It’s the time of year where various NBA players are getting early MVP buzz, and it can be difficult to wade through what is real and what isn’t in the national media. With that, we’ll be joining you every week to take a snapshot of the ever-intriguing MVP race, and without further ado, here’s a look at our MVP “power rankings” after 3 weeks of the NBA slate.
- Lebron James, Miami – The “King” is back on the throne. Last week, Lebron James fell from the top spot, but he did everything in his power to reclaim the belt as the most valuable player of the league, and in my mind, he’s accomplished it. Miami has won 3 straight games, and LBJ eclipsed 30 points per game in each contest. However, that isn’t the sole reason (or even the main one) why he has ascended to the top. As of this post, James is now leading the league in PER (30.21), and he’s 2nd in the league in scoring to go along with some patently absurd ratios. For instance, Lebron is 3rd in the NBA (yes, in the entire league) in field goal percentage at 62.2%, and the fact that he is even in the conversation as a perimeter-oriented player is downright astounding. Throw in a ridiculous 51.7% 3-point clip that places him in the top-10 of the league and his suffocating defensive abilities, and suddenly, it’s no so difficult to see why Lebron lands at number one.
- Kevin Love, Minnesota – Kevin Love can’t seem to ascend from the #2 spot, but it certainly hasn’t been his fault this season. Love has led the T-Wolves to a very solid 7-4 mark through 11 games, and his statistical profile is outstanding. Love is now 2nd in the league (to the aforementioned Lebron James) in PER at 29.73, and his 13.6 rebounds per game is 2nd to only Dwight Howard among the game’s elite. In addition, Love is now exceeding his career numbers in field goal percentage (48%), 3-point percentage (35.7%) and free throw percentage (86% from a big man!) to account for his 26.8 points per game. It isn’t likely that Love can remain this high in the rankings unless Minnesota contends for home court advantage in the Western Conference, but with the way he’s playing, nothing seems out of the question.
- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City – Last week’s number 1 player slips to number 3 this week, but we’re really nitpicking as this stage. The Thunder lost 2 of their 3 games during the week, dropping their record to a more middle-of-the-pack mark of 6-3, and that hurts KD’s stock a bit. Even so, Durant has been lights-out (as usual) this year, and that begins with his league-leading scoring average of 28.7 points per game. The 6-foot-9 forward scores in a myriad of different ways, but his 46/36/89 shooting slash line will probably even increase as the season goes along. Lastly, Durant’s 5.1 assists per game would rank as the highest of his career, and we may be seeing the best pure basketball that he has ever played. If the shooting numbers rebound to last year’s averages of 51/41/90, watch out.
- Chris Paul, LA Clippers – Another week of basketball and another awesome display from Chris Paul. CP3 led the Clippers to a 3-0 mark during the course of the 7-day period, and with that, the Clips are now 7-3 on the season, giving credence to his value. LA is now 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency (behind only Lebron James and Miami) and Paul gets credit for that, as his 12.8 assists per game (which leads the NBA by more than three per contest) is the engine that makes it all come together. Paul also ranks in the top-5 of the league in PER at 27.21, and he is sitting in 4th place in Estimated Wins Added (EWA) at 2.9. Comically, Paul hasn’t even been shooting the ball well this year, with what would be career lows in both field goal percentage (43%) and 3-point percentage (25%). There is no scenario where those numbers don’t improve unless Paul is masking an injury, and I’d expect another level or two from Paul as we continue the season.
- Paul George, Indiana – Paul George brings up the rear, and it’s almost unfair how good he’s been for the 9-1 Pacers this season. Indiana is tied with San Antonio for the best record in the league through 10 games, and George is 6th in the NBA in EWA at 2.3 through 10 games. The only thing holding George back from the “elite” right now is his “struggling” PER (23.77) compared to the other candidates, but I would say that 23.3 points (on 46.5% shooting) and 7.0 rebounds per game with elite level defense is more than enough to garner some top-5 votes. One interesting wrinkle of George’s candidacy (should Indiana continue to win at this pace to support it) is the ground swell of support for Roy Hibbert, who is already the big-time front runner for defensive player of the year, and the two players could split votes down the line.
Darkhorse Candidates -
- LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland – Aldridge’s traditional numbers (21.9 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game) or advanced stats (20.01 PER, 1.4 EWA) don’t scream “MVP” to most people, but one quick glance at the standings brings this one into picture. Aldridge is the best player (in my opinion) on a shockingly 8-2 Blazers team, and that alone is enough to place him in the conversation. It is very, very unlikely that LMA could jump into the legitimate conversation without Portland winning 50+ games, but that doesn’t look terribly insane right now, and Aldridge is a safe bet to continue at this pace of production.
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans – Davis is being hamstrung (severely) by the Pelicans and their 4-6 record, but he has been awesome through 10 games. “The Brow” is 3rd in the league in PER at 29.72 and 3rd in the league in EWA (ahead of Paul, Durant, and George) at 3.2. His stats (20.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.6 blocks per game) are absolutely insane when you consider that he’s only 20 years old, but when you remember how good of a defender he already is in this league, it’s absolutely frightening. Davis likely jumps into the top-5 if New Orleans can right the ship, and he’d be absolutely deserving.
- Stephen Curry, Golden State – There is a small group of NBA pundits/bloggers/etc. that believes Golden State is the best team in the NBA, and that begins and ends with Steph Curry. The numbers aren’t quite there for a legitimate MVP run (19.7 points, 8.8 assists per game), but his shooting numbers are incredible, and PER/EWA/etc. tell us that he is playing some of the best basketball of his career. The Warriors would have to win 60+ games for Curry to have a legitimate chance, but he deserves to be mentioned.