LeBron James likely won't win the NBA MVP Award this season, as Giannis Antetokounmpo is heavily-favored to take it home for the second consecutive campaign. But on Tuesday night, James continued to show why he's still the league's most valuable player, as the Lakers took a 2-1 lead over the Houston Rockets in their second-round playoff series.
On the same night Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated by the Miami Heat in a gentleman's sweep, James did everything for the Lakers. He poured in 36 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out five assists and added a steal and four blocks on the defensive end. In 38 minutes he only turned the ball over twice. On both ends of the floor he was the driving force behind the Lakers' 112-102 win that put them firmly in control of the series.
Yes, I know playoff games don't count towards an MVP race. I'm also aware awards voting took place before the Orlando bubble began. Even so, what James did this season was remarkable and should have brought home the award anyway.
At 35 and in his 17th season, James reinvented himself. Always a phenomenal passer, he worked to set up teammates more than ever this year. It helped that he had Anthony Davis around, but LeBron really has become a distributor. While averaging 25.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, James also led the NBA with a career-high 10.2 assists and had 13 triple-doubles this season. He did all of that while leading the Lakers to the best record in a loaded Western Conference that challenged the team on a near-nightly basis.
I think it's also worth pointing out that James was the face of the league during its most difficult season in memory. Whether it was the untimely death of Kobe Bryant, the coronavirus shutdown or the movement to fight racial and social injustice, LeBron has been leading from the front each time the league has faced a crisis or tragedy. That takes a toll on a player, but you'd never know from watching James perform. Production isn't the only way a player can be valuable to his team and his league.
Antetokounmpo is an amazing talent who certainly lived up to every expectation on both ends of the floor this season. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA and he overwhelmingly won Defensive Player of the Year. But Milwaukee exited the playoffs quickly, and trailed 3-0 when Giannis injured his ankle in Game 4 of the team's series against the Heat. They fought hard to win that game, but were ultimately bounced from the bubble Tuesday night with their star watching from the sidelines. The Lakers are still playing and appear to have finally hit their playoff stride.
James has Davis with him this season, which certainly made things easier, but there is no doubt he's at the center of everything the Lakers do. They would be lost without him. While other stars in the league sit out games for "load management" and cut their minutes to stay fresh, James doesn't. He ranked 17th in minutes this season (34.6) while playing in 67 games. Antetokounmpo played in 63 games, while averaging 30.4 minutes. Yes, that means something.
Giannis is almost certainly going to take home the MVP Award this season, but it's hard to argue anyone in the league is more valuable than LeBron James. In his 17th season, he's still proving that on a nightly basis.