There will be a day — eventually, well, probably — that LeBron James will no longer be this LeBron James. This current LeBron, while no longer in his prime, is still a dominant player, one that has carried the Lakers through long stretches of this season. He’s going to finish with one of the best scoring seasons of his career, potentially win the scoring title at age 37, and do it it all while shouldering a playmaking and offensive load that probably should not be expected of a player in year 19.
And the Lakers could potentially take advantage of that literally historic performance by... missing the play-in game entirely.
So, obviously, LeBron will not win the MVP award this season. DraftKings’ latest MVP odds have him well, well, well out of the race. He is currently +50000, the 12th-best odds, just behind Steph Curry and just above Donovan Mitchell.
His current injury has sidelined him down the stretch and effectively ruled out any last chance push he could have made, even if he could potentially return on Friday. But even without that injury, the Lakers’ place in the standings leaves a spot on the All-NBA first-team in doubt, much less MVP consideration.
Still, how much of that is LeBron’s fault versus the Lakers? If you lay out the stats, LeBron’s season is remarkable. In his fourth decade on earth, he’s averaging 30.1 points on 52.3% shooting from the field and 35.9% shooting from the 3-point line.
For context, he only has one season with a higher scoring average than this year and that was in 2005-06. This is his sixth-best season in terms of field goal percentage, and that comes despite averaging nearly two more 3-pointers per game than his next highest season. And it’s all come on his highest usage rate since 2014-15.
Prior to this season, the highest scoring output for a player 37 years or older was 38-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scoring 23.4 points per game in 1985-86. Only he, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone had even averaged over 20 points per game in a season at 37 years old or older.
If James can return and play three more games this year, he’ll qualify for the scoring title. As it stands before Thursday’s games, James leads the league in scoring, ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and Joel Embiid’s 29.9 points per contest each. If he wins the scoring title, it would be only the second time he would have done that in his career, with the other coming in 2008.
Across the board, LeBron is performing at an incredibly high level, in some cases an all-time level, for his storied career. An all-time great should not be having seasons this good at 37 years old. And when they do, they should earn recognition.
But because the Lakers are barely in the play-in game, James will not be in the MVP conversation. Simply flipping their record around from 31-44 to 44-31 would probably be enough to get voters to give him some credit in the final tally.
Some may knock LeBron as stat-chasing or “getting his” without concern for the rest of the team or whether it helps the Lakers win but, in reality, those things aren’t mutually exclusive. The supremely shorthanded Lakers have needed LeBron to play at this level to be competitive. On many nights in the second half of the season, LeBron going off for 50 points is the only way they’ve been able to win games.
Alas, no player on a team that may not even make the play-in game will get in the MVP conversation, and nor should they. And that falls on the Lakers this season, for underperforming from top to bottom and, as a result, wasting a truly incredible LeBron James season, something that historical trends would leave us to believe there are only a few, if any, left of. And that’s unfortunate for everyone involved, from James down to the fans, as well as a huge indictment on the organization.
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