LeBron James remains the biggest lightning rod for criticism in the NBA, but one group of people still believes he is the best player in the NBA, in spite of (or because of) how many times he passes to an open teammate with a game on the line and facing a double team himself: his peers.
Sports Illustrated surveyed 137 NBA players, asking them who among current players they would choose first if starting a team from scratch. James was the top choice.
Rounding out the top five were Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls.
Teammate Dwyane Wade finished seventh in the poll. SI did not divulge any details of the poll other than the final ranking (though we're pretty sure Kendrick Perkins did not pick James).
It's easy to see why James is held in such high esteem by his peers. Besides being one of the centerpieces of a team with one of the top records in the NBA, James is also among the leaders in both traditional and advanced statistical categories.
James is third in the NBA in points per game, twelfth in assists per game and seventh in steals per game.
James leads the NBA in win shares and win shares per 48 minutes by a wide margin. (Win shares calculates the portion of a team's win total that is a direct result of a single player's performance.) James is leading the NBA in win shares for the fourth straight season.
The Heat have won 28 games so far this season, and LeBron's win shares total is 9.5, more than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined (4.7 and 4.4 respectively).
Not surprisingly, James has won the last two Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards, and he could be in line for his third MVP award by the time the season is over.