Making the Case for LeBron James as the Most Valuable Player over Dwight Howard | Magic Basketball

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May 04

Making the Case for LeBron James as the Most Valuable Player over Dwight Howard

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Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Last night, LeBron James was presented with the MVP trophy by commissioner David Stern before the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was a deserving moment for James, capping off a community celebration, of sorts, that began on Sunday when he received the award (open to the public) in his hometown at the University of Akron in front of family, friends, and the media.

Of course, the media has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere the past day or so, when it was revealed that several Orlando-based voters placed Dwight Howard ahead of James on their respective ballots. Even though James received 116 of a possible 123 first-place votes and won the award in a landslide, issues like local bias have been conjured up to explain why Howard (who finished fourth on the ballot) received three first-place votes.

Although Howard is a magnificent talent, a rare breed of player in today’s perimeter-oriented NBA, and more than worthy of being named the Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive season, there’s no way to justify choosing him over James at the MVP. Mind you, this is not an indictment on Howard. Not at all. This is a recognition of an individual that has transcended the sport of basketball. Someone that, according to Larry Bird, will “probably be better than all of us when it’s all said and done.”

That person is LeBron James.

Again, because it’s worth repeating, this is not an indictment on Howard. It’s just that James is, and has been, that good.

Overall:

adj. +/- net +/- stat. +/- PER WARP Win Shares/48
LeBron James +18.52 +15.8 +13.68 31.1 25.3 .299
Dwight Howard +24.97 +10.2 +7.21 24.0 19.2 .223

Aside from the adjusted plus/minus numbers, every other linear metric rates James as the better player than Howard. It’s not close, either. The argument that Howard deserves to be named MVP carries weight if Howard was within striking distance to James, statistically, like Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade were last season when they were considered for the award. This season, strictly looking at the stats, that wasn’t the case for Howard … even when making note that some of his impact on the floor isn’t easily quantified.

Plus, James’ production during the regular season approached historical levels (as was the case when James won his first MVP). As in, very closely matching the same statistical output as Michael Jordan in his prime. Granted, James’ WARP was slightly down this year but if he didn’t sit out the last three games, he would have had a chance to surpass his WARP total from last year. Regardless, James had a phenomenal season that could only be compared to a few of his peers. None of them being Howard.

Defense:

net def. +/- dMULT* opp. PER TRB% STL% BLK%
LeBron James -1.13 .721 15.6 (vs. SF’s) 11.1 2.2 2.0
Dwight Howard -3.37 .548 13.8 (vs. C’s) 22.0 1.4 6.0

*defensive multiplier

One of the arguments strongly in Howard’s favor is that he is the first player ever to lead the league in a.) blocked shots and rebounds in two consecutive years and b.) blocked shots, field-goal percentage, and rebounds in the same year. Truly impressive accomplishments, without a doubt. And Howard does have James beat on defense. Howard’s ability to clean up the mistakes of his teammates, excel in defending pick and rolls as well as post-ups, and provide great help-side defense is unmatched by anyone in the NBA.

However, James is an excellent defender in his own right. Of course, James is probably best known for his chase-down blocks but he’s shown a willingness to defend, and lock down, an opposing team’s best player by using his rare blend of size and strength to his advantage whenever possible. It’s true that James has taken a small step back on defense this season but his defensive statistics are still impressive. For instance, James is one of only 13 players this year to average at least a block and a steal per game.

Offense:

TS% eFG% AST% TOV% USG% ORtg
LeBron James .604 .545 41.8 12.3 33.5 121
Dwight Howard .630 .612 8.7 18.7 23.9 113

What’s probably most remarkable about James, more than anything else, is the magnitude of his impact on offense. James is, unquestionably, the league’s most devastating and versatile playmaker.

Want passing?
This year, James shattered the record for assists per game among forwards. Better than Bird, and by a large margin. James also set a record for assist percentage among forwards, besting his own mark from last year. On a broader scale, James ranked sixth in assists per game and fifth in assist percentage during the regular season. James is a small forward and yet among the league leaders in a category dominated by point guards. What’s scary is that James could predominantly play point guard, if he wanted to, and probably lead the league in assists per game.

Want scoring?
Despite the fact he operated mostly around the perimeter and had the second-highest usage rate in the NBA during the regular season, James was more efficient than Howard on offense when looking at Offensive Rating. By the way, this is taking into account the fact that James’ shot selection can be sketchy at times, given that he’s notorious for falling in love with his jumpshot and is shooting three-pointers at an average percentage. Also, James compares favorably to Howard when looking at True Shooting Percentage, for example, despite carrying a much heavier workload offensively.

