Defense May Rest, But LeBron Never Does
Stan Van Gundy is an excellent guy and a good coach. His willingness to answer any question honestly and directly is a refreshing trait.
It's not entirely fair to pick on Van Gundy for something he said when he's answering a question honestly. So, let's just say we respectfully disagree with an implication from one of his statements in Orlando Tuesday.
Van Gundy was doing what he should, and that was defending his guy Dwight Howard for MVP consideration. But he got a little offensive when he said: "It is just an offensive award."
He continued: ''People who vote just don't factor in defense, rebounding and how effective Dwight is defensively. I think it's unfortunate. If the criteria was how many possessions are you affecting at both ends, if that's what people thought about, then Dwight would be at the top of the league.''
Van Gundy continued the theme Wednesday at practice when he told Fanhouse's Tim Povtak: "I think the bias in this league -- and not in a bad way -- the thinking favors perimeter guys and scoring the number one thing everyone looks at. Not many people are sitting down saying, 'What does he give his team defensively?' And that's not going to favor Dwight."
This is all well and good as it relates to Howard. He has impressive numbers, which include becoming the first player in NBA history to lead the league in blocked shots and rebounding in more than one season. He ís shooting 60.7 percent and has 58 double-doubles.
Howard clearly deserves any and all MVP mention he receives. Take him away from the Magic and you have the Hornets.
But to imply that the guy who will win the MVP will win it solely because of offense is flat wrong. Because LeBron James is an outstanding defensive player.
Of course James is noticed for his offense, as he should be. Entering Wednesday's game against Milwaukee, the Cleveland Cavliers' star led the league in scoring (29.8 points) and is averaging a career-high 8.6 assists per game, sixth-best in the league.
Ahead of him are only All-Star point guards (Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd). James is the only forward in the top 15 in assists.
James is .2 from averaging 30 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. The only players who did that in NBA history? Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.
James is averaging nearly 30 points while shooting 50.5 percent. He ís the only guy in the top eight in scoring above 50 percent -- and the web site 82games.com reports that 65 percent of those shots are jump shots.
Finally, James has assisted or scored on 49.4 percent of his team's points. Only two players in NBA history had higher percentages, Tiny Archibald and John Stockton.
James is not just having a great season; he's having an all-timer.
And it's not all about his offense, because James is an outstanding defensive player.
There is only one player in the league with 500 rebounds, 600 assists, 100 steals and 50 blocked shots -- and that's James. He far and away leads the league in plus-minus at plus-611 (Howard is tied for second at plus-516).
James' forte is blocking shots on help defense. In a game in Orlando, he switched and made a two-handed block of Howard, smothering the ball with both hands and heading to the other end of the court before the Magic knew what happened.
His true forte, though, is the chase-down block, when he wipes out a breakaway layup. These plays combine athletic ability with anticipation and reaction. And they can change the momentum of a game. James had 23 of them last season, and he has 19 this season.
He routinely guards the opposing team's best player in the fourth quarter -- guys like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. He guards point guards like Rajon Rondo, and power forwards. He takes on the responsibility when it matters most, and routinely comes up with plays that do not go in the stat sheet that help his team.
Other plays go in the stat sheet, and they usually win games. In one game in Miami, James singlehandedly made three plays that won a game, two on defense.
With the Cavs down one, James guarded Wade, who tried to run a pick-and-roll with Udonis Haslem. The play had worked for the Heat throughout the fourth quarter, and Wade had set it up with conventional passes. This time, in the final seconds, he went behind his back along the sideline to Haslem.
James anticipated the pass, stabbed his hand out and stopped the ball, then kept it from going out of bounds. He was past Wade in a flash, but was fouled hard going to the basket by two Heat players. After taking time to shake out the cobwebs, he made both free throws to give the Cavs a one-point lead.
Miami called timeout, and James went to the huddle and said: "I got D Wade." OK, his coach said, and when Wade took the final shot, James forced him away from the basket and jumped and affected the shot, which bounced off the back rim. Why did he guard Wade?
"Anything else would be uncivilized," James said after the game.
James has done all this while playing different positions and roles and while leading the Cavs to the NBA's best regular-season record for the second year in a row.
He will win the MVP Award for the second year in a row because he deserves to win it -- even Van Gundy admitted that about a month ago. He's always been complimentary of James, and was again on Wednesday.
"Until he is at least 35, LeBron will be winning the award every year," Van Gundy said. "He's the guy. He sort of has to go into every season now and lose the award. That's just the reality of the situation, and he certainly hasn't done that. He's having a great year.
"You can't argue with LeBron being MVP. You couldn't argue with Kobe (Bryant), or Wade, or Carmelo (Anthony), or Dwight. There's 5-to-10 guys you couldn't argue with. LeBron is a great, great player."
Having a great, great season. James deserves to win because he has made his team better, and he has done it on both ends of the floor.
In James' case, the award is not just an offensive award.