Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hate Him or Love Him, LeBron is Best


Never before in the history of sports has one athlete gone from so beloved to so hated on such a grand stage faster than LeBron James. Seven little words and LeBron's fan-friendly image went down faster than Miley Cyrus' pants. "I'm taking my talents to South Beach." Tool.

But by God the man has many talents. Some people like to view the NBA simply "through their eyes" which is perfectly fine; I would say most people view sports this way. Most people aren't into the 'stats' part of the game, and that's probably normal. But the thing about LeBron James is that in both cases, he's clearly the best basketball player on the planet. It's not even close.

The man is averaging 26.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 7.0 APG. The only player in the league scoring more than James is Kevin Durant, who's averaging 29 PPG and 7.2 RPG but just over 2 APG, which makes it pretty clear that James is helping his team more than Durant. (Combining points and assists, LeBron is over 40 PAPG, and Durant is slightly over 38 PAPG) And that's before we factor in defense.

If anyone needs to be reminded how valuable LeBron James is, look at his former club. Yes, Big Z followed LeBron out of Cleveland. Anderson Varejo has been hurt. Mo Williams has missed some time. But the Cavs went from being the best team in the regular season the last two years to the league's worst record, which includes a record 26 game losing streak that is still in progress, mainly because LeBron James left.

Kobe Bryant spent most of the 2004-2005 season playing as the only star player on his team, with a bunch of 'misfits' and young players that simply weren't improving. That Lakers team went 34-48.

LeBron James spent his entire career playing as the only star player on his team. Mo Williams went from overpaid cast-off in Milwaukee to All-Star Point Guard, and there's little doubt that the difference was simply playing with James. Since James left, Williams has tried to become the go-to scorer again. He's shooting more than he did last season, yet he's scoring nearly 2 less points per game because of poor shooting. He doesn't have LeBron to get him nearly as many open looks. He played with Shaq, but old and no-longer-a-factor Shaq rather than MVP Shaq that Kobe played with.

The point isn't to degrade Kobe or his legacy, because he's one of the best players in the history of the game. The point is simply that as good as Kobe was, even at his absolute best he couldn't carry a team of average players to the playoffs. James didn't just take his cast-offs to the playoffs, he did it with the best record in the league in back-to-back seasons.

LeBron should win the MVP Award by a wide margin, but it'll be much closer than it should be. James will be penalized for playing with Wade and Bosh, and for ultimately accepting that he's hated by most fans. Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant will all be the in discussion, among others.

Paul is the closest to James in terms of production this year, but the fact remains James has been more productive and after a 6-6 start the Heat have been on absolute fire, going 32-8. James has taken over as the go-to-guy and Wade has rightfully learned to become Robin to LeBron's Batman. The Heat have to be the favorites right now to win the title this season, and whether you want to admit or not, LeBron James is the reason, because he's the best player in the league.