It's still early in the NBA season but it's becoming clear who the MVP candidates are, with some impressive all around performances from Harden, Lebron, Antetokounmpo, and Westbrook. It's becoming even more clear that Lebron is not past his prime: going strictly by the numbers, he is having his best season yet since he started 14 (!) years ago.
He is averaging 28.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game. He has an offensive efficiency rating that ranks 2nd-highest in his career. And his shooting percentage has been an unreal 57.6%, with a just-as-unreal 42% from three - a career best and a dramatic improvement in arguably his weakest spot. His effective field goal percentage (63.0%) and true shooting percentage (65.8%) are also career-bests. The last Cavs game, against Atlanta, Lebron put up 25/17/7 on 85% shooting.
And yet, even if he keeps this up, we can easily expect the award to be handed to James Harden or Russell Westbrook or maybe even Kyrie Irving if the Celtics finish at #1 in the East. And that's because every year Lebron-fatigue kicks in: while there has been a near-consensus in the past few years that Lebron James is the best basketball player on the planet, the last time he won the MVP was in 2013. You can make the case for the comparative advantage that other recipients have had (e.g. Curry during 2 monster seasons for the Warriors), but it still remains baffling that the best player on the planet did not also win MVP. After 4 awards, we've become tired of giving it to Lebron again, no matter how good he is.
He's now 33, an age at which most other players are already depleted or retired, and putting up career-best numbers on a championship-contending team, after losing his sidekick over the summer. While the Cavs depth is nothing to sneer at this year, they lack the second scoring/playmaking option that they had in Irving last year, so there is that much more for James to do.
Perhaps it's worth remembering that Michael Jordan was only beginning his second 3-peat run at the age of 33. We are witnessing similar sports history these days and we should not take it for granted.