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LeBron James: Greatness taken for granted

LeBron James. Skip Bayless hates him. (Source: Wiki Commons)
Expert
4th March, 2017
42
1106 Reads

LeBron James was this week named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for a record 34th time.

To put that stat into perspective, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are tied for second all-time with 16 each. Of current players, Kevin Durant leads the field with 14.

The Cavaliers’ main man averaged 25.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 10.6 assists for the month of February, leading his team to a 9-2 record. James sat out one of the losses to Chicago with illness. His team have a stranglehold on the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

So with James adding another accolade to what is already an ultra-impressive resume, the question must be asked – are we taking LeBron’s greatness for granted?

‘The Chosen One’ is in love with the process of being great. He’s a difference maker. A franchise changer. And he’s instilled championship DNA into a Cleveland Cavaliers roster that is attempting to become just the 12th team in history to secure back-to-back NBA titles.

And at 32, James is an artist that is still perfecting his own craft as well.

LeBron is averaging a career high 8.9 assists per game in the 2016-17 season. He’s shooting the three-ball at 39 per cent, well above his 34 per cent career average (Note – Stephen Curry is hitting 40 per cent this season).

He is having the third most efficient shooting season of his career (59%). He’s in the top 10 in scoring again, and the King is seemingly cruising towards his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance – a feat that hasn’t been matched since the famous Boston Celtics era 50-years-ago.

Yet for all the superb statistics, highlight reel plays and team success, James isn’t seriously in the discussion for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award again this season. And I for one am tired of it.

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James has been so good for so long, that it seems NBA pundits and plaudits around the world have started getting bored with what I would call ‘routine-greatness.’ Basketball analysts make daily comments about James being ‘the best player on the planet’, yet it’s been four long years since he has held the Maurice Podoloff Trophy aloft.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry

And I guess that’s where the debate begins. Does ‘most valuable player’ equate to ‘the best player’? I think it should, as James clearly satisfies both arguments.

Since James returned to Cleveland following his four seasons with the Miami Heat, the Cavaliers hold a 4-19 record when he doesn’t lace up the Nikes. They are 0-4 this season when James doesn’t play.

On the flipside, Cleveland won more games in the first two seasons LeBron was back in town (110) than the team won over the course of the four seasons he was in Miami (97). That is how I would classify ‘adding value’.

So what other holes can be poked in James’ resume this season?

Well, he does have some of the best help in the league. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have played at an All-Star level so far this season. Iman Shumpert is having a career year, and Tristan Thompson is one of the most underrated big men in the league.

James was criticised for whining about the lack of talent on the roster after a disastrous month of January for the Cavs, and this may be contributing to a sense of disdain amongst many MVP voters.

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He’s also shooting 69 per cent from the free-throw line. That’s his kryptonite, if there is one. But free throw percentage has hardly defined an MVP race before.

So maybe it’s purely a case of who else is in the conversation?

The men in front of him – James Harden and Russell Westbrook – have had career-best seasons, no doubt.

Harden has transformed into arguably the best point guard in the game, one year removed from a dysfunctional and disappointing season jostling for alpha male status with Dwight Howard. Houston has surprised everyone in the NBA on the back of Harden’s superior play, but for all his offensive talents, he defends as well as an armless turnstile.

Westbrook is the triple-double freak show. Single-handedly dragging Oklahoma City towards an unlikely playoff berth on the back of some gaudy statistics and a summer where his partner in crime, Kevin Durant, bolted to join the Golden State Warriors.

Russ is on a mission, but it’s the selfishness that drives his mission that makes me tend to overlook him.

There are still a few months left of the regular season and at the time of writing, LeBron had just torched the Atlanta Hawks with 38 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists, to lead the Cavs to another road victory. LeBron is the best player on the best team in the East, and Cleveland has the third-best record in the entire league.

King James puts up superstar numbers night-in and night-out, yet does it with such consistency, that it is merely expected now. He is a victim of the unrealistically high bar he has set himself. And that is why his greatness is taken for granted.

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A scorer. A facilitator. A leader. A winner. The best player in the game. And the MVP again this season?

If only people weren’t bored with that.