Us Cleveland Cavaliers fans, I’d think, and I’d imagine plenty of NBA fans in general, fully acknowledge that LeBron James, who is now on the Los Angeles Lakers, is still the best player in the league.
One could maybe argue that Kevin Durant, of whom I believe is the game’s best scorer, based on skill set, is in the conversation, or perhaps, there could be a case for Kawhi Leonard, still likely the game’s best two-way player.
To me, though, just based on how he’s continued to go about his business and affect winning, and still be a wrecking ball and big-time playmaker, I still have James as my best player in the NBA.
And in that realm, an early-season media poll, courtesy of ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, in which he polled 100 media members regarding who they believe the current MVP is so far, was on-par with that sort of thing.
That’s to a degree, at least, and Bontemps noted how the voting, while informal, really, featured the scoring system from the league with five players on a voters’ ballot. That was with “10 points for each first place vote, followed by seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth and one point for fifth.”
Here was a bit more on the context involving James, who received 54 first-place votes, most notably, as compared to Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, who came in second and third, respectively, in the early season “straw poll,” via Bontemps.
“James was named on 99 of 100 ballots and finished with a total of 760 points, leading Embiid (23 first-place votes) by just 95 points. Embiid was the only player named on all 100 ballots. The last MVP race to have a final margin that small came in 2004-05 when Steve Nash edged Shaquille O’Neal by 34 points. Jokic was third, garnering 18 first-place votes and a total of 596 points.”
Bontemps would then demonstrate how Embiid, who is having a career year in relation to shooting overall (54.7 percent), three-point shooting (now-37.7 percent) and free throw shooting (85.5 percent), has been a big reason the Philadelphia 76ers are first in the Eastern Conference.
He’s had a career year in terms of scoring with 29.1 points per outing, too, and as Bontemps hit on, the Sixers, well now, since the article posting, are 11.4 points per possessions better with Embiid on the floor. They are only 1-4 with him active, too, as Bontemps emphasized.
Bontemps then touched on how Jokic, even while the Denver Nuggets have been underwhelming this season at 13-11, has been the “only player in the NBA” that’s been top 10 in points, at now since the article posting at 26.9, in rebounds with 11.3 and assists with 8.6.
Bontemps also then highlighted how Jokic, who briefly led the NBA in assists per game this season, would be the first center, in a season-wide span if that were to be the case, although not likely, to do that “since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1968.”
Nonetheless, while I’m not at all discounting the efforts of Embiid and Jokic, this early-season poll further proved to me that LeBron James isn’t slowing down.
This early ESPN MVP poll seems right, regarding James.
To make it abundantly clear, Embiid and Jokic have been nothing short of phenomonal this season, and even though Denver has been largely underwhelming, it’s not been due to Jokic at all, who has been playing at a different level, even for him, in 2020-21. And the Sixers have not been the same when Embiid has been off the floor.
Even taking that into account, along with a number of others getting first-place votes, of which Bontemps stated, LeBron as the early season MVP is the right call. I expect James to eventually be receiving his fifth NBA MVP award for his play this season, too.
He’s still had 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per outing, and has had the second-best three-point shooting hit rate of his career at 39.4 percent thus far. And that’s been on a career-high volume at 6.9 attempts per contest to this point.
By comparison, his career-high three-point shooting clip came in 2012-13 with the Miami Heat, which was the last season he won the league MVP.
That sort of thing illustrates how James has really been shooting the lights out this season to this point, and him hitting 42.4 percent of his pull-up deep ball attempts, on a 21.3 percent frequency, per NBA.com’s shot tracking data, has been something else.
And even while James does have plenty of help with Anthony Davis, now-Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, to go with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and others, his efficiency and overall effectiveness on-ball/from outside only makes him ever more dangerous as a distributor.
Moreover, with how James has still been as engaged as ever on the defensive glass and as a team defender, it’s helped play into LA being second in the Western Conference at 20-6. In that realm, the Lakers, as KJG’s Mason Cole alluded to, have been a well-oiled machine and the uber-efficient James has been right at the center of that.
So, to drive it home, it’s not surprising that this early MVP poll by Bontemps featuring those 100 media members has LeBron James in the..well, poll position at this point and that it seems as if he’ll eventually win his fifth MVP this season.
And even if that’s by a small margin, anyhow, the King, regardless of him being in Year 18 and at now 36, isn’t slowing down. Albeit as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, I’m not exactly shocked by that.