The first candidate to put up against Kobe is LeBron James, who despite getting flak for a poor performance down the stretch in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers, has been unarguably the best statistical player in the league this year.
James has averaged 29 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists while leading the league in PER at 33.31 and shooting a ridiculous 57 percent from the field. To put those numbers in context, Michael Jordan never had a PER of over 31.6 in any season he played. Put simply, should LeBron keep up his pace, it would be an absolute historically great season. But James isn’t Kobe’s only competition.
There is also the scoring machine from Oklahoma City known as Kevin Durant. And though Durant’s scoring is down from previous years slightly, his efficiency is up (career high field goal percentage thus far) as are his assists. Moreover, there’s always a certain sect of the MVP electorate that votes for the best player on the team with the best record. At this point, Durant would fit that bill.
Yet even despite the stiff competition, the case for Bryant can still be made as most valuable. Consider that many doomsayers were predicting a depleted and aging Lakers roster would be painfully mediocre to start the season. Granted we’re early, but I think the Lakers are going to be just fine and probably end up in the top echelon of Western Conference teams. It’s interesting though to note how the perception of a lack of supporting players could impact Kobe’s MVP chances.
One of the things working against Kobe in years past was that people argued his roster was far more talented than his peers, therefore the impact he had on his team’s success was less valuable than others (like say LeBron in Cleveland) who did more with less talent around them. But with Lamar Odom off the roster I’m not sure you can levy that criticism any more. Now it’s Kobe, who has to do more with less, and picking up the slack hasn’t been a problem thus far.
Ultimately, as I prefaced, it’s still very early. A lot can change over the next 55 games or so. If all three players maintained their current pace then it would be very hard to vote against James, considering his stat line would end up being one of the all-time great seasons in NBA history.
So back to the original question: is Kobe the (very) early season MVP frontrunner? Well maybe not, but the Mamba is surely at the forefront of the conversation. And for someone who has logged over 48,000 career regular season and playoff minutes combined, that’s a pretty incredible feat in of itself.