This past weekend, LeBron James and the Lakers went 2-0 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks and Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in what many believe to be a preview of the Western Conference and NBA Finals. James’ performance has ignited the debate over whether or not he should be considered the front runner for league MVP over Giannis.
Does James deserve to be the MVP this season?
I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.
But whether he gets the award or not, let me set the record straight.
When it’s all said and done, after LeBron James hangs up his jersey for good and retires from the NBA, he will undoubtedly be considered the G.O.A.T.
Before everyone loses their collective minds let me clarify one thing.
LeBron James is the Greatest Regular Season Player of All-Time – The Maurice Poldoff G.O.A.T. The regular season MVP trophy is named after Poldoff who was the first commissioner (then president) of the NBA.
Conversely, James isn’t even in the top 5 for the Bill Russell G.O.A.T. – the best post-season player of all-time. The finals MVP trophy is named after Russell.
Since there are two awards in the NBA, one for the regular season and one for the post season we should separate the G.O.A.T arguments and awards between regular season and post-season as well.
Regular Season MVP
The criteria for League MVP is as much in debate as the merit of the handful of finalists for the award each year.
Is it the best player on the best team?
Is it the best player in the league?
Is it the player with the best stats?
Is is the player whose team would suffer most if he were removed from the team?
While all of these are valid arguments, the one thing that is not debatable is that the MVP is a regular season award. The basis for judgement is 82 games which is available to everyone who was on a team roster at the beginning of the season.
If you look at the history of the NBA and how a player has performed over the course of their career during the regular season, James is on his way to being the unanimous MVP or G.O.A.T. of the regular season.
LeBron’s Regular Season Accomplishments
• James was Rookie of the Year
• To be considered the GOAT of the regular season you have to have a long consistent and pretty much injury free career. James is in his 17th season and last year was the first time that he played less that 62 games in a season (55).
• If James averages 22 points a game playing just 60 games a year for the next three years he will surpass Kareem Abdul Jabaar as the league’s all-time leading scorer
• James is 4th in all-time regular season scoring average (27.09) behind Elgin Baylor (27.36), Wilt Chamberlain (30.07) and Michael Jordan (30.12)
• If James averages 7.4 assists per game (his career average) playing just 60 games a year, for the next two years, he would enter the all-time top 5 in assists.
• James has 4 league MVP’s. He’s tied with Chamberlain and second only to Jordan and Russell with 5 and Kareem with 6.
• James is tied for first in league history with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kareem for All-NBA honors with 15 and has the most first team selections ever with 12. If he is voted to an All-NBA team this year, he will sit alone at the top of this list.
• James is in third place with 16 NBA All-Star Selections behind Kobe with 18 and Kareem with 19. If James is selected as an All-Star in the next three seasons he will tie Kareem as the all-time leader. Unlike Kareem and Kobe, James has never not been selected an All-Star after his first selection in his second year in the league.
It is clear from this list that James is or eventually will be (if he remains healthy and consistent) at the very pinnacle of regular season accomplishments thus making him the All-Time Regular Season G.O.A.T.
However, the post-season is something completely different.
The regular season brings different goals for individual players and teams. Some players and teams just want to make the playoffs, some teams want to tank to position themselves for the future, some players may prefer stats over winning or vice versa.
The postseason has one goal and one goal only. Win 16 games! In the big scheme of things, anything short of a ring is a failure, no matter how you cut it.
LeBron’s Post-Season Accomplishments
• James is tied for 4th with Tom Heinson, Magic Johnson and Jerry West for the number of finals appearances (9). Kareem played in 10, Sam Jones played in 11 and Bill Russell played in 12.
• James isn’t even in the top 28 for the number of NBA Championships (3). If you ignore all the players from the Celtic teams of the 50’s and 60’s highlighted by Russell’s 11 rings and the anomaly of journeyman Robert Horry’s seven, James lags behind a long list of notables – Kareem, Jordan and Pippen with 6, Magic, Kobe and Tim Duncan with 5 and Shaquille O’Neal with 4.
• Even though James made it to 8 straight finals and 9 overall. His record is below .500 at 3 – 6, compared to 6 – 0 for Jordan and Pippen, 11-1 for Russell, 6 – 4 for Kareem, 5 – 1 for Duncan, 5 – 4 for Magic, 5 – 2 for Kobe and 4-1 for Shaq.
• James is tied for second in Finals MVP awards (3) with Duncan, Shaq and Magic. Jordan sits alone at the top of the list with 6.
• James is the all-time leading scorer in NBA playoff history (6,911) and is second in playoff games (239) to Duncan (251). However, he is fourth in points per game average (28.9) with Jordan atop the list (33.4).
• While it is true that the NBA is a make or miss league, one make (a Kawhi Leonard free throw) or one miss (a Ray Allen three pointer) is the difference between James being 3 – 6 and 2 – 7. And, let’s not even get into the whole Draymond Green suspension fiasco. Jordan never faced an elimination game in the Finals.
Don’t get me wrong, just because James’ post-season success is subpar when compared with others doesn’t in any way diminish his accomplishments. With so much emphasis on the post-season, the regular season seems to be losing some of its luster. The regular season isn’t simply a string of 82 appetizers we must go through in order to get to the main course. The regular season counts. In many ways it is the only true measuring stick when have when we compare players, particularly across eras, because all of them have the exact same number of opportunities available to them – 82 games. It’s what you do with those games that count.
The post season is an entirely different season. Most players don’t even get a chance to play in the post-season let alone the NBA Finals.
In the same way that Kawhi Leonard was not penalized for regular season load management when voters weighed in on his Finals MVP last year with the Raptors, James should not be penalized for his relative post-season futility when considering him for the regular season G.O.A.T.
So, when we have the debate about who the G.O.A.T. is, we need to separate the argument accordingly and when you look at the evidence it’s clear – LeBron James is the Regular Season G.O.A.T.
The jury is still out about him as a candidate for the post-season G.O.A.T. Unfortunately, he’s got a lot of ground to make up.