And, to anyone who takes the game seriously, “best player” should mean “M-V-P!”
It’s not a huge edge, but it’s decisive enough: James has Bryant licked in scoring per game (30.3 to 28.2), assists (7.5 to 5.4), rebounds (8.1 to 6.0) and shooting percentage (48.6 to 46.6). Bryant shoots better from long range (35 percent to 30), and has James’ number from the line, but so does Kyle Korver. Otherwise, they’re even on steals and turnovers, and James blocks nearly twice as many shots.
James may play two more minutes per game, but he still owns a decisive edge in the per-minute numbers, and has to do his damage on a slow-down team (20th in the NBA in possessions). Kobe has a chance to pad his stats (not that he is, kindly read that carefully) with about five more possessions per game on the Lakers. That’s significant.
But that’s a mere nuance to national TV types and multi-sport columnists who want to hand the mantle over to Kobe just because his team is winning more. Bryant was working his tail off for years just trying to get a sorry bunch of Lakers up around the .500 mark, and he shouldn’t be handed an MVP just because Andrew Bynum can ball now and the Grizzlies decided to hand the Lakers Pau Gasol.
Meanwhile, James is just destroying people in Cleveland. Pulling in more rebounds on a team that owns the boards even without him (there’s not a lot of stray rebounds to go around) and racking up assists on a team that can’t shoot straight (44.1 percent, 24th in the NBA).
His defense isn’t on par with Kobe’s, but it’s not far off, and it’s still pretty damn good. Certainly not bad enough for Bryant to overcome being outscored, outassisted and outrebounded by LBJ. And while both are studs in the clutch, LeBron is better. He significantly outscores, outassists and outrebounds Kobe when it matters.
Worse, James is going to get burned by voters who will credit him for MVPs likely won from 2009-2019 and hand it to Kobe just because he’s playing “unselfish” basketball.” No, Kobe’s playing the same brand of competitive basketball he always has, just for a championship-level team. If he wasn’t “selfish” in 2005-06 and 2006-07 then the Lakers win 30 games. Replacing a Chris Mihm with a Gasol shouldn’t mean James should be denied.
* Just for giggles, try entering into an argument over who is having the best season among Manu Ginobili, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant. I’m not even going to get into the per-minute numbers, loyal readers, so understand that this particular bullet point is for the punters:
Both Ginobili (in far less minutes than Kobe), McGrady, and Pierce score less, rebound a bit less, and dish fewer assists than Kobe. They are offering, per game, about 80 percent of what Kobe offers. Try insisting that any of the three have been better this season than Mr. Bryant, and you’d be rightfully laughed off.
And yet, those who still consider Bryant to be having the better season than LeBron have no issue overlooking the fact that Bryant scores less, shoots worse, rebounds worse, assists worse, and plays on a team that averages fewer possessions than James’ team. To them, Kobe’s better because … well, he just is.
* Much in the same way I’m not going to hand LeBron the MVP based on the two times the Cavs beat the Lakers this season, I’m not going to give Kobe the award for his play on Sunday. Kobe played much, much better than LeBron did, but I’ll leave making snap judgments based on one or two-game sample sizes to those who (I hope) cannot stand themselves after doing so.
Going further, I’m not going to hand James an MVP award merely because his team is 0-6 when he sits a game out. The 76ers would probably drop six out of six with Andre Miller on the pine. That shouldn’t sway anyone.
* The, “LeBron plays in the East!” cry is getting a little old. LBJ averages 29.8 points, 47.4 percent shooting, 7.1 assists, and 7.9 rebounds against Western teams. When James plays, the Cavs are 16-11 against the West. Kobe averages 29.7 points, 48.8 percent shooting, 6.5 boards, and 5.4 assists (again, in games with more possessions) against the West — awesome — but for some reason lets his averages go to relative pot against the East.
You’d think it’d be because of the Lakers blowing Eastern teams out, but Kobe actually averages more minutes per game against Eastern squads than against Western outfits, and contributes less. Weird.
Q: Why is everyone handing Kobe the MVP and counting me out? I’m carrying a lousy team and averaging nearly a triple-double every night. I play hard every game. I’ve become a really good rebounder and weak-side shotblocker at crunch time. I lift my offensive game at the end of every game and score with 2-3 guys guarding me. When I drive to the basket, I can go left or right and guys bounce off me like superballs. I always make the right pass. I always make the right play. Every time I’m on national TV, I put on a show. Basically, I became who you wanted me to be … and if that’s not enough, I’m only 23. Do you realize I’m the same age as MJ during the 63-point game at the Garden? That’s right, I’M THE EXACT SAME AGE AS MJ DURING THE 63-POINT GAME!!!!!!! And you’re all taking me for granted already??? Yeeeesh. No wonder MJ played baseball for two years.
–LeBron J., Cleveland
SG: Let’s get one thing straight: MJ played baseball for two years because David Stern secretly suspended him for 18 months for gambling and told him to come back for the ’95 playoffs. Get your facts straight. As for your other points, you’re right — you and Chris Paul are the leaders for MVP at the three-fourths mark because you’re both having superlative seasons, as is Kobe, with the difference being that neither of you has Phil Jackson or a great bench, and in your case, you don’t have even a borderline All-Star on your team. It’s you and 11 role players. Switch you and Kobe and you’d be doing just as well, but he’d be gritting his way through every Cavs game on cruise control and leaking fake trade rumors through his agent. I also can’t forgive Kobe for what happened during the first 15 games, when he moped around and pushed for a trade. Does someone do that during an MVP season? I say no.
I know I’m extremely biased, since I’m a huge Cleveland homer… but I’ve watched every game the Cavs have had this year and LeBron is playing out of his fucking mind. How anyone can watch him play on a regular basis and not come away thinking he’s the MVP is beyond me. Plus, once this team gets used to each other, I could very easily imagine James averaging a triple double for the last month or so of the season. He’s already putting up ridiculous numbers, I can’t wait til everyone is healthy.
However, I’d be shocked if LeBron actually wins it. The Cavs will be lucky to get 50 wins in a weak conference and that’s gonna work against him. Kobe will get points for the Lakers record (and the fact that they play in LA) and his defense (which comes and goes).