The countdown has begun on NBA Tuesday, as we have just 10 more columns until we shift our focus for these awards analyses to other trophies in professional basketball. We started this adventure almost 15 months ago, and the first benchmark is in sight! That’s exciting … to us.
So, here we go with the awards for the year where LeBron James won his first NBA title.
2012 NBA MVP: LeBron James (original, confirmed)
The league played an abbreviated 66-game season due to labor strife, so the Win Shares marks were lower than usual for this year, but that didn’t stop Miami Heat small forward James from topping the NBA in both WS (14.45) and Player Efficiency Rating (30.74) one more time. The Heat win 46 times to post the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and James won the MVP vote.
But who else is up for the honor, in our minds? Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul was the second-best player in the league (12.65 WS, 27.04 PER), and he has won two MVPs from us already (in 2008 and 2011). Can he make it a third? His sabermetric marks were both a distant second behind James’ numbers, although the Clips did win 40 games to make the postseason.
Another player in the conversation is Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (12.22 WS, 26.20 PER), who won his third straight scoring title, while leading OKC to 47 victories, the second-best record in the Western Conference. He was third in WS and fourth in PER, by the way.
The Heat would not have made the postseason without James, as it took 35 wins in the East to make the playoffs. The same can be said for Paul and Durant, as it took 36 wins in the West to reach the postseason. But James was the best player, again, and this time (unlike last year) the gaps are considerable again.
The King’s numbers, for posterity: 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per outing. He shot a career-high (at the time) 53.1 percent from the floor, and the rebounding average also tied a career high at that point. This was James’ ninth season in the league, and he was still only 27 years old.
2012 NBA ROTY: Kyrie Irving (original), Kawhi Leonard (revised)
Three of the top rookies this season were Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (4.1 WS), Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (1.7 WS), and San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (5.5 WS). Let that sink in for a moment, while recognizing Irving won the ROTY vote at the time.
Who else was a ROTY contender, though? Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried (4.6 WS) and Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas (4.3 WS). That leaves us with four legit candidates, as Thompson wasn’t the player he would become later at this point.
The Cavs improved their winning percentage .086 with Irving, on their way to 21 victories. That reality and his relatively low WS mark mean he probably doesn’t get our trophy here. The Spurs won 50 games to claim the best record in the league, while improving their winning percentage, too (.014). The Nuggets regressed by .034 in winning percentage, and the Kings improved .040 percentage points, although they missed the postseason.
Basically, this award goes to Leonard somewhat by default, as he posted the highest WS mark among rookies, while also helping his team improve and making the playoffs, too. Remember, as well, that San Antonio traded away a key young player (point guard George Hill and his 6.1 WS from the prior season) to get Leonard, so he improved the team immediately in that regard. That’s value.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!