Wednesday November 16th, 2016

Last season, the NBA’s MVP race was decided in about 20 games. Once the Warriors got off to their incredibly hot start, it was clear Stephen Curry was going to take home MVP honors. (It was particularly obvious when Steph put himself on pace to hit 400 threes, spent half his time on the court shimmying in front of his opponents’ benches and hit that ridiculous game-winning shot against the Thunder.)

This year, the race for MVP is a little more clouded. Curry is no longer the best player in his own starting lineup, as the Kevin Durant signing will make it complicated for voters to simply give the award to the best player on the best team, assuming the Warriors finish No. 1. (There’s also been a collective schadenfreude in watching Golden State ever so slightly stumble out of the gate.)

With Durant and Curry potentially cannibalizing each other’s votes, who’s left? Russell Westbrook will have the stats, but it’s unclear if the Thunder’s record will reach the level typically needed for MVP. Kawhi Leonard is in the conversation, but he could be thwarted by the Spurs’ commitment to resting players. With all that said, I present one player who should be able to take advantage of the muddled field: LeBron James!

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NBA Power Rankings: All Hail The Cavaliers

I know, I know, picking the best player in the world to be MVP, really? Well, if you remember LeBron’s last regular season, he looked far from his typical MVP self. James was dogging it on defense for much of the year, his jump shot was absolutely broken, and he may or may not have had a hand in getting his coach fired. (He totally did.)

This season, the Cavaliers have won nine of their first 10 games and James’s stat line is flirting with a triple double. Cleveland’s record may be the most important part here, because if LeBron’s team keeps winning, his path to the MVP widens considerably.

It wasn’t only LeBron who seemed a bit off during the 2014–15 regular season. The whole Cavaliers organization seemed like a bit of a circus. Several players had issue with David Blatt before his firing. Kevin Love was getting benched during fourth quarters. LeBron was subtweeting like crazy. Even as the Cavs won 57 games, it felt as if they were underachieving. That trainwreck-sounding season was still better than LeBron’s first back in Cleveland, when the Cavs flirted with a .500 record for the first 45 games of the year and needed major trades to boost the roster.

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Team success is an underrated part of the MVP formula. James probably should have won the award in 2010–11, but that year it was hard to ignore how Derrick Rose led a lesser Bulls team to a better record than James’s Heat. LeBron will always be a victim of his own individual expectations, and his teams are always expected to thrive as well.

The title shine should help James this year, though, as he firmly snatched The Best Player in the World card back from Curry during the Finals, something that could still be hard for voters to ignore come time to cast ballots this season. And while they still aren’t tops in the league, the Cavs have looked more cohesive this year. If their current net rating sticks, it would be the highest posted by the team since LeBron’s return.

The stats will be there for James. His scoring is down so far this season, but his assists and rebounds are up, as well as a focus he seemingly lacked at the start of the last two years. Ultimately, this year’s MVP race could very well come down to Cleveland’s continued dominance as opposed to James’s individual brilliance. If the Cavaliers win over 60 games, I have a hard time believing anyone other than LeBron will be lifting the MVP trophy come next summer.

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