LeBron James Is MVP for Keeping Flawed Miami Heat Afloat

Sam RichmondCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2013

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 20:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at American Airlines Center on December 20, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the MVP race heats up for the 2012-13 NBA season, some are likely to say that LeBron James shouldn't be considered the game's most valuable because of his great supporting cast.

It was certainly an argument being made against his MVP candidacy last year, and it's the reason LeBron didn't win his third consecutive MVP trophy for the 2010-11 season.

Derrick Rose topped LeBron due to the notion that the Chicago Bulls would have been a significantly worse team without him, while the Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would have still been a great team without LBJ.

While that wasn't a very fair reason to vote against LeBron these past two seasons, it's even less fair this season.

In fact, the troubles of the Heat's supporting cast this season only prove irrefutably that LeBron is both the world's best and most valuable basketball player.

Just take a look at how much the Miami Heat score per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the court as compared to when is he's off the court, according to 82games.

As the chart shows, that's a 9.9 point net gain offensively when LeBron is on the court.

That's a better gain than LeBron's two biggest competitors in the MVP race, Kevin Durant (8.4) and Carmelo Anthony (8.6). Both the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder still score over 107 points per 100 possessions without 'Melo and Durant, respectively, while the Heat's supporting cast struggle in LeBron's absence, only scoring just above 104 points per 100 possessions.

By way of he himself having the biggest net gain and the Heat's offense having the most difficulty scoring his absence, LeBron has the most valuable offensive impact. This is especially helpful to LeBron's MVP candidacy because, given LeBron's excellent defensive play, KD and Melo would almost certainly need to have the edge offensively to dethrone him. 

Also of note: It's not as if those LeBron-less lineups are featuring the Heat's worst players. The most-used LeBron-less lineup features Wade and Ray Allen, while the second-most-used one features Allen and Bosh, according to 82games.

On top of that measure of value in LeBron's favor, just look at what the Heat need out of him on a nightly basis to make up for the supporting cast's shortcomings.

Unlike Durant and Anthony, LeBron, aside from being Miami's leading scorer, is his team's top rebounder and passer.

The Thunder rank ninth overall rebounds, with Serge Ibaka (8.5 rebounds per game) leading the way. While the Knicks aren't a very good rebounding team (26th), they at least have a great rebounding center in Tyson Chandler (10.3 per game). 

While the Heat's center, Chris Bosh, has played excellently overall this season, he's had trouble on the glass. Some predicted that Bosh would make a run at 10 rebounds per game in his first season as a full-time center, or at the very least top his 7.9 rebounds per game he posted in the 2011-12 season.

However, it's gone the other way and Bosh is only snagging 7.6 boards per contest.

With Bosh at center, the Heat as a team have had enormous difficulties on the glass (29th in team rebounds). Miami recently allowed Nikola Vucevic to almost out-rebound them by himself on December 31 (Heat had four more rebounds) and the Bulls to grab 20 more rebounds than them in a Chicago win on January 4. 

Aside from simply his terrific passing skills, as for why LeBron is far and away the Heat's top passer while Durant and 'Melo aren't for their teams, just look at the caliber of point guards these guys are playing with.

Durant has Russell Westbrook, who's on pace to post a career high in assists, 8.5 per game. Carmelo has had the recently injured Raymond Felton (5.8 assists) and Jason Kidd (4.2 assists) running the point. 

Excluding Norris Cole's defensive play, the Heat's point guards have been pretty horrific this season. Cole has almost as many turnovers (2.0) per game than he does assists (1.6), and has just an abysmal PER of 4.87.

Also, after starting the season as seemingly a better playmaker, Mario Chalmers has reverted to his old ways and is now only averaging 3.5 assists in 25.8 minutes of action every night.

Even with these significant issues on their roster that other top teams like the Knicks and Thunder don't have, Miami is 23-9 and atop the Eastern Conference.

That's so because they have LeBron James. LeBron doesn't have a defensive titan in Tyson Chandler behind him or an elite point guard in Russell Westbrook alongside him.

Considering his work on both sides of the floor, LeBron has more responsibility than any other player in the NBA. Yet, he still is a more efficient player than Durant, Carmelo and every other player in the NBA with his 30.29 PER.

What LeBron is able to do with his supporting cast shouldn't be viewed as a weakness on his MVP candidacy; it should be the exclamation point on his case for why he will win it. 

Note: Statistics are accurate as of January 7