LeBron James knows about winning MVPs (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013).
He knows about unfairly losing an MVP (2011).
But he just wants to know what’s going on this season.
James does care about team success first, but he also cares deeply about individual awards. That includes right now and the developing MVP race. He has been privately wondering why he’s not more involved in the national conversation on the matter considering his play over the last quarter of the season.
I see three primary reasons LeBron has not factored more prominently into the MVP discussion. In order of relevance:
LeBron has missed 10 of the Cavaliers’ 58 games.
Here’s the percentage of their teams’ games the MVP has played each year (wine) and the where LeBron falls both now and if he plays every game the rest of the season (gold):
LeBron has played 83 percent of Cleveland’s games so far. Only Bill Walton (71 percent in 1978) played fewer and won MVP.
If LeBron plays the rest of the Cavaliers’ games, he’d reach 88 percent. That’d pass only one other MVP, Allen Iverson (87 percent in 2001).
Perhaps LeBron could overcome his missed games if the field weren’t so strong.
But Stephen Curry and James Harden are having fantastic seasons. Not only have they been great on the court, they’ve largely stayed on it. That matters a great deal when determining how much a player has contributed in a season.
Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis also have injury issues, but they’ve played even better than LeBron when healthy.
3. An unfair standard
LeBron is having a down year for him. That shouldn’t matter for MVP – which should reward the player who outclasses his peers in a season, not his own marks in previous seasons – but it very well could. Voters are fickle that way, even subconsciously. It’s hard to watch LeBron and not be disappointed considering what he has accomplished.
That also applies to team success, an important – and I’d argue overrated – factor in MVP voting. The Cavaliers are on pace for the worst record by a LeBron team since 2008. They’re also behind Curry’s Warriors and Harden’s Rockets in the standings.
But it’s not too late. LeBron made a late push for MVP last year, and he still could this year. Even if he doesn’t pass Curry and Harden, the race to make the five-person ballot is wide open. Beyond those two, Davis and Westbrook, I’m not even sure who I’d rate fifth. It might be LeBron.
That might not be he type of MVP consideration LeBron desires. But it’s the kind he deserves.