The NBA announced today the winner of the 2011-2012 Most Valuable Player Award, and to pretty much no one's surprise it was LeBron James of the Miami Heat. Consistently one of the most productive players in the NBA, LeBron exceeded even his own absurd standards this season. His assists were off a bit, and he doesn't have to score quite as much in Miami as he did in Cleveland, but he was at or above career levels in almost every other category. Here's something you don't see very often: in his ninth season in the league, he shot career highs in almost every shooting category. Field goals percentage, three point percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting -- all at career best levels this year. It was his second best season from the line. Wow. It was the third time in the last four seasons that James has won the award, putting him in some pretty elite company of three time winners.
Kevin Durant or the Oklahoma City Thunder was a solid second in the MVP vote, but it wasn't particularly close. James received 85 of the 121 first place votes and Durant received 24. Durant's numbers are markedly similar to LeBron's. He scores a little more, shoots threes and frees throws better, shoots worse overall from the field, they rebound about the same. Ultimately the biggest statistical differentiator is that LeBron gets a lot more assists. He's also a much better defender. James was a defensive demon this season and received lots of votes for defensive player of the year.
Coming in third was Chris Paul of the Clippers. Paul had an outstanding season statistically, and got consideration for the award in part because of the fact that he helped lead a previously inept team into the playoffs. Last season the Clippers were 32-50; this season, their franchise best .606 winning percentage would equate to a 50-32 season. He did everything for the Clippers, and was among the best performers in the league in late game situations all season. Paul received six first place votes.
Different people have different definitions for Most Valuable Player, but the way the vote usually ends up going is "The best player on a great team." Barring some complete outlier of a statistical season, this year the MVP was going to come from the Heat, the Thunder, the Bulls or the Spurs, the four best teams in the league. Derrick Rose was injured most of the season and not nearly as productive as he was last year when he was healthy, and was not an option (though he did get one third place vote, which is kind of a joke -- whoever cast that ballot should not be allowed to vote anymore). Tony Parker of the Spurs is the other "best player on a great team" candidate, and indeed he came in fifth in the voting. But Parker is never going to put up the monster numbers of the other candidates, and the Spurs have other top players that make them great, so he wasn't going to get a lot of consideration (though he did get four first place votes). That left James and Durant as the front runners.
Paul never had much chance because the Clippers finished tied for the eighth best record in the league, and MVPs don't come from those kinds of teams. The turnaround story and his general excellence got him some well deserved attention of course, but this was always a two-horse race.