LeBron James will not win the NBA MVP Award this season. But the Los Angeles Lakers star showed on Saturday night why, at the age of 37, he still deserves consideration as the best player in the league.
It’s been an incredibly tumultuous and disappointing season in LA. The Purple and Gold have collapsed under the weight of expectations and essentially folded over skepticism regarding the aging roster. However, James is having one of the finest individual seasons of his career, and he proved without a shadow of a doubt that he’s still on top of the NBA with an epic, 56-point destruction of the Golden State Warriors.
Numerous young stars are coming for the crown. Still, the King remains the King, at least in LeBron’s case.
LeBron James has put up gaudy stats this season
Wins have been hard to come by for the Lakers, but not on account of James.
The four-time league MVP is putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Through 46 games, James is averaging 29.4 points on 52.2% shooting from the field. He adds 8.1 rebounds, 6.2 points, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks per contest.
The advanced numbers also love what LeBron has done this season. He ranks fourth in player efficiency rating (PER), box plus-minus, and value over replacement player (VORP), trailing just Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid — the three leaders in a terrific NBA MVP race — in those three categories.
James dominates every time he gets into the restricted area. He’s shooting over 71% inside of 10 feet as a result of shooting nearly 80% at the rim. In fact, James hasn’t shot this well at the basket since the 2013-14 campaign.
LeBron displayed the sheer gravity he possesses in Saturday’s win over the Warriors, almost single-handedly dragging LA to a victory.
James scored 56 points in a win over the Warriors
It wouldn’t come as a surprise for some hoops fans to label LeBron James’ numbers as “empty” stats in a somewhat lost season. He is, after all, chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record.
However, LBJ contributed to a winning effort against the Dubs, and he did so in spectacular fashion.
James scored 56 points on 19-of-31 shooting from the field, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc. He scored at all three levels while also getting to the charity stripe for 13 free-throw attempts.
Whenever the Lakers grabbed a defensive rebound, James sprinted out to make him a presentable option in transition offense. He started at center for LA and played like a big man by sealing defenders in the post and bullying them en route to the bucket. James slipped to the free-throw line in pick-and-roll and moved well without the ball.
With the Lakers struggling to get back into the contest, James isolated and scored from the perimeter. He made five of his six triples in the second half, finally powering LA to a lead with 16 fourth-quarter points. LeBron’s performance helped end a four-game losing streak and bring a giant sigh of relief to Laker Nation.
Things are still bleak for the Purple and Gold. They are rapidly hurtling toward the play-in tournament. Still, James remains must-see TV, and he might still have a case as the best player in the NBA.
Still at the top
Whether or not you believe LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, you cannot deny he belongs in the conversation.
Pundits and casuals rightfully chastise the woeful Lakers for their lack of success this season. A riff reportedly exists between James and franchise legend Magic Johnson. Frustration has abounded.
Realistically, though, it’s a miracle that LBJ even has LA in the hunt for a spot in the play-in. Anthony Davis has missed nearly half of the season. Russell Westbrook is having the worst season of his career by just about every advanced metric. There’s a real shortage of quality in the second unit.
Still, the Lakers are fighting. They have James to thank for their minute semblance of respectability.
In this case, the lack of team success should not detract from LeBron’s status as perhaps the top player in the world. His 56-point night is evidence of his top-tier status on the hardwood.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.