LeBron’s stretch without AD unveils flaws in the NBA’s MVP discussion
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LeBron’s stretch without AD unveils flaws in the NBA’s MVP discussion

After falling to the Utah Jazz 114-89, the Los Angeles Lakers have now lost four straight games since Anthony Davis went down with an Achilles injury. Overall, they are 5-5 without the 6’10” superstar who is set to return after the All-Star break.

The Lakers should be fine once AD comes back to the lineup, and I wouldn’t make too much of the team’s slump without their second-best contributor. But their run without Davis is indicative of one thing, and it’s completely unrelated to the trajectory of the Purple and Gold as a collective.

From MVP favorite to…?

On February 19, NBA announced its latest iteration of the Kia MVP Ladder. LeBron James’s name was No.1 on the list after becoming only the third player in NBA history to reach 35,000 career points. His numbers at that point — 25.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 7.9 apg.

At the time of the announcement, Davis had already been sidelined due to injury. Between February 14 – the date AD reaggravated the right Achilles tendonitis – and February 19 – when the NBA came out with the latest MVP ladder – the Lakers went 1-1, losing only to the Brooklyn Nets. That two-game stretch alone, combined with what the Lakers were able to do without AD during the first quarter of the season, was enough for the NBA to use this argument when making LeBron’s case for the 20/21 regular season MVP.

James’ efforts up to this point serve as a major reason the Lakers are 5-2 without Davis in the lineup.

NBA

The league is yet to announce the updated MVP ladder, as we are waiting to see how much of an impact this losing streak will have on LeBron’s placement. Here are James’s numbers during the stretch: 26.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 8 apg, .518/.181/.681 shooting, 5 TOV.

The MVP award was never solely about the numbers. A certain standard of winning needs to be met for a player’s name to be included in the MVP conversation. But this criterion, although unofficial, is flawed, and LeBron’s not as successful stretch without Davis shows why.

What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to an ox

This is a translation of a Latin phrase “Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi,” which means that if an important person does something, that doesn’t mean that everyone can do it.

How does that translate into the MVP discussion? Well, if LeBron James can get away with a poor stretch without his co-superstar, that doesn’t mean the same can be done by everyone else. And by everyone else, I mean Steph Curry. Hear me out.

Steph was No.4 on the NBA’s latest MVP ladder. Before that, he was No.7. Before that, he was tied for 9th alongside Damian Lillard. But for many, Curry’s name even being in the MVP discussion is outrageous. Here’s Fox Sports’ Nick Wright:

As I said, we are yet to see the updated MVP ladder and how different LeBron’s placement will be after the Lakers’ poor 5-game stretch. My guess is, he will fall to 2nd place behind Joel Embiid, but people will let him get away with it due to AD’s absence. And just to be clear, I’m fine with that. But why don’t people apply the same logic to Steph Curry’s MVP case? Why doesn’t he get a pass for playing the entire season without Klay Thompson?

The MVP fallacy

This is what’s wrong with the current unofficial MVP criterion — it overvalues the exact number of wins without taking into account the context of those wins. No matter the circumstances, people favor a team’s win-total over everything else. The only way to compensate for coming short of a required winning threshold is by putting up historical numbers — like when Russell Westbrook won the ’17 MVP for averaging a triple-double.

People – voters, in particular – disregard the expectations for the team going into the season. Even in the case of a team overachieving — players with a higher number in their team’s winning column get the edge.

Most of the time, the MVP is given to the best player on the best team. And most of the time, that’s fine. But let’s not punish guys whose team’s winning ceiling to start with is lower than those with an elite talent around them.

That’s what happened to Steph when Klay went down with a season-ending injury. 33 games into the season, Curry is putting up near-identical numbers to his ’16 unanimous MVP season, leading the Warriors to an 18-15 record and the 8th seed in the West.

For guys who have LeBron way ahead of Steph in the MVP race — that’s a higher winning pace than when LeBron and the Lakers play without AD. And that’s the type of context the MVP award is missing.