With the 2009-10 NBA regular season coming to an end, a second MVP trophy in as many years seems to be a lock for LeBron James. Winning the award last season, James has gone on to win every Eastern Conference Player of the Month award thus far, while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA-best record of 58-16.
And while James continues to put up numbers that even make John Hollinger blush (more on this later), Orlando’s Dwight Howard continues to compare himself to LeBron James and simultaneously play the disrespect card while he’s not being considered for the award.
His latest soundbites come in the form of impersonation, as Howard allegedly attempted to sound like current NBA analyst and always free-spoken Charles Barkley.
“LeBron James is the best player in the world,” said Howard. “He’d be the best golfer that ever golfed — if he golfed. He’d be the best twitterer if he twittered. He’d be the best Facebooker. LeBron James can do it all.”
“LeBron James has the best fans in the world. Ever. LeBron has the best shoes, the best hair dresser …”
And just to hammer home the point that this was a Charles Barkley impression, Howard continued by brining in pseudo panelists.
“I’ve seen him. LeBron James … listen, listen … LeBron James … he is everything. He’s everything that anyone could imagine as an athlete … Listen, Kenny, Ernie, E.J … let me tell you something … listen, LeBron James … LeBron James just epitomizes NBA players. He got the smile, the power.”
Howard’s talents cannot be overlooked. With the current game turning to more of a running style with more athletic power forward-types playing center, the one they affectionately call “D12″ can do it all. He can run the floor with the best of them, but is the most dominant center in a half court offense. His defensive numbers speak for themselves as Howard is likely going to become the first player in the history of the NBA to lead the league in blocks and rebounds in more than one season.
But is that enough to be considered for, or even win, the NBA MVP award? Howard’s coach Stan Van Gundy was quick to jump to his big man’s defense.
“It is just an offensive award,” said Van Gundy. “People who vote just don’t factor in defense, rebounding and how effective Dwight is defensively. I think it’s unfortunate. If the criteria was how many possessions are you affecting at both ends, if that’s what people thought about, then Dwight would be at the top of the league.”
But do they only factor in offense? Player Efficiency Rating (or PER) factors in a player’s all-around game, including rebounds, blocks and steals. It also adjusts for a team’s pace, so if Howard is the most dominant player on both ends of the floor, and his team goes to him consistently – especially in ‘clutch’ situations – his numbers will be adjusted to compensate for slower play.
Howard’s current PER is 24.2 – lower than his 2008-09 mark of 25.4. LeBron James currently boasts a PER of 31.7, exactly in line with his mark from last season’s MVP campaign. Hollinger rates anything above 30.00 as a “runaway MVP candidate.” He even took time yesterday to disucuss James’ current season, one that features a career-high mark in assists (8.6), field goal percentage (.505), and true shooting percentage (.608).
Once again, a hallowed record (at least in my world) is in play for James as we enter the final eight games: He could surpass Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 campaign for the greatest single-season PER in the modern era. I have to add the “modern” qualifier because the league didn’t keep track of things like blocks and individual turnovers before 1973-74, rendering the PER exercise a guessing game for players from previous eras.
James’ current PER of 31.81 is second best in “modern” history, and with eight games left (of which he’ll probably play only five or six), he retains an outside shot at breaking Jordan’s all-time mark of 31.89. At the very least, he’s going to be within hailing distance.
It’s hard to argue with someone getting nearly unanimous consideration for the MVP award when he is putting up what could be one of the best single seasons in the modern era of the NBA. Offensive-focused or not.
There is no denying that Howard’s abilities on the defensive end are nearly insurmountable. But while the MVP is considered to be offensive (at least by Van Gundy and Howard), there is a reason why the league also gives an award for the Defensive Player of the Year.
But when it comes to the 2009-10 MVP award, regardless of what voice anyone should choose to impersonate, James has Howard edged in nearly every other metric including the most important one: wins.