_______

Sometimes people get caught up so much with the idea that “their player” has to be the MVP, logic and reason (objectivity, too) be damned. For Howard, though, there’s no shame in being touted as the second-best player in the world. None. Eventually, maybe as soon as next year, the time will come when Howard is strongly considered to win the MVP without dispute.

Just can’t make the argument this year.

16 comments
Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Est

It'd be close. Wade's team would fare worse simply because his supporting cast is weaker. Both teams would suffer, though.

I don't think Wade should have won MVP last year, because James had such a phenomenal season, but he certainly has a compelling argument. In almost any other year, Wade (Chris Paul, too) would have won the MVP in a landslide because his numbers were bordering on the historical. But again, that speaks to the ridiculousness of James' season that he was able to topple Wade and Paul for MVP. They all put up prolific numbers but James faired the best out of the trio.

Est
Est

finally something we can agree upon! steve nash definately wasn't the most valuable player either time he won the mvp award, and it still boggles my mind when i remember he won it two years in a row. i will concede that the unquantifiable data argument can also apply to lebron james, but it's not reflected as much as by dwight howard's because he is a center. and im not dismissing the empirical data, like i said earlier, i agree he had the best stats. however if we want to go even deeper with the mvp argument that i want to throw a name out that i wasn't going to but i have to.

dwyane wade should have won mvp last year and should have gotten more votes this year. he carries his team on his back much more than lebron james does, and at 6'4 with no great height or muscle advantage that's pretty amazing. he was the league's leading scorer and if you took him away from his team... well we already saw what happened that season he was chronically injured and they went and drafted beasley....

take lebron away and take dwyane wade away and what team would fare worse?

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Est

The MVP should be rewarded to the best player in the league, which can be proven by looking at all the stats that are out there to make the correct choice (there is usually a "right" answer, whether people care to admit it or not). Even taking into account Howard's impact on defense, James is no slouch either. I made note that some of Howard's impact defensively is unquantifiable but you could apply the same argument to James. At the end of the day, James' complete skill-set is better than Howard's. We're running in circles with this discussion. To simply dismiss empirical evidence for the sake of ... well, that's a mistake. Then you get Steve Nash winning back-to-back MVP's, neither of which he deserved. That's no slight on Nash, just the reality of the situation.

Est
Est

@Eddy Rivera
i'm not arguing that lebron doesn't have the most impressive stats, i've seen them and i agree he does. but it seems to me your basing your decision almost purely on stats, and i just can't do that. like i said earlier, some stats are immeasurable, like how many shots dwight howard alters merely by his intimidating presence in the paint. and the other point i made earlier was that defense is what wins championships and the magic have showed all season, especially their last 30 games on their crazy tear into the playoffs, that they are the best defensive team, with dwight howard at the core. i know that your going to say you agree and that's why he won DOY, but that's just how i define mvp.

back to your stats argument for a moment, i know that voter fatigue will be the reason lebron won't win multiple years, but if we base mvp off your stats argument, than should the player with the best stats every year (lebron perhaps?) ALWAYS win mvp? or the player with the biggest impact?

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Est

Your opinion is duly noted. Yes, there are other players with great stats in the NBA but it isn't too difficult to see that LeBron James has been the best player in the league for the past few years. The numbers show that, ergo LeBron has been named the MVP for two consecutive regular seasons. It is practically impossible to come to a different conclusion using the statistics I provided. That isn't bias, that's confirming a fact. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, quite frankly, ignorant to the truth. When it's nearly unanimous among the mainstream media AND statisticians (those in the APBRmetrics community), there's no argument and there shouldn't be one. That's how I see it.

Est
Est

@Eddy Rivera
i agree with everything you said about voter fatigue and that being why jordan and others haven't won many consecutive mvps. but i'm confused as to why you're confused about why i call you biased. the fact that you ARE arguing for lebron shows your bias for him. there are other players with great stats with great impacts on their teams. when people look at all their stats and watch them play, they draw their own conclusions. the conclusion you drew was lebron was the mvp. now, maybe you also have different, more rigid, definition of bias than i do, but i think that if people can be watching the exact same games and reading the exact same stats and drawing all these different conclusions, that reveals that something in them is inclined towards that player- and i call that bias.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Est

How do I show my own bias when I'm arguing for LeBron James? I'm confused. And the reason why Jordan didn't win the MVP every year was due to voter fatigue. Statistically, he was the best player in the NBA for a number of consecutive years but the media got tired of voting for him year after year. The same thing, inevitably, is going to happen to James because history says so.

