Let me start this off by saying LeBron James was the Finals MVP, but didn’t get it. This does not matter. Finals MVP is just an arbitrary title. We all know who the real MVP:
King James recently confirmed this when he said that he is the best player on the planet. Most people who watched the playoffs would probably agree. I don’t want to get sucked into debate about where he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA or any other nonsense, but I do just want to take a few quick minutes to marvel at what he has been doing. Lebron really elevated his game in these playoffs. That’s nothing new, but this year the change from regular season LeBron to playoffs death machine LeBron was much more drastic. Take a look at his regular season Box Plus/Minus (BPM) vs Playoff BPM for this year and LeBron’s career as a whole (Box Plus/Minus is a box score estimate of the points a player contributed over an average player).
His defense is the biggest difference in his value this postseason. His Defensive BPM (DBPM) jumped from 1.2 to 5.1 in the playoffs. Lebron has always been a better defender in the post-season, but this was his best year yet. His average playoff DPBM is 3.2, and it’s been on the decline in recent years. But this year he posted a playoff DBPM that in the regular season would have tied for second among all NBA players who played at least 10 minutes. He contributed the 4th most value on defense among players who played 25 or more minutes a game in the playoffs. The Cavs defense improved massively, and it was one of the major reasons they were able to keep going when injuries riddled their starters. If you had told me the Cleveland Cavaliers would be relying heavily on their defense to win playoff games a few months ago, I would have laughed in your face. And then I would have said something really stupid like “I really like the Hawks chances this year,” or, “We can beat Cleveland because we play better defense.” Ugh, I was so wrong. The Cavaliers saw their defense go from a sieve-level 106.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, to a championship caliber 103.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. LeBron is obviously not the sole reason for this jump, but he is definitely a huge factor. But Lebron’s fantastic defense isn’t what defies explanation. It’s his workload that is truly astonishing.
Absent any help, LeBron ended up using a ton of his team’s possessions. His 37.6% playoff usage rate is the eighth highest of all-time among players who averaged 30 minutes or more per game. Very few players have ever kept up that rate for long, because that kind of usage can take a serious toll on your body. Combine that with the fact that he’s played almost all of every game, and you’ve got something staggering. Most of the guys on the list of all-time single season playoff usage rate didn’t even make it out of round one. He’s the third highest of all-time among players who won at least one series. Only 2013 Carmelo Anthony and 1993 Michael Jordan are higher.
LeBron was insanely valuable this postseason. Not only did he use a historically high percentage of the Cavs’ posessions, but he was remarkably efficient, as well. LeBron has the highest single season playoff BPM of anyone using 37% of their teams possessions or more. LeBron is using a record number of possessions and still contributing more value than anyone else. This should not happen. I can not describe in words how well LeBron played. He is fighting father time in a steel cage match and somehow winning. He’s throwing himself against a brick wall over and over again and actually cracking it. He is dragging a team full of broken pieces and garbage up a mountain, and he’s freaking sprinting.
But he lost. The brick wall never fell. He couldn’t reach the top of the mountain. He may have taken this round against father time, but this is a fight he cannot win. Why did he take on such a workload? Why did he keep running into that wall? Because he had to. That’s what it took to get them this far. Look at these jamooks he had to drag around.
At the end of the playoffs, the Cavs could barely cobble together a starting line up of players with positive BPMs. This just astounds me. How did they get here? Tristan Thompson played the second most minutes on a team in the NBA Finals. There is only one explanation. Only one MVP.
We will be debating LeBron’s legacy for years to come. It will be stupid, ridiculous, and ultimately pointless. But one thing cannot be debated. We witnessed greatness during these NBA playoffs. We got to see one of the greatest teams of all-time take on one of the greatest players of all-time. And we watched that player at his best. We watched him transcend things like age, teammates, and fatigue. We may never see another performance quite like this one from LeBron. So take a moment and marvel in awestruck wonder at the greatness that is King James.