Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Painted Area's 2008-09 NBA MVP: LeBron James

Last year, our MVP pick of Kevin Garnett required a fair amount of explanation, as we leaned heavily on a subjective rationale which focused in no small part on how much KG meant to Boston's transformation into a defensive juggernaut.

This year, scarcely little argument is necessary: LeBron James has turned in a season for the ages, and is the NBA MVP for '08-09, easily, even in a year when five players turned in legitimate MVP-quality seasons.

Here is how I rate the top 15, with some commentary to follow:
1. LeBron James, Cleveland
2. Dwyane Wade, Miami
3. Chris Paul, New Orleans
4. Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
5. Dwight Howard, Orlando
6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio
7. Brandon Roy, Portland
8. Yao Ming, Houston
9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
10. Tony Parker, San Antonio
11. Pau Gasol, LA Lakers
12. Chauncey Billups, Denver
13. Deron Williams, Utah
14. Carmelo Anthony, Denver
15. (tie) Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Rajon Rondo, Boston

This has been one of the most incredible seasons for individual performances in NBA history. All of the top 5 guys on the list have been truly outstanding, truly MVP-worthy. LeBron had a season for all time. D-Wade turned in one of the best-ever sustained stretches of all-around play after the All-Star break, yet still never had a chance for the MVP. CP3 had one of the best statistical seasons for a point guard ever, yet he's 3rd for me, and will probably finish 5th in the balloting. Kobe was the leader of a 65-17 team and once again the top clutch scorer in the league. Howard was the only star on an improbable 58-win team, and the likely Defensive Player of the Year as the anchor of the league's no. 1 defense.

Statistically, it's been ridiculous, with three guys with PERs over 30, which is unheard of - we're seeing 3 of the top 15 PERs in league history in one season.

It's been my favorite season for individual performances since 1992-93, when the four division winners were led by Jordan, Barkley, Ewing, and Olajuwon, and all four players were at near-peak performance in their careers.

Now, check out the ages of the top players in each season:
Jordan - 29
Barkley - 29
Ewing - 30
Olajuwon - 30

James - 24
Wade - 27
Paul - 23
Bryant - 30
Howard - 23

The point is this: it's only getting better from here. Throw in Brandon Roy and his merry band of under-25s in Portland, and 20-year-old Kevin Durant, and the 2010s are shaping up to be one of the great golden ages of basketball history, in part because it looks increasingly likely that we may have a player take a run at - gulp - the throne of greatest player of all time and, believe me, I didn't think I'd be writing a sentence like this again in my lifetime. It's just an incredibly exciting time to be a basketball fan. Stop pining for the past, the new golden age is here.

66-15, 81/37.7, 28.4/7.6/7.2, .489/.344/.780, 31.75 PER
LeBron James is the only true star player on the best regular-season team in the league - a team which can become the 10th club to win 67+ games and also tie for the best home record ever at 40-1 with a win on Wednesday. James has produced one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history, while also transforming himself into a top-tier defender.

While LeBron's season compares, statistically, to some of MJ's best years, I'm just not ready to go there yet with the comparison. I want to see the postseason success, I want to see the all-around excellence sustained over time, I simply need time to adjust and absorb that we may have an heir to the throne coming down the pike.

So for now, I'm going to leave it at this, a comparison that I feel is plenty impressive for the time being: if the Cavs can close out the season with a championship, LeBron's season will likely be the best we've ever seen from a small forward. And yes, what I'm saying is that, with a title, LeBron would have a season better than Larry Bird ever had.

1985-86 was Larry's quintessential year. Consider first that Cleveland is one game away from matching the 67-15/40-1 home records of that Celtics team, probably the greatest single-season team ever.

Here's Larry's stat line:
67-15, 82/38.0, 25.8/9.8/6.8, .496/.423/.896, 25.6 PER

The numbers look comparable overall, but the rather large difference in PER is due to the fact that LeBron's raw numbers are held down because the game is played at a much slower pace than it was a generation ago (fewer opportunities to build up stats), and the Cavs also play at a slow pace relative to the current era. (As I'm sure many of you have seen, Basketball Reference estimated in February that LeBron would be averaging 40.1 pts, 10.3 reb, 10.0 ast if the league played at 1962 pace, the year when Oscar averaged a triple-double, when there were about 35.5 more possessions per game.)

On top of that, with LeBron's development on the defensive end, he is now a much better defender than Bird was.

Of course, Larry had an outstanding postseason as well, here are his numbers:
15-3, 18/42.8, 25.9/9.3/8.2, .517/.411/.927, 23.9 PER

So, LBJ's still got some work to do, but I think that if he's hoisting the Larry O'B come June, it'll go down as the best season ever by a small forward, and that's plenty good enough for now, don't you think?

Here are the numbers for the rest of the top 10:
42-39, 79/38.6, 30.2/5.0/7.5, .491/.317/.765, 30.42 PER
D-Wade was the unofficial MVP of the Olympic basketball competition, and kept right on rolling into '08-09. He spearheaded Miami's 27-game improvement from its dreadful '07-08 campaign. Led the league in scoring, and also went over 100 steals and 100 blocks, the latter an incredible achievement for a 6-4 player.

