How LeBron James Can Capture His Fifth MVP in 2020

LeBron James has been the face of the NBA for over a decade. Now in his 17th season, the three-time champion and four-time league MVP still plays with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove to the world. James is currently leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the best record in the loaded Western Conference. Yet, will this be enough to propel him to his fifth league MVP? Here is why it should.

The 2020 NBA MVP award race now has two contenders. For most of the season, there was only one, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has had another monster season, solidifying his position as one of the most dominant forces of the modern era. Antetokounmpo is currently averaging 29.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. His Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the league, while he is leading the NBA in offensive and defensive rating.

If 2020's MVP award were to simply be given to the best player on the best team, Antetokounmpo would be running away with it. But that has not always been the case, and it's why James might have a shot at winning it.

James is averaging 25.4 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He has had the season of a lifetime, bouncing back from an injury-ridden season on a poor 2019 team. Since the All-Star break, James' stats have been even more impressive: averaging 30.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists on an efficient 57 percent field goal percentage.

In the 2017 NBA season, Russell Westbrook captured the MVP, despite his Oklahoma City Thunder finishing sixth in the Western Conference. In 2014, Kevin Durant won the MVP, with the Thunder finishing second in the conference. James himself won his third MVP in 2012 despite his Miami Heat finishing second in the Eastern Conference that year. Having an extraordinary season, taking a team further than expected given its talent and playing consistently well all factor into the MVP voting, and James has a strong case for 2020's award.

After a 122–114 loss to the Lakers on Sunday, New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told ESPN, "I'm just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP. That's what he does. Every team that he's been to, every team that he's gone to have a chance to win the championship. I'm not sure what the definition of MVP is, but he makes everybody on his team better and it makes it difficult for everybody playing."

LeBron James
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the two top contenders for the NBA's MVP award. Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Also, ESPN has noted that when James off the floor, the Lakers have a net rating of minus 2.6; when Antetokounmpo is off the floor, the Bucks have a net rating of 6.0. This suggests James is carrying the much weaker team.

Despite having the star power of Anthony Davis, the Lakers do not possess the depth of the Bucks. Milwaukee has a deeper team, better coach, and it plays in a weaker conference. While Antetokounmpo turns the Bucks from a good team into a juggernaut, James is taking a subpar team to top-tier levels.

James' story—a star excelling in his 17th year in the league—could give him an emotional edge in the race. Antetokounmpo is the present and future of the league, with potentially several MVP-caliber seasons left in the tank. James is the past and present of the league, the elder statesmen, and the most decorated star currently playing. While James should have at least two to three more great seasons, few players in NBA history have played at an elite level in their 17th season or beyond.

Kendrick Perkins, who played with and against James, tipped his hat to James as his choice to win MVP on First Take.

"When LeBron James was in the East, the whole thing was 'Oh, he's in the East.' He lost out on four MVPs when he returned back to Cleveland. Why? Because he was in the East. During that time, those MVPs went to Western Conference players…because they were making noise in the West," Perkins explained.

He then compared the difference in conferences: "Why are we not keeping the same energy for Giannis? He's in the East. The East is weaker. No LeBron James, no Kawhi Leonard. Why is the argument not the same? Now here it is. LeBron takes his talent to the Western Conference. His team is No. 1 in the West, he's averaging a double-double, and balling out."

Both the Greek Freak and King James have a fair shot at winning the MVP. Both are also having great years statistically. Antetokounmpo had a head start for the award, but James has closed the gap. If the Lakers rest James to prepare for the playoffs, Antetokounmpo would likely win; but if the Lakers close out strong and James plays, James would have a shot.

The question boils down to this: Do you award the MVP to the best player on the best team or the most valuable player of the year? If the goal is to live up to the award's name, James could be on the path to capturing his fifth MVP.