Is LeBron James Having His Best Season Ever?
As a collective of basketball lovers, we don't properly appreciate the greatness of LeBron James.
It's the man's 15th season, he's been named to the All-NBA Team 13 times (11 times on the First Team), made 13 All-Star appearances, and won three championship rings. He's played 51,441 combined regular season and playoff minutes over 1,306 games and is still playing at an MVP level with his 33rd birthday approaching in a little over two weeks. Honestly, it's starting to look like a mistake that he's only won four MVP awards.
To that end, LeBron's 2017-18 campaign is shaping up to be one of best -- if not the best -- seasons of his career, putting him firmly in the race for his fifth MVP.
He's averaging career highs in field goal percentage (58.3%), three-point percentage (42.2%), assists per game (9.0), and blocks (1.1), while putting up something darn close to a career best everywhere else.
Here are his numbers this season as compared to his four MVP campaigns.
Everything is perfectly in line with the years that voters decided he was the most valuable player in basketball, while some numbers (the shooting efficiency, assists, etc.) are reaching heights beyond what we've ever seen from him.
There's a lot more season left to be played before an MVP is named, and big years from James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a few others might ultimately get in the way of the King being crowned, but there's almost no denying that LeBron's campaign to date is just as good as any season in which he's won the award in the past.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' current win-loss percentage is comparable to those of James' teams during his previous MVP campaigns and even better than that of the 46-20 Miami Heat team of the lockout-truncated 2011-12 season.
And what makes LeBron's case for MVP perhaps even better this year than in past seasons is that he currently accounts for 35.8% of his team's total win shares, while he hovered around 30% in each of his four previous MVP campaigns.
|Season||Team Win-Loss %||% of Team Win Shares|
If you look through his advanced metrics, you'll see similar correlations, as well.
LeBron James has had five seasons with a player efficiency rating (PER) over 30 -- his four MVP campaigns and this one. The same thing applies to the only five seasons he's ever had a win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) rate above .275, a box plus/minus (BPM) above 10.0, and a numberFire efficiency (nF EFF) mark -- an estimate for the point differential that a league-average team would have with a given player as one of the five starters -- above 6.0.
And LeBron's PER of 31.76 not only represents a career best, it's quite nearly the best in NBA history. The only one that's ever topped it is Wilt Chamberlain's 31.82 from 1962-63, a year in which he averaged 44.8 points, 24.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 52.8% from the field.
The top-10 PERs in history have not always resulted in an MVP award, but the only four times it hasn't were the ones that Wilt Chamberlain lost to Bill Russell (1962, 1963) and Oscar Robertson (1964), and when Magic Johnson won over Jordan in 1990. In other words, it took an all-time great player to deny those statistically superior seasons from being awarded the NBA's highest individual honor.
The NBA MVP is a very narrative-driven award, mind you, so there's always a chance that LeBron could lose this year, as well, despite putting up arguably the best season of his career at age 33.
Truthfully, if it weren't for narrative and voter fatigue, LeBron probably would have won the award almost every year for the last decade or more. That said, if he keeps up this historic pace this year and someone else wins it, 2017-18 will stand out as his most egregious loss.