recently won 18 out of 20 games, including a convincing 110-99 victory over the league-leading Golden State Warriors during which James contributed 42 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Yes, James started the season sluggishly by his standards. Yes, it is disconcerting when he talks about being in “chill mode.” When Michael Jordan won six titles in the 1990s he was never in “chill mode.” When Kobe Bryant won five titles in the 2000s he was never in “chill mode.”

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However, the 2015 MVP race is not about comparing James to Jordan or Bryant. James is the best player in the NBA right now, even if he is sluggish at times and even if he goes into “chill mode” sometimes.

Russell Westbrook deserves some kind of honorable mention, particularly since many media members pound on him so unfairly. Westbrook’s teammate Durant missed seven games in February. In those seven games, Westbrook averaged 31.2 ppg, 11.3 apg and 10.0 rpg. Westbrook averaged 31.2 ppg, 10.3 apg and 9.1 rpg in February overall, joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average 30 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds in a calendar month (minimum 10 games).

According to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, based on some of the “advanced basketball statistics,” Westbrook is having the most dominant offensive season in basketball history. I don’t know how reliable or relevant those particular metrics are but whether one goes by the old school “eye test” or by the numbers, Westbrook is the best guard in the game today.

Westbrook is also nearly a half foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter than James. Physically, he just cannot do the things that James can do; he cannot play any position on the court, guard any player, attack the defence from any possible angle. Westbrook is tremendously gifted but he just is not as good as James.

Stephen Curry is the best player on the best team (though Atlanta, which has no legitimate MVP candidates, may pass Curry’s Golden State Warriors in the standings). Russell Westbrook is putting up insane numbers.

There are a handful of other players who are performing at an MVP level – but if the MVP award is meant to recognise the game’s best player then it is obvious that LeBron James should be the 2015 NBA MVP.