Est
Est

@Eddy Rivera

you think it's the "correct" choice and that he was the "clear" winner. but the decision 2 decide mvp is supposed to be completely objective so this shows your own bias. and as for "simply" figuring out the best player in the NBA, that's where local bias clearly emerges. Lakers will say kobe hands down. Orlando dwight howard. Miami dwyane wade. And if you want to make the statistical argument, then I and many others could argue that stats don't even come close to revealing the full impact of a player. Sure dwight howard has a lot of blocks and rebounds, but they don't even come close to showing how many shots he alters when he's on the floor. but i agree with you. howard's day will come. because despite what many seem to mistakenly think, lebron can't win it every year. even jordan, dominant as he was, didn't win it every year.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Est

Not sure how that's local bias if it's the correct choice, given that James was the clear winner of the MVP this year. People may have different criteria for determining the MVP but it should simply come down to figuring out the best player in the NBA. There's plenty of empirical evidence out there to make the right choice. Howard is an excellent player, unmatched on defense, but he's not the MVP. There's no way to really argue for Howard when James' statistics are simply overwhelming. And James is no slouch on the defensive end, either. The key to Howard winning the MVP is he needs to produce a bit more on offense. Howard is more than capable of doing so but, given how the Magic are designed offensively, it's not necessary sometimes. So yeah, if Howard scored more, he'd probably would have a greater chance at winning the MVP than he does right now. In any case, Howard's day will come.

Est
Est

obviously everyone has a different way of determining who's the MVP. But if we want to talk about local bias, than I want to know how many of the voters who picked LBJ 1st on their ballots were from the Cleveland or Ohio area? Of course that's not looked at because he won with such an overwhelming majority, but if it had been closer? Of course you would notice it.

my way of determining MVP goes back to what Craig said, defense wins championships. Which is why even when the Phoenix Suns were red hot a couple of years ago and Nash won MVP 2 years in a row, they still couldn't pull it off in the end, they ran against superior defense and their own defense wasn't clicking on all cylinders. That's why I would say D12 is MVP, take him away and Orlando may not have even gotten past the Bobcats who despite the sweep are a very good and well coached team. And there has been Kobe bashing, but he was known as a lock down defender. I'll never forget the 2001 Finals where he shut down Iverson after he tore them up Game 1. And of course there was that guy Michael Jordan....

And for all that's said about Howard's offense, I remember Game 6 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs when he scored over 40 points while still being a huge defensive force to be reckoned with. If he ever gets consistent enough, I'd argue he'd be bigger than LeBron, 2 time MVP that he is, right now

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Billy (slickw143)

A valid point. I just think James has been playing at such a high level for a few years, it's hard to say he doesn't have this transcendent aura about him. At the end of the day, like you said, a player like him will be judged -- fairly or unfairly -- by how many rings he has and that certainly plays into the type of legacy James leaves behind.

@Craig

You make a number of excellent points. Thanks for chiming in and advancing the discussion. I agree that James and Howard are two different players, but there needs to be some way of comparing them. Almost every player in the NBA is unique to his own gifts and skills but when it comes to the MVP, comparisons must be made. That's the whole point of deciphering who is more deserving of the award. Look, I stand by Howard and I believe he gets overlooked sometimes in the voting process because his strengths aren't easily appreciated and quantifiable. But I can't turn a blind eye to what James is accomplishing on the court. And neither should anyone else, for that matter.

Craig
Craig

Eddy,

Great piece, but one of the things that I don't think you really looked at enough was the fact that the offense is ran through Lebron James while Dwight Howard is just a proponent of his team's system. In the fourth quarter, it becomes the Lebron James show and he can put on some phenomenal performances. That's what we remember over Dwight Howard pulling down 20 boards several times out of the year. His assist numbers are going to be higher than Dwight because Lebron is the playmaker on his team. It's unfair to even compare those two in that regard.

Like you said, Dwight's numbers are sometimes not quantifiable. You can't judge the number of shots that he alters or the way a team's offense changes when he's on the floor versus when he's off the floor. His ability to handle the double team allows him to pass out of them at the most opportune moment and then it's that extra pass from Dwight to Magic Teammate #1 to Magic Teammate #2 that kills the other teams. Once again, a stat that can't be recorded. In all honesty, it's easy to score 30 points in the league, especially when you have talent like James or Durant. But, at the end of the day, defense is what wins championships and with Orlando being one of the, if not the, best defensive teams in the league, that has to be on Dwight's shoulders through and through.

