The MVP Race: Anyone's Race
After the first month of NBA basketball the MVP race is still wide open.
After Westbrook’s historic season last year, the requirements to win the award seem to be as up in the air as ever. Westbrook was only the second player in league history to average a triple-double, but he was also the only player in the last 30 years to win MVP without securing a top-3 seed.
Only 14 games have been played so far, but so many different players have made a case for themselves. Even players who missed the top ten this week are having MVP calibre seasons. John Wall has the Wizards sitting in the East’s number 3 seed while recording 20 PTS and 10 AST. Anthony Davis (26 PTS, 12 REB, 57% FG) and Kevin Durant (25 PTS, 8 REB, 5 AST) are having great seasons statistically, but have teammates that are simply out-producing them.
So far, the race remains a complete mystery, but below are the ten men that have stood out the most through the first 14 games of the season:
1. James Harden (30.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 10.2 APG, 29.7 PER) Houston Rockets (11 – 3)
With Chris Paul on the shelf, the Rockets have still managed to look like the best team in the NBA. D’Antoni is getting really good minutes from Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, etc. but it has been James Harden that has the Rockets hitting on all cylinders. There will probably be some adjustments needed once Paul returns, but for now Harden has been the best performer of the young season.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 32.2 PER)
Milwaukee Bucks (7 – 6) We all new Giannis was going to have a big season, but I’m willing to bet that few saw this kind of monster performance coming. He is leading the league in scoring and doing it on a ridiculously efficient 58% shooting from the field. With the addition of Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks look like a team that is ready to make a run in the East which only improves Giannis’ MVP chances.
3. Kyrie Irving (20.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 5.2 APG, 22.3 PER)
Boston Celtics (12 – 2)
Deep down, Kyrie has to be loving the fact that while his Celtics have managed to race to the best record in the NBA, LeBron and the Cavaliers have been making headlines for entirely different reasons. Nonetheless, it can’t be overlooked how well Kyrie has the Celtics looking so far. After a few rocky performances to start the season, Kyrie has looked like the best guard in the league at times, leading the Celtics to 11 straight victories.
4. Stephen Curry (25.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.7 APG, 28.2 PER) Golden State Warriors (11 – 3)
After a season spent in the MVP shadows, the league’s first ever unanimous MVP is finally back on the scene and in outstanding fashion. Curry has looked more like the leader of the Warriors this year, and it shows in his lofty production. Unfortunately for Steph, regardless of his individual production, his MVP chances take a massive hit when you consider the level of talent that plays alongside him.
5. LeBron James (28.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 8.8 APG, 29.9 PER)
Cleveland Cavaliers (7 – 7)
Had the Cavaliers not come out the gate looking like D3 NCAA squad, LeBron could very well be at the top of this list. In his 15th season, James is on pace to average career highs in Assists, Blocks, Free Throw Percentage and Field Goal Percentage – even though his usage rate is the lowest it has been since his rookie season. If the Cavs can put together a winning season, James could very well win his 5th league MVP, typing Michael Jordan in the process.
6. Kristaps Porzingis (29.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 28.8 PER)
New York Knicks (7 – 6)
Kristaps Porzingis is not only an early candidate for MVP, but he is also an early candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Expectations around the Knicks this year were practically non-existent coming into the season, but Porzingis now has this team looking like a potential playoff team. If KP can maintain his elite production and in the process, lead the Knicks to more wins, surely he will be in the MVP conversation all year long.
7. DeMarcus Cousins (28.2 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 25.0 PER) New Orleans Pelicans (8 – 6)
DeMarcus Cousins is now one of four players in NBA history to play at least 15,000 minutes without a trip to the postseason. From looking at his production so far this season, I think it’s safe to say that Boogie has had enough early vacations. After questions around whether a Cousins-Davis pairing could result in wins, both men have produced juicy stat lines to go along with a winning record, good for the number 5 seed in the Western conference.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge (21.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 25.6 PER)
San Antonio Spurs (8 – 5)
With Kawhi Leonard set to miss almost the entire first half of the season, you have to think his MVP chances are all but dead. In his place, LaMarcus Aldridge looks to have returned to the mid-range sniping all-star that we saw in Portland. Luckily for the Spurs, the combination of Aldridge’s rejuvenated play and the work of Greg “Jesus-with-a-clipboard” Popovich, the Spurs are still sitting pretty as the number three seed in the Western conference.
9. Damian Lillard (24.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.5 APG, 24.1 PER)
Portland Trailblazers (7 – 6)
When Damian Lillard records 7+ assists, the Blazers are 5-1 this season. When he has six or less assists, they are 2-5. With the addition of Jusuf Nurkic and the continued development of CJ McCollum, if Dame can find a way to improve his playmaking ability without losing any effectiveness as a scorer, Portland could really make a push up the standings. At the moment, Lillard is forced to create offense for himself and just about everyone else on the team.
10. Karl-Anthony Towns (21.2 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 24.6 PER)
Minnesota Timberwolves (8 – 5)
It has been a bumpy start to the season for Minnesota – but that was to be expected. Towns has been rather pedestrian so far this season, producing below his career averages in almost every major statistical category. Regardless, he has still been one of the league’s top performers and has the T’Wolves sitting in the top half of the conference. You have to think that the chemistry issues will be ironed out by the All-Star break, which is only going to see the play of Minnesota and their star center improve drastically.
Did you disagree? Let me know your MVP picks at @awrashoo