Post All-Star break stat line was insane:
33.9 pts, 5.2 reb, 8.3 ast, 2.3 stl, .514 FG%, .370 3P%, .807 FT%


49-32, 77/38.4, 22.8/5.5/11.0, .504/.360/.870, 30.08 PER
One of the greatest statistical seasons ever for a point guard, though the assists are inflated a little due to the friendly scorekeepers at home. Led the league in assists and steals (2.78), and is on the cusp of 50 wins with a roster that consists of David West and an ample amount of gar-bage, especially considering how much time was missed due to injury by guys like Chandler and Peja (who wasn't that great when he did play).

We'll also kindly note that CP3 outrebounded Kobe and D-Wade, among other things.

65-17, 82/36.1, 26.8/5.2/4.9, .467/.351/.856, 24.46 PER
I know the Kobe true believers are going to kill me for this, but I don't know what to say. Kobe Bryant is one of the best basketball players I have ever seen, and I think he had an MVP-quality season. It was just a season when we had some historically great seasons.

I think the Lakers are going to win the title, and they are a hugely talented team. They are great because of Kobe *and* because of the trio of long, skilled, agile, unselfish, athletic players known as Gasol, Bynum and Odom. I just saw too many games this year where one member of that triumvirate was the single key player in a win. I saw very few games involving my 1-2-3 MVP picks in which anyone other than those players was the single key player in a win.


58-23, 78/35.9, 20.7/13.9/1.4, .574/.000/.594, 25.45 PER
Narrowly edged out by Kobe for no. 4, mainly because there was such a disparity of production in the clutch.

Still, D-12 had a breakout year on the defensive end as much as anything. He is the likely Defensive Player of the Year, and the clear stud for a Magic club that had no business winning this many games.

53-28, 74/33.6, 19.3/10.6/3.5, .503/.000/.691, 24.39 PER

53-28, 77/37.4, 22.8/4.7/5.2, .481/.381/.823, 24.21 PER


53-28, 76/33.6, 19.6/9.9/1.8, .548/1.000/.866, 22.77 PER

49-32, 80/37.6, 25.8/8.3/2.4, .478/.359/.892, 23.13 PER


53-28, 71/34.0, 21.9/3.1/6.9, .505/.292/.784, 23.42 PER


At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice peice of work, and Chris Paul should be higher on that list.

Ps. I've added the article to feel free to post future articles for others to see.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Sol Orwell said...

I'm rather curious how you came up with this: "Kobe was the leader of a 65-17 team and once again the top clutch scorer in the league"

What metric supports this claim?

At 11:45 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

I was using the Clutch Stats provided by, which measure per-minute statistics in the 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points:

LeBron was the most productive overall in this metric, by far, but Kobe was technically no. 1 scoring.

But it's a small sample size, so it's probably best to say that the top 5 in this metric - Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, D-Wade and Chris Paul - were the most productive players overall in the clutch.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger J. O. Applegate said...

In other words, per 48 crunchtime minutes Kobe scored 2 more points than Lebron by taking about 8 more shots.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger Sol Orwell said...

Yeah what Joe said - considering # of shots taken, both Melo and LeBron are way more clutch shooters.

Throw in rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals, and the obvious 'top clutch scorer' becomes LeBron.

At 4:47 PM, Anonymous AK Dave said...

"Clutchness" can't be quantified with statistics, but here's how I look at it: who scares you the most with the ball in his hands and the game on the line?

Also, dude, nice article, but using Hollinger's PER stat as some kind of end-all measuring stick for a player's performance is dangerous ground. Everytime a blogger talks about PER, Hollinger's head expands a little bit, and a kitten dies.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

All I said was that Kobe was the top clutch scorer in the league, and that is an accurate statement. I didn't make any claim larger than that.

And as I said in the comment above, LeBron was the most productive player overall in the clutch, which is part of the reason I think he was easily the MVP, which was meant to be the overwhelming point of my whole post.

And AhmedF, this statement makes no sense: "Throw in rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals, and the obvious 'top clutch scorer' becomes LeBron."

That makes LeBron the most productive in the clutch. The guy is the 'top clutch scorer' is the guy who scores the most points. Kobe is the player who scored the most points per minute in the clutch this season.

AK Dave: I try not to use PER as an end-all measuring stick. I think it is incredibly useful for what it is: a single value for everything that can be measured in a box score.

To the extent that a box score is valuable, I think PER is a very effective metric. But I fully recognize that there is plenty of basketball outside the box score.

Note that one of the key reasons that I think LeBron is potentially having a better season than Bird in '85-86 is that he is playing better defense than Bird ever did, and that cannot be quantified currently.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Sol Orwell said...

"who scares you the most with the ball in his hands and the game on the line?"

Echh ... I like how when the stats show that Kobe is obviously the inferior shooter (accuracy, assists, # of shots, etc) you fall back on the tired old 'oooh scary' illogical statement. This isn't 2006 anymore, those miles have taken their toll on Kobe.

Haubs - you are right, he is the top clutch scorer - I guess I should have been more clear that in itself that is meaningless - who produces (scores, creates, defends) in the clutch is what matters - which is definitely not Kobe.

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