Race to the MVP Ladder
The Race to the MVP Ladder is a weekly look at our favorite to walk away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy (aka the NBA MVP award). The rankings are written by Sekou Smith of NBA.com's HangTime blog, Hang Time podcast and The Beat fame. If you have an issue with the Ladder, or have a question or comment for Sekou, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.
James' Play Warms Faction Of Cavs Fans
Nov. 29 -- The championships are fine and were expected, honestly. So, too, were the MVP trophies and the Olympic gold medals, the clever commercials and all of the other team and individual accolades LeBron James has piled up before and after his departure from Cleveland.
When you're ticketed for greatness at 12 or 13 years old and it actually comes to fruition, there is a certain matter-of-fact nature to it all. It becomes a part of the background to the daily stage play that is the Miami Heat star's life.
But there is no more genuine measure of LeBron's greatness than the scene, albeit limited to a certain amount of fans in Cleveland, that played out before his most recent visit to the city and arena he called home for his first seven NBA seasons. The Come Home campaign that has been building steam for a while now finally displayed its public face. It is a stark contrast to the scene that accompanied his departure after The Decision, when his Cavaliers jersey was infamously burned in the streets and he was anointed public enemy No. 1 in Northeast Ohio.
Since then, some $50,000 was raised, billboards were plastered around Cleveland and t-shirts were passed out, all in the name of getting LeBron to come back one day. This movement is real in the minds of some die-hard Cavaliers fans.
James, whose bid for a third straight title and MVP trophy are highlighted here weekly on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, praised the effort while not raising any hopes for those beleaguered fans. Those loyal Cavs followers have watched the team struggle to the worst overall record in the league since James departed.
However, a thawing of those once-icy feelings -- on both sides -- is evident. LeBron was gracious when asked about the growing movement, while being careful not to rub fans in Miami the wrong way with his answers.
"It's very flattering," James said "Anytime you have fans who appreciate the way you play, it's humbling."
It's pretty remarkable, though, that things have changed that much in just three-plus seasons, both in the hearts and minds of many Cavs fans and in LeBron's game. He's a much more methodical and meticulous force of nature than he was earlier in his career. It's an expected component of growth that you'd expect from a player who is as dedicated to being an all-time NBA great as LeBron has been.
Look no further than the steady and concrete rise in his shooting percentages, both from the floor and from 3-point range, from his rookie season to now.
That's growth that no one, not even LeBron's most ardent critics, can deny.
His dedication to the game, diligence in recognizing his shortcomings and his offseason work to fine-tune his weaknesses is what helps separate James from his contemporaries (contrary to popular belief, it's not all just his God-given abilities).
Plenty of super-talented players have lacked the work ethic and raw desire to be great that sustains the best of the best.
That's surely one of the qualities in their resident superstar that those Cavaliers fans miss. It's probably also one of the reasons why they're unabashed in their fawning over LeBron. Unfortunately, for those fans, LeBron's not taking the bait.
"I'm not getting too caught up in it," James said. "I'm grateful for [fans changing opinions]. I haven't done the 'Family Feud' thing and surveyed 100 people on the street and said 'Do you like LeBron or not?' "
There's no need. It's not about "like" anyway. Remarkably, it goes way beyond that in this case.
-- Sekou Smith
Editor's note on player stats: Instead of going with points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals to measure each MVP candidate's numbers, we are instead going with PIE.
What is PIE? It stands for Player Impact Estimate, and its a new NBA-developed stat that measures a player's (or team's) overall impact on the games they have played in.
PIE represents a single metric which eliminates league, season or style of play bias -- enabling comparison of player's and team's across different eras. The PIE formula was also tested and adjusted to produce a high correlation to winning -- the ultimate measure of success.
We feel this is a more accurate depiction of a player's value, stats-wise. But if you're looking for the traditional (and advanced numbers), they're just a click away on each player as well, too.