There are four candidates for MVP this year: LeBron, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard.
Most years, any of these guys would have a very strong case for MVP.
This is not most years. This year, you have a player — LeBron James, one of the two greatest players in the history of the sport — possibly having his best season ever.
The case for LeBron over Harden
LeBron’s 2016-17 season has been comprehensively dominant.
Consider Harden, who is shooting nearly 10 full percentage points worse from the field than LeBron — 44.3 percent to James’ 53.8 percent. LeBron is also shooting a better percentage from the 3-point line — 39.8 percent to Harden’s 36 percent. (Also know that LeBron is shooting better from three than Kevin Durant and dead even with Steph Curry).
Then there are the turnovers.
Harden is on pace to obliterate the NBA record for turnovers in a season, which he already owns from 2015-16 (374). With three-quarters of the season gone, Harden already has 370 and is on pace for more than 450 turnovers. He'd even shatter the ABA record of 422 turnovers held by George McGinnis.
On the other side of the ball, LeBron is also a far better player than Harden. When LeBron is off the court, the Cavs allow 109.9 points per 100 possessions, 3.7 points more than when he's on the court.
The Rockets defense improves by 4.4 points per 100 possessions while Harden is resting. How big is a 4.4-point difference? It's currently the same difference between the league's second-best defense, Golden State, and the league's 17th best defense, Toronto.
The case for LeBron over Westbrook
Russell has been wildly less efficient than LeBron, shooting 41.9% compared to LeBron's 53.8%. To give that some context, there are 57 players in the league averaging at least 13 field goal attempts this season. LeBron is first in field goal percentage, Russell is 54th — fourth from the bottom.
Moreover, history is not working in Westbrook’s favor. It has been 35 years since an MVP wasn't on a team that won at least 50 games. The Thunder are 35-28, so they'd have to go 15-4 the rest of the way to get to 50 wins.
The Thunder haven't had a 15-4 stretch at any point this season. They're not going to win 50 games.
The case for LeBron over Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is the most infuriating of all the MVP candidates because he has no case.
Don't get me wrong, Leonard is a tremendous basketball player, but he's simply not better than LeBron at anything on the offensive end of the floor. LeBron averages 2.2 more rebounds per game and an enormous 5.4 more assists per game than Leonard. LeBron is fourth in the league in assists per game, while Leonard tied for 54th.
Leonard is also a far less efficient scorer. Despite averaging 0.4 points more per game than LeBron, Leonard shoots 5.1 pecent worse from the field and 1.3 percent worse from 3.
But Leonard’s defense is incredible, right? Consider this revelation:
The Spurs defense is markedly better when Kawhi Leonard isn't playing.
Per 100 possessions, the Spurs allow 103.4 points per game with Leonard on the court. When he sits, the Spurs allow 95.7 points. That’s a negative 7.7-point difference.
Here's the bottom line
The final argument one might make for LeBron not winning MVP would be “value.” What would happen if you took Player X off of his team? Advance stats provide the answer.
If you are going off of the numbers above, Harden and Leonard are disqualified immediately.
LeBron and Westbrook both have a much higher net impact, with Westbrook accounting for 14.1 points per 100 possessions and LeBron at 15.1. What tilts this in LeBron's favor even further is that he's the difference between an excellent team and a terrible team, while Russ is the difference between a pretty good team and a terrible team.
LeBron James is universally accepted as the best player in the world. Typically, the universally accepted best player on the best team among the MVP contenders would be named MVP.
This year, that doesn't appear to be the case. People are doing mental gymnastics to convince themselves the MVP is someone other than LeBron. They can certainly try, but numbers, history, and common sense say otherwise.