It’s not enough for LeBron James that he is considered the best player on the planet. Apparently he wants to be considered the best defensive player, too.
Memphis Marc Gasol was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. James finished second in the voting, and the Miami Heat superstar was not happy.
“It sucks,” James said Thursday. “It definitely sucks, though, finishing second. Who wants to finish second?”
Gasol received 212 points and 30 first-place votes among a panel of media members and analysts. James finished with 149 points and 14 first-place votes.
James stopped short of criticizing Gasol’s defensive merits, but the Heat star said he probably put together the best defensive effort of his career this season.
James averaged career highs in defensive rebounds (6.8) and overall rebounds (8.0), along with 1.7 steals and 1 block per game. But his defensive impact is measured by the versatility that has seen James defend all five positions at times during the past three seasons with the Heat.
Gasol averaged 7.8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and one steal for a Grizzlies defense that allowed a league-low 88.7 points per game. The biggest case on Gasol’s behalf was that Memphis was 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Gasol was on the floor.
James believes his defensive talent is unique.
“I guard everybody on the floor,” James said while sitting at his locker in Milwaukee. “I don’t know if it’s one player in NBA history that’s guarded 1 (point guards) through 5 (centers). It’s over with now, but it’s cool.”
The variety of defensive assignments have taken somewhat of a toll on James. But he said he’s never complained or turned down a matchup if the team needed his services. Against Milwaukee, James is likely to defend point guard Brandon Jennings at one stage, and later help in the paint on center Larry Sanders.
“I have to know all the likes and dislikes, pros and cons, of each and every player in this league because at some point, I’m going to be matched up with them,” James said. “It’s a challenge for me mentally and physically.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also campaigned on James’ behalf for more consideration as one of the league’s top defensive players. Even before Gasol was officially announced as the award winner, Spoelstra said he would like to see James break through soon as the winner.
“I think he’s deserving every year,” Spoelstra said earlier this week. “Possibly in the eyes of other people, they take him for granted, his impact defensively. He guards 1 through 5 every night and he knows and accepts the challenge. In the fourth quarter, whoever the biggest threat is, that’s who he’s guarding.”