On the rise

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Two years ago the Cleveland Cavaliers won 17 games.

Today they boast the third-best record in the East, are completing the franchise's best November in a quarter century and are on pace for 53 wins. They are also confirming an increasingly obvious fact:

LeBron James has been the most valuable player in the NBA thus far.

We know it is early, for both the season and LeBron. And we know about Shaq and Dirk and Ray and KG and Kobe and Duncan.

But no one is imposing his will on the game right now more than James. No one has had a bigger impact on a team like the 19-year-old who has improved in virtually every statistical category from a hype-fulfilling rookie season.

He is averaging 26.3 points (up from 20.9 a year ago), 7.8 rebounds (5.5), 6.1 assists (5.9), 2.4 steals (1.7) and 1.1 blocks (0.7). He has a .515 field goal percentage (.417), .357 three-point percentage (.290) and .771 free throw percentage (.754).

He is passing like a point guard and shooting like an off guard. He has the athletic ability of a wing but the body of a power forward. He's the total package and the package seemingly gets better by the day.

"He's definitely the hardest guy in the league to guard," said Tayshaun Prince, Detroit's perimeter stopper, after James scored 43 points against the Pistons last week.

"He plays at his pace," said Bulls coach Scott Skiles. "When he wants to play fast, he does. When he wants to go slower, he does and there's not much you can do about it."

"I don't look at him as a guy who scores 30 points a game," said Knicks guard Stephon Marbury. "I look at him as a guy that does everything. He can have just 13 points and still almost dominate the game. [He's] guy who makes plays all the time."

Most importantly, these are plays that lead to victories. Cleveland has won nine of its last 11 games despite a shaky supporting cast. Yes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is solid. But the rest of the starting five in Monday's loss to the Clippers featured Ira Newble, Jeff McInnis and Drew Gooden.

If the definition of an MVP is making everyone around you better, then here you go. McInnis and Gooden are having years that few thought they would (or could). Heck, earlier this season Robert Traylor even had a 30-point night.

"It's the mental attitude that he has that he can do it all," said Cavs coach Paul Silas. "He can be a leader, off the floor, on the floor. He is so comfortable in his role now and that is what we expect from him.

"He takes very few bad or hurried shots," Silas continued. "His three-point shooting, free throw shooting, you name it, is so much better. He wasn't rebounding nearly last year like he's doing now. Whatever we need, he's providing it. We just have to rally around him and become much better as individuals collectively and he can take us as far as we can go."

This was a team that went 35-47 a year ago and then watched its second-leading scorer and top rebounder, Carlos Boozer, skip off to Utah for some extra money. We hope Boozer buys something nice with the cash, because bailing out on being LeBron's sidekick for the next dozen years is a head-scratching career move.

Despite Boozer's departure, James has made nearly everything work for Cavaliers. They say players are made in the offseason and in his first NBA summer he didn't just go to the Olympics, where his defensive tenacity (when Larry Brown played him) was notable. He also added accuracy to his jumper and became a father, making an already mature teenager that much more grounded.

All of a sudden the inevitable "when" with LeBron has become "now." There has never been a 19-year-old this good, which is why the LeBron era truly has begun.

"We are a more complete team [this year]," said James, who is most concerned about making the playoffs. "I keep telling people we are gonna keep coming together as a team and keep getting wins."

He'll leave the superlatives to Silas, who has been around the NBA for four decades and doesn't hedge his words.

"I don't think I've seen too many players any better," he said. "Just think about it. If he keeps improving as much as he's improved from last year, he's going to be pretty awesome."

One month into the season, he's already been more awesome than anyone in the league.