November 9, 2018

It’s apocryphal on the surface, but is it time to consider taking LeBron James off the MVP ladder? Or, more accurately, has he just fallen off it all by himself?

Here are some sad realities regarding the once (not future) King.

  • He is minus-118 in his last six games–by far the worst stretch of his career.
  • He has had the three worst +/- performances of his career in the last two weeks.
  • The Cavs have been outscored by 19 points with LeBron on the court this season and they’ve outscored their opponents by 28 with him on the bench.
  • Their defensive rating with him is 9.2 points worse than it is without him, and it’s apparent that defense is their number one problem.
  • The locker room is in complete disarray and even he has been a target of criticism.

Sure, he’s the “best player in the world” and he’s been to seven straight finals and so on and so forth. But name another player where all of that would be true with the team underperforming and slumping the way Cleveland has, getting routinely blown out of the water on national TV in important games.

I understand that some will reflexively jump in here and defend him. But I’m not making any claims as to his legacy–which is top-two all time in my opinion. Nor am I saying that he can’t get “get back on” the ladder.

But when the reversals of these of kinds of arguments have been used to bolster his MVP candidacy in the past, they can’t be overlooked when they’re this bad. His box score numbers are great, but they don’t seem to be reflected on the scoreboard, and ultimately that becomes a big part of how MVPs are judged.

So, sorry, LeBron. You’re on the base of the ladder until you get your team winning again.

1. James Harden: Now he’s back in the fold and winning again. He made a couple of key defensive plays and a clutch 3 to help beat the Golden State Warriors. He had a clutch block that helped the Rockets climb past the Miami Heat. This sounds as insane as dropping LeBron James off the MVP ladder, but Harden making keys on both sides of the court is a thing now.

2. Stephen Curry: It’s got to be a Warrior here, and that means it has to be Step or Kevin Durant. And all I can tell you is that both statistically and observationally, the Warriors are a better, scarier, more entertaining team with Curry on the court than Durant. No individual in the NBA makes defenses feel more helpless than Curry, especially when his shot is falling, and his shot is falling more efficiently than when he won MVP unanimously.

3. Kevin Durant: Another reason Harden is looking like a favorite to win right here. Harden is the clear frontrunner for Houston. Chris Paul held down the fort while the Beard was gone, but there isn’t any question Harden is more valuable than Paul. There is a real debate about Durant and Curry, though–enough of one to split votes. There’s a scenario where the Warriors get more first-place votes but Harden wins the award because of the split.

4. Jimmy Butler: It is not often that a player’s absence from the lineup is an argument for his MVP when the team wins without him, but the Timberwolves’ two big wins with Butler out are actually an indication of what makes him so valuable. Both games came down to clutch time and it was the kind of situation where the ‘Wolves would have collapsed in the past without Jimmy. But the imprint of his competitive fire has caught hold and affected the play down the stretch. His leadership is part of the argument for Jimmy, and you saw it in those two games, even if you didn’t see him.

5. DeMar DeRozan: The Raptors dropping three of their last five isn’t helping his cause. Nor is the fact he’s only averaging 22.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds over the last six games. Or that his 3-point shooting has only been 23.8 percent. He had one great game against the Warriors (which is noteworthy for sure), but his recent play overall isn’t good enough to climb over the injured Jimmy.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James

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Kelly Scaletta

Kelly Scaletta writes for Vantage Sports, Bleacher Report and BBALLBREAKDOWN. He has the crazy notion that watching games and understanding stats are not mutually exclusive.

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