Every MVP conversation this season has started and ended with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Or, at least all of them that take place outside of the UCLA Health Training Center, where when Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel was asked if LeBron James was having an MVP-caliber season, and didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Of course he is. It’s not even debatable,” Vogel said. “Now whether he wins it is obviously up to the voters, but he definitely has an MVP case for sure.”
Our own Sabreena Merchant made that MVP case well on this very site, so I’ll try not to re-hash it too much here, but suffice it to say that by the numbers in a vacuum, it’s tough to make the argument for James. He’s been incredible, but Antetokounmpo has just been at least a hair or more better in nearly every single statistical area.
Antetokounmpo is also nearly 10 years younger, making the fact that James is even sort of in the conversation not just impressive, but nearly unprecedented. No one has ever played this well, at this age, for a team that needs them to do as much as James is right now. It’s why there is no question in Anthony Davis’ mind who the MVP is, either.
“LeBron James,” Davis said when asked who his pick for MVP would be this year, an answer made all the more noteworthy by the fact that in the preseason it was Davis, not James, who was being touted as an MVP candidate by many. Even he knows who has driven the Lakers’ success this season. And not just with what he’s done on the court, either.
“He locks in. When you want to be the greatest, there’s certain things you have to do, and he does those things. He takes care of his body, he’s in the gym getting work in, making sure he is always healthy and ready to play,” Davis said.
“He made a comment the other day during the game that he’s a machine. He doesn’t like coming out of the game because he’s a robot,” Davis continued. “He does all the things that help him have the title of being the best in the world.”
It’s easy to see how the qualities Davis speaks about could inspire a locker room that’s been laser focused for nearly every game this season. If James, with his resume, can be that prepared for every game, how can his teammates not?
For what it’s worth, though, James himself says that winning MVP isn’t what’s driven him to keep up such habits.
“It’s never motivated me to win regular season MVP. To be the best to ever play the game has motivated me and has resulted in me being the league MVP a couple of times. But I am never going into the season saying, ‘ok league MVP is what I want to be,’” James said. “I want to be the best player in the world in how I approach the game, how I take care of my body everyday.’”
James thinks that doing so is what’s made him able to remain in the MVP discussion so late into his career.
“I’ve always respected the game. I have always believed that when you give to the game, the game gives back to you,” James said. “I take care of my body because it’s my temple. Without it, I can’t do anything. I can’t be on the floor, I can’t be at my best.”
James’ best has always put him among the league’s best. And in addition to how him keeping his foot on the gas has inspired his teammates, Davis said how well it’s led James to play is the main reason James would get his MVP vote.
“He can shoot the ball, he can pass, he gets everyones involved. He can take over games,” Davis said. “You guys see what does LeBron does on the floor. We kind of struggle a little bit with him off the floor. I think that this is about who is most valuable to their team, and for me being around it this whole season, that’s LeBron.”
We’ll see if the media who gets to vote agrees in a few months, but for now, it’s at the very least clear who the Lakers feel like their MVP is.
To James, that’s all that really matters.
“I don’t watch TV shows... and sports radio and talk shows and things of that nature,” James said. “It’s more important how my teammates look at me, and that they know what they’re going to get out of me every night and every day. I put that type of pressure on myself, to know that I can be there for my teammates.”
So far, it’s safe to say those that are around James every day feel like that mission has been accomplished.