LeBron James is the best basketball player alive. Everyone knows this and has known it for a decade. But most of those years he was not the most valuable player in basketball, according to the people who vote for such things. That is, of course, a silly notion. Between his ability to elevate his teammates and the financial implications of his presence within an organization, there are few athletes in the world, much less the NBA, who are more valuable than LeBron.
But the MVP award is about which player was most valuable to their team on the court that season. The 2018-19 season where LeBron missed a good chunk of games due to injury and missed the playoffs is the only year of the 2010s that he definitely was not the MVP. He has a case varying in degree of strength for every other season. Last year, he was robbed in favor of Giannis Antetokounmpo. In 2018, James Harden's absurd statistical achievements convinced voters he was more valuable than LeBron. The same happened the previous season with Russell Westbrook. Each of those guys was deserving of the MVP that year, but LeBron had an equally strong case, and the perceived disrespect led to his declaration demanding respect on the podium after winning the 2020 NBA championship.
Now LeBron has as good a chance as ever to silence those who doubt him. The Los Angeles Lakers are the best team in basketball (even if the Utah Jazz are currently the hottest) with a deeper roster than their championship-winning squad last year. Most pertinent to the MVP discussion, Anthony Davis will miss at least 2-3 weeks after aggravating an Achilles injury earlier this week. He'll be out for at least the next nine games leading into the All-Star break. It would not be surprising if he missed more than that because the Lakers are in no rush to get him back for regular season contests and both parties would prefer Davis at 100 percent heading into postseason play.
That means it's LeBron's team for the next month, and the time is now for The King to make his push for yet another MVP award. That push got off to a roaring start last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves as LeBron scored 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting, notched 13 rebounds to go along with seven assists, and kindly set Alex Caruso up perfectly for a chase-down block. He's currently averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. We can safely assume that PPG number will increase without Davis, and so will the rebounding average.
As always in the MVP race, there are three boxes to check: stats, wins, and narratives. LeBron will cover the stats with the absence of Davis and wins category easily. Even at 36-years-old he can still score at will and knows exactly how much he has to do in order to win on any given night. Narratively, this season is falling in LeBron's favor because there aren't any real contenders to him right now.
Giannis won't win a third time thanks to voter fatigue and the Milwaukee Bucks are not as dominant as they've been in years past. Joel Embiid has the stats but the Philadelphia 76ers have fallen off a bit after a hot start and the odds are not in favor of Embiid staying healthy enough to garner the required votes. The Jazz are scalding right now but don't have any individual player worthy of an MVP vote. Luka Doncic is great but the Dallas Mavericks are struggling to stay at .500. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George share too much of the Los Angeles Clippers' success to pose a legitimate challenge in MVP voting. Same goes for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden in Brooklyn.
Damian Lillard has the best case he's ever had, carrying the Portland Trail Blazers to win after win without CJ McCollum, but Portland will likely end up as a five-seed at best and that's not good enough for MVP voting barring a historic benchmark being reached. The Denver Nuggets are the seventh seed in the West right now even with Nikola Jokic posting absurd statlines. Steph Curry has the numbers of his unanimous MVP season but the Golden State Warriors aren't winning enough games this year.
If Davis weren't hurt, it would be a different conversation. Teams with multiple superstars rarely end up with an MVP award because the success and statistics are shared in equal measure. It's a large part of the reason LeBron didn't win last year despite being the best player on the best team in basketball. But it's all 'Bron now. Davis will more than likely miss double-digit games. LeBron will average 30 points through that span. The Lakers will win most of those games. And LeBron will be in the driver's seat for MVP, an award that doesn't really matter that much in the pursuit of winning rings but matters very much in the pursuit of acquiring what he feels to be the appropriate level of respect for his game.
We haven't seen LeBron unleashed in a while. Now we will. It'll be fun, and it will probably end up with a fifth MVP in his trophy case.