NBA Finals 2016: Win or lose, LeBron James is statistically the Finals' MVP
There has been much debate already about whether LeBron James will win the NBA Finals MVP this year or not. We’re still two days away from Game 7 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland and as always the speculation mills are doing their job. While most of us are expecting a cracker of a game, we should be mindful of the fact that the closest game this series has been decided by 11 points and the average margin of victory both teams have enjoyed is a blowout-esque 19.7 points through 3 games apiece.
The question still looms though, if Cleveland can’t pull off one of the biggest upsets in NBA history after trailing 3-1, will ‘The King’ yet again be denied his third Bill Russell Trophy which is awarded to the Most Valuable Player in the NBA Finals. Only one man has ever been on the losing side and still won the trophy, ‘The Logo’ Jerry West, in the inaugural year of the award. However, if the Cavs end up smashing the Dubs’ hopes of a repeat, we know where the award is headed.
Let’s take a statistical look at James’ performance through the lens of both primary as well as advanced indicators.
LeBron isn’t just coming back on the backs of a stunning pair of Games 5 and 6; he’s posted crazy numbers throughout the series. He has averaged 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.2 blocks a game in the finals.
While these are staggering numbers in isolation, here’s the context to the stats. LeBron leads these finals without ties in points, assists, steals and blocks combining both rosters. He is tied for 1st in total rebounds with teammate Tristan Thompson. While LeBron’s numbers last year were as staggering, he’s achieved the number this year at much higher efficiencies. His true shooting Percentage is up to 57.8 from 47.7 last year, and effective Field Goal Percentage is up to 55.6 from 43.1 last year.
While a lot of it can be attributed to the health of the roster and Kyrie’s heroics on the court, let’s not take anything away from the fact that this is the defending champions they’re playing against. A team that set the regular season record with 73 wins this year; a team that has the league’s 2-time MVP, the highest scoring backcourt, a leader who has now twice finished second in defensive player of the year voting and racked up the second highest number of triple-doubles this season, a rolling juggernaut that lost only 2 games at home all regular-season long.
Take nothing away from the fact that LeBron is playing the series of his life and that’s saying a lot.
Now for some advanced stats. For the sake of solidifying the argument, we can take into factor Game score here. Game score comes from the books of John Hollinger, the creator of PER or Player Efficiency Rating. While PER is a more inclusive and complex methodology, Game Score is a slightly simpler scale to assess the productivity of a player on a game, pretty much like points scored. It factors in scoring, rebounding, assists, turnovers, steals, blocks, shot attempts, and personal fouls.
As Hollinger suggests, ~10 would be average and ~40 would be outstanding. Since I could only find Game Score stats for NBA Finals series going back to 1985, I’ve only used the last 30 odd years’ worth of data. LeBron’s performance this series so far merits a Game Score of 27.1. Let’s add some perspective to it now.
Only 9 times has a player averaged a Game Score over 25, and James ranks 7th on it. The only players who’ve posted a higher rating than James are Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, all of whom won the Finals MVP and the title in their respective years. The last time someone posted a 25+ Game Score in the NBA Finals was Dwyane Wade back in 2006. Not only is this a scary performance, it’s coming against one of the most dominant NBA teams ever.
While there is still time to read, strut about stuff and intellectually and statistically indulge, let’s have some fun doing that. Game 7 beckons us. May the best team win, and may the King take his crown home.