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 Jump! 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.
Clearly A Closed Case In This MVP Race
April 27 -- Even if you despise everything about LeBron Raymone James, you'd have a hard time arguing against his case for KIA Race to the MVP honors in a court of basketball law.
Whatever so-called facts you tried to present would be trumped by a series of metrics that would blow your case to bits. By virtually every measure, James put together the most impressive statistical regular season (production and efficiency-wise) the league has seen in recent memory.
His closing argument to the regular season -- 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks in a win over Houston Wednesday -- was a fitting capper for a fantastic campaign. James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals and shot a 53 percent from the floor, 36 percent from beyond the 3-point line. James refined his already wickedly versatile game by taking fewer 3-point shots and crafting a post game to go along with all of his other obvious advantages over the competition., making him the league's most unstoppable force on both ends of the floor.
That's not the only reason he edged Kevin Durant at the tape for the top spot in the final KIA Race to the MVP Ladder of this season and will get at least this one vote in the official ballting for the league's top individual award. But it's a great start.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is biased, but he made a compelling, stat-free case of his own to reporters before the Heat's regular season finale against Washington.
"Part of LeBron's greatness is he cannot be defined by a statistic or a number," Spoelstra said. "It's the fact that he can be great at so many different things, and on both ends of the court. ... What he has allowed us to do is to use the versatility of the rest of the roster," Spoelstra said, "by playing him wherever we need to.
"He'll patch it up and fill in all the gaps to make it work. That's something nobody else does. On any given night, who else can be the best point guard or the best center or the best two or the best three or the best four?"
The versatility James displayed in this, his ninth season in the league, was truly remarkable. If someone needed to be shut down, regardless of position, the Heat called on James to handle it. And yet he scored at least 30 points this season 24 times, matching Kobe Bryant for the league-lead in that category as well.
He's already been confirmed by a jury of his peers, inside and outside of his own locker room. "Kevin Durant and the Thunder have had a great year and played great. I just think LeBron has had a special, special season," Heat forward Shane Battier told the Miami Herald when asked who was deserving of the league MVP. "Some of my boys on Houston [where Battier played before] just shook their heads and said, 'That guy is animal.' I'm like: 'I know. That's what I've been telling you guys.'"
Even Durant, who spent time doing two-a-day workouts with James during the offseason, admitted that James has a ridiculously strong case for the top honor.
"He deserves all the love [for MVP]," Durant told the Oklahoman.
Not even that gracious concession from his chief competitor for the award will silence those who believe James is undeserving because he hasn't mastered the art of closing out games the way Bryant or Dwyane Wade have.
They'll point to the one glaring omission on his resume, a Larry O'Brien trophy, as to why he can't be held in such regal esteem just yet.
Well, even James acknowledges as much. He realizes that whatever honors he drags into the postseason, they'll fade if he can't drag the Heat to The Finals and finish the deal this time. He'll need to lock down The Finals MVP to rid himself of all of the haters.
But that's a case to be made another day.
The case for the top spot in the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, however, is closed!
-- SEKOU SMITH
The next five: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks; Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks; Blake Griffin, b Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
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