It was remarkable to watch the piece early on in the 1st round of the playoffs when they were talking about Lebron James chase down blocks. He's applauded from coming out of nowhere and blocking the shot. That same day or the very next day, Dwight had some seven or eight blocks in the first quarter. James' chase down blocks are given more applause because they look more impressive even though Dwight's blocks tend to be one on one or in front of the man he's defending.

Two very different players in my opinion, and it's unfair to Howard to try and compare him to James when they have two completely different games.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

I will say that I'm all for most of this, except that LeBron has not yet (repeat yet) "transcended" the sport. He's not Magic, Bird, MJ or Russell yet. He's not. Until he wins some rings, he's still not on their stratosphere, stats-be-damned. Wilt destroyed Russell statistically over their career, but he can't hold Russell's jock-strap in terms of legacy and impact on the sport. LeBron's basically Wilt in his early years, except not as dominant (for obvious reasons) and much more likeable.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Will

As good as Rajon Rondo has been in the playoffs, I can't realistically put him ahead of Chris Paul. I think people have taken for granted how good Paul is -- he's a top-five player. If Deron Williams can play like he has in the playoffs for an entire season, then maybe there's an argument. But right now, there is none. The numbers clearly show it's Paul, then everyone else.

@Owen

Great comment.

Yeah, it's definitely not crazy to vote for Howard. You make an excellent point about how it's a far bigger crime that Howard finished behind Bryant in the voting. Statistically, Howard was superior to Bryant this year and it wasn't close. Oh well. If there's any consolation, there is momentum slowly developing for Howard to be a favorite to win the MVP next year. Thing is, I hope he earns it. It shouldn't be given to him because voters get tired of choosing James. Voter fatigue is going to happen because it happened to Jordan.

Owen
Owen

Nice piece Eddy.

I would have voted for Lebron also. There is an argument that Howard is:

A. Clearly the best defender in the NBA.
B. Pretty decent on the offensive end
C. Clearly the best player on the best team by efficiency differential in the NBA.

But let's face it, if Lebron plays those last four games the Cavs pass the Magic there. I don't know, I think it's silly to give the award to anyone other than Lebron. But it's not crazy to vote for Howard.

The real scandal is that Howard finished behind Bryant in the voting. That's a far bigger crime than putting Howard in front of Lebron.

Will
Will

Hey Eddy,

I can't deny your statistics and looking at the line-up of chumps that can't win anything without him, LeBron is the clear definition of the MVP. He fits the bill. . .at the simplest level: without LeBron James, his team would literally be nothing.

When it comes down to voting though, I could never, personally, place a first place vote for LeBron. When it comes to TEAM stats, both LeBron and Dwight are comparable. Both have led their teams to Finals, both have led their teams to impressive and ever-improving regular season win totals (in fact, Orlando has only broke even or improved every year since Howard joined the team in terms of win/loss), and both have probably shattered their teams franchise records for series wins, etc (I don't know enough about Cavs history to say how many playoff series wins and general wins they had before LeBron but I do know that in Howard's five years he's nearly tied or tied (or even succeeded) in passing the ENTIRE Magic organizations' records in series wins/ etc.

I view Howard as a TEAM player and part of being most valuable is how you interact with your TEAM. I know LeBron means so much to Cleveland but all I can remember, and maybe this IS biased but I can't help it, is LeBron quitting on his teammates after the ECF meltdown against the Magic and pouting to the bus. And the fact that he's left Cleveland and his team mates hanging about his free agency just makes him more selfish. Yes, it is his life and he can do what he wants but. . .I can't shake LeBron as an oppurtunist, not a team player and while the MVP IS individual indeed (and every player has the right to do what they want) it is also team oriented and I don't think LeBron represents a team player (you can argue the dancing, the high fives, the bringing team mate's up to the podium, blah blah blah. . .but just remember when the going got tough. . .LeBron stood alone).

As long as the Magic are succeeding and Howard is dominant (I wouldn't have an argument if the Magic were 21-61) in so many categories, he will always get my first place vote.

Just my opinion. And on that note: Eddy, can we re-open the Rondo as greatest current PG debate???? He's been incredible so far against the Cavs. No fighting!!!!!!