LeBron James is still the un­de­feated champ of #NBArank

Sun.Star Pampanga - - SHOW! -

When Tiger Woods was in his prime, the fo­cus of his year was the ma­jors. He gave them high­est pri­or­ity, gear­ing his reg­i­men to at­tempt to peak in those four w eeks.

Who knows how many tour­na­ment wins Woods might have left on the ta­ble with this strat­egy. Some­times he would use the few non­ma­jor events he played in dur­ing the sum­mer to prac­tice shots he knew he'd need to hit in the next ma­jor. At some point, he had enough money and ac­com­plish­ments that win­ning the Western Open again had only lim­ited ap­peal .

sea­son, LeBron James fin­ished out­side the top three in MVP vot­ing for the first time since 2008. The pre­vi­ous two years, he fin­ished third. It now has been four sea­sons since he last added an MVP tro­phy to his case.

Of course, he has played in the NBA Fi­nals all four of those years. Be­cause at this stage in his ca­reer, about to start his 15th sea­son, the post­sea­son is all he cares about. He sets his en­tire year up around peak­ing in April, May and June.

That's why James, de­spite his slip­ping in the reg­u­lar-sea­son award vot­ing, is No. 1 in ESPN's #NBArank for a sev­enth con­sec­u­tive sea­son. No one else has ever held the spot.

Over the past sev­eral years, James has di­aled back his in­ten­sity in the reg­u­lar sea­son, es­pe­cially in the early months. He has taken more games off to rest. This as his com­peti­tors for the league's high­est hon­ors, es­pe­cially Rus­sell West­brook and James Har­den, have been vo­ra­cious in their pur­suit of reg­u­lar-sea­son dom­i­nance.

It's an im­pres­sive form of pac­ing, he av­er­aged ca­reer highs in re­bounds (8.6) and as­sists (8.7) last sea­son while av­er­ag­ing the most points (26.4) in three years. But it's pac­ing nonethe­less.

Be­tween the 2005-06 and 2012-13 sea­son, his last MVP sea­son, James won Player of the Month in Novem­ber or De­cem­ber 11 times. He won the honor in Fe­bru­ary, March and April a to­tal of eight times in that span.

Over the past four sea­sons, he has won the honor in the first two months of the sea­son just twice. He has won it in the last three months of the sea­son nine times. His me­thod­i­cal ramp-up is demon­strated by that tran­si­tion alone.

Ad­vanced stats tell the tale, as well. Be­tween the 2008-09 sea­son and the 2012-13 sea­son -- James won four MVPs in that fiveyear span -- his player ef­fi­ciency rat­ing be­fore the All-Star break av­er­aged 30.3. Af­ter the break, it was 31.0, which is just as­tound­ing by the way. Over the past four sea­sons, James' PER be­fore the All-Star break av­er­aged 26.7. Af­ter the break, it has leapt to 29.1.

When he was younger, James was oth­er­worldly from the start of the reg­u­lar sea­son to the fin­ish. Over the past few sea­sons, the path has been grad­ual. The data shows what the eye test does, ef­fec­tively: Over the past few years, James of­ten con­serves en­ergy early in the sea­son and then hits the gas late.

This plan has merit. James had maybe the great­est NBA Fi­nals of his ca­reer in 2016, his fresh legs in the last three games of that seven-game saga per­haps help­ing him as­sem­ble what might go down as his ca­reer masterpiece. This past June, he av­er­aged a triple­dou­ble and shot 56 per­cent against the jug­ger­naut Golden State War­riors in the Fi­nals. His 33-point, 12-re­bound and 10-as­sist av­er­ages go down as one of the great­est sta­tis­ti­cal per­for­mances in a se­ries in the mod­ern era.

Still, his starts seem to have cost him with MVP vot­ers, who no­tice his sag­ging de­fense and lower-ac­tiv­ity games dur­ing the time in the NBA cal­en­dar when the MVP race is typ­i­cally framed. His slid­ing MVP fin­ishes might present as im­ply­ing that he's get­ting passed by some younger play­ers. (The MVP vot­ing re­cently has ir­ri­tated him, es­pe­cially be­cause he has taken on a lead­er­ship role in Cleve­land that can't be cap­tured on spread­sheets.)

But he knows what he's do­ing. His peers rec­og­nize it; last sea­son he led ev­ery­one in the player vot­ing for the All­Star Game. This sum­mer, he was given the Global Im­pact Award in the Play­ers' Voice Awards.

#NBArank does too, as James stands

at No. 1.

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