While we’ve only completed two months of the NBA season, and there still is a lot of time to go, it’s never too early to look at the MVP rankings and who the MVP might be. There have been a lot of strong candidates, and thus far, it looks as if this year’s winner will be someone who hasn’t won the award before. Without further ado, here are the current top 5 for the MVP as of January 6th, 2015.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Russell Westbrook (OKC), Kyle Lowry (TOR), Jimmy Butler (CHI)
All three of these guys are having fantastic seasons thus far, landing them on the honorable mentions list. Westbrook would likely be number 1 on this list if he had been healthy the entire season, as he is having a legendary season thus far. Westbrook is averaging 31.8 points, 8.3 assists, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.6 steals per 36 minutes. If he continues this pace throughout the season and remains healthy, he will catapult up this list. Lowry has been the leader of one of the best teams in the NBA, and has kept the Raptors at the top of the East despite DeMar DeRozan’s injury. Butler has blossomed into a star this season, constantly leading the Bulls in scoring. He also is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA today. These three are all in position to jump into the top 5 with continued stellar play, but for now, they are just on the outside looking in.
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Thought LeBron and the Cavaliers were struggling this year? Well, they aren’t completely living up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away from LeBron’s value.
His scoring is down a little bit, but he’s still second in the league with 25.2 points per game. Also, his shooting percentage is considerably down, but is still at 49%, which is near elite for a wing. And his facilitating is as good as it’s ever been, as he’s averaging 7.6 assists per game. LeBron’s value is most evident when you look at the Cavaliers’ record with and without him in the lineup. With LeBron suiting up, the Cavaliers are 18-11, while they are just 1-5 in the 6 games he has missed.
With LeBron expected to miss the next two weeks with strains in his knee and back, LeBron’s value and importance will become much more evident, especially if the Cavaliers struggle. With that said, he may lose ground on players such as Russell Westbrook in his absence.
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
In just his third NBA season, Anthony Davis is defying already lofty expectations and is approaching the top of the “Best Player in the NBA” rankings. Davis is averaging 23.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game, and is shooting and incredible 56% from the field.
He also has a PER of 31.4, which would rank 8th for a single season in NBA history. Oh, and he’s still only 21. So why isn’t Davis higher on this list? Unfortunately, he plays for the New Orleans Pelicans in the brutal Western Conference. They are 17-16 right now and occupy the 9th spot in the West, but the Thunder are hot on their trail, sitting just half a game behind at 17-17. The Thunder will pass the Pelicans now that they are healthy, and the Pelicans will likely not make the playoffs this year, through no fault of Davis. This is likely the only thing holding Davis back from winning the MVP this season. He will win multiple MVPs during his career, but his first likely will not be this season.
3. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Gasol’s statistics aren’t as eye-popping as some of the other players on this list. In fact, besides his scoring (he’s averaging 20 points per game, up from his previous career high of 14.6), he hasn’t shown a dramatic increase in any specific statistical category either. So why is he on this list? Gasol is the Grizzlies’ best player and has led them to heights they have not seen yet. The Grizzlies have other great players, such as Zach Randolph and the consistently underrated Mike Conley, but Gasol is the heart of this team.
He is the fulcrum of their defense, which is among the best in the league. If the MVP award was handed out based on raw statistics, Gasol would not even be in consideration. 20 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game are great numbers, but nearly everyone else on this list can claim to have better numbers. However, in terms of value to their team, Gasol is clearly one of the most valuable players in the league.
He has led to Grizzlies to the best NBA record in the calendar year of 2014 (including currently being third in the West this season). Overall, Gasol’s case for MVP is incredibly strong, and he will be in the thick of the race at the end of the season if Memphis keeps winning.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
I had a very hard time distinguishing between Harden and the number 1 player on this list. Harden is near the top of the list because he is having a fantastic season for the Rockets – as a matter of fact, it’s his best as a pro thus far. In 33 games, Harden is averaging 27.2 points (tops in the NBA), 6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game (the latter two are both mind-boggling numbers for a shooting guard).
If he keeps up those numbers, he will be only the third player in NBA history to average at least 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists per game in a season. The other two? Michael Jordan (who did it three times), and LeBron James. Those stats are great, but he’s put up gaudy numbers in his career before. What exactly is Harden doing differently this season that has him in MVP discussions, something he hasn’t been in before? That’s easy – his defense. Harden has a reputation for being a terrible defender, and up to this season, it’s been well deserved. However, this year, his defensive rating would say otherwise. A player’s defensive rating is the number of points per 100 possessions an opponent scores when that player is on the floor. Harden’s defensive rating is 99 – not an elite number, but far better than 107 he posted last season.
Harden’s improvement to a league average defender, combined with his status as one of the best offensive players in the league, puts him near the top of the MVP race. Oh yeah – the Rockets winning, including Harden keeping the Rockets afloat when Dwight Howard was out with an injury, is helping Harden’s cause immensely.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Like Harden, Curry is having his best season yet as a pro. Don’t let his decrease in some of his per-game numbers fool you: he is playing the second fewest minutes per game of his career, only ahead of his injury-riddled 2011-12 season. Curry’s per minute stats are the best of his career.
He is averaging 24.9 points, 8.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes, all career highs. Also, while he is “only” shooting 38.8% on 3-pointers, a career low for him, he is shooting a career high 49.2% from the field overall, including a ridiculous 58% on 2-pointers, a fantastic number for a point guard. If you just looked at statistics, Curry and Harden would be neck-and-neck for the award; however, I am giving the edge to Curry because they are winning more. Golden State is currently 27-5 and is currently on pace for 69 wins (!!!).
While that pace will likely slow down considerably, they still will be near or at the top of the Western Conference at the end of the season, and Curry is the main reason why. He is one of the best (if not the best) offensive players in the game today, and now is a really good defensive point guard too. Overall, Curry is just having a fantastic season for the best team in the NBA, and I believe the best player on the best team will win the MVP this year.