Lakers star LeBron James had an incredible year, and was a deserving MVP candidate in 2020. If you go back to last summer, that was not a sentence many people thought we’d be typing this season, especially considering that James appeared to have some help on the way in the form of Anthony Davis, and that given his age (35) and that he sustained the first serious injury of his career last year, he seemed primed to take a step back and load manage a bit this season.
James did the exact opposite, playing in 67 of the Lakers’ 71 regular season games, and averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and leading the league with a career-high 10.2 assists per game in his first season ever actually starting at point guard. He was the engine of everything the Lakers do well offensively, has quarterbacked their defense with his unparalleled basketball intelligence and the team was 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor, which was roughly the difference between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets.
Still, it was not enough for voters, who still chose Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for the MVP award, his second win in a row:
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has won his second consecutive MVP award, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 18, 2020
LeBron finished with 16 first place votes, 84 second place votes, and one third place vote. pic.twitter.com/6As5gU70rH— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) September 18, 2020
Here are the 16 people who gave LeBron James a first-place vote for the MVP award. pic.twitter.com/Bi8VGpKGGy— Playoff Faigen (@hmfaigen) September 19, 2020
The fact that James lost out to Antetokounmpo in the final vote for the award is hardly an indictment of him, and simply a testament to how incredible the Defensive Player of the Year was on both ends of the floor during the regular season (which this award is based on). And despite the Bucks’ embarrassing playoff flameout, Giannis is a completely deserving winner for the regular season, who was slightly better than James in most meaningful counting stats — besides assists and 3-point shooting — whose team had a better record, and who was a more impactful player on the defensive end (despite James’ excellent effort on that end this season) leading up until the playoffs. James has obviously been better in the postseason, but the votes were already in by that point. Maybe all of this can point to a flaw in this process (it rewards regular season success, which is almost a completely different sport at this point) and doesn’t value that yes, everyone knows that for one game they’d still rather have James, but until the voting process is altered in some way, these are the types of wins that are going to keep happening.
Now, could the voters have instead awarded the MVP to James and had it be justified? Some would say no, but in this blogger without a vote’s opinion, he’d be a completely deserving winner. The difficult year James led the Lakers through, and the buy-in and cohesion he quickly developed for a team that had mostly never played together before this summer was incredible, as was the leadership he showed during all of the tough times the Lakers went through this season. Had the year not been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, it is entirely possible that given the way he was ramping up, he could have caught Antetokounmpo for the award in the regular season.
That didn’t happen, but in the end, that may not be that bad for the Lakers. We’ve seen how James reacts to perceived slights, both real and imagined, before. If those are any indication, losing out on an MVP he feels he earned may activate a whole ‘nother level of Playoff LeBron.
And hey, if he leads the Lakers to a Finals victory and wins the MVP award for that series, we’ll all know who the better player still is. We probably do anyway.
This story will be updated with more information. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.