In February, he was named Western Conference Player of the Month for the second consecutive month after getting the best of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, and Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers, in a three-day span. Through those two games, James averaged 32.5 points per game on 50% shooting from the field in addition to the 8.5 assists and 8 rebounds per he averaged.
Even at 35 years old, James can be the best player on the court when he wants to be, but James’ statement performances weren’t enough to close the gap between him and Antetokounmpo in the MVP race, according to a recent ESPN survey:
In a survey of 70 media members who cover the league, Antetokounmpo was the clear leader in MVP balloting, earning 60 of the 70 possible first-place votes to open a commanding lead over James, who had an equally commanding lead over the rest of the field.
To make the balloting process realistic, ESPN sought to mimic the league’s official voting process as closely as possible. Our MVP voting panel includes a mixture of local beat writers from across the league, as well as national and international reporters, just as the NBA’s does at the conclusion of the regular season. And, to conform to the NBA’s voting system, every first-place vote is worth 10 points, followed by seven for second place, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth.
Using that rubric, Antetokounmpo led the way with 670 of a possible 700 points, as he was listed in second place behind James on the 10 ballots where he wasn’t listed first. James, meanwhile, was second with 514 points, and was either first or second on 68 of the 70 submitted ballots, finishing third on one and fourth on another.
If we’re being honest, Antetokounmpo probably deserves to win the MVP again. The MVP award is given to the player that had the most impressive regular season, and, so far, Antetokounmpo has been that player.
This season, Antetokounmpo has averaged 29.6 points per game on 54.7% shooting from the field in addition to the 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game he’s averaged per game. If his stats hold, he’ll become just the second player in NBA history to average at least 29 points per game on 50% shooting from the field while averaging 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game — the other is Wilt Chamberlain, according to Basketball Reference.
The craziest part about the season Antetokounmpo is having is the fact that he’s putting up the numbers he is while averaging just 30.9 minutes per game. No player has ever matched his stat line while averaging fewer than 40 minutes per game.
Does that mean Antetokounmpo is better than James? Maybe not, but he’s undoubtedly had the best regular season of the two, and that’s what the award is all about. If Antetokounmpo wants to officially take the crown from James, he’ll have to do it in the postseason.