There were many surprises in the NBA this week. While there wasn’t much movement at the top of the MVP rankings, the bottom certainly had some changes. Some teams that were overachieving came back down to earth, while others continued to surprise.
Each week, Basketball Insiders drops our weekly MVP power rankings. How is your favorite player stacking up against the competition?
1. James Harden (Last Week: 1)
Harden continues to put up monstrous numbers while leading his team to a 9-5 record. Currently, he leads the league in assists per game (12.4) while also contributing close to 30 points and eight rebounds. But it’s not just the statistics that have Harden at No. 1.
The Houston Rockets are continuing to win, as they’re fifth in the Western Conference standings. Even with a recent loss to former teammate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston managed to rattle off three straight wins against the Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers. They’re looking like a team that can compete with the best. As long as the Rockets sit in the top-six in the Western Conference and Harden continues to play this way, he’ll be up at the top of this list.
2. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)
The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to win with James as their primary option. While his scoring has gone down, he’s still maintaining averages of 23.8 points, 9.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game. James recently posted his 60th triple-double of his career in a strong win against the Portland Trail Blazers. If the Cavaliers can keep up this pace, James has to be in the MVP conversation. As mentioned in our previous watch list, James’ MVP case isn’t in the numbers. It’s whether his team can run away with the most regular season wins.
3. Chris Paul (Last Week: 3)
The Clippers are playing well on both ends of the floor and a big reason for that is the play of Chris Paul. Not only is Paul one of the best playmakers in the league, he’s also superb on the defensive end as well. While the Clippers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies last week, Paul and company have put together four straight wins and still sit atop the Western Conference.
Paul continues to go under the radar because his statistics aren’t jaw-dropping like Westbrook or Harden. He’s only averaging 18.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds. However, his team is the best in the league and he’s arguably their best player.
4. Kevin Durant (Last Week: 9)
Kevin Durant continues to post incredible numbers while being the most efficient player in the league. Currently, Durant ranks number one in field goal percentage (56.3) among the top 50 scorers while ranking sixth in scoring (26.9 points). The Golden State Warriors are now on a nine-game winning streak, playing some of the best basketball that we’ve seen. Durant seems to be fitting in with the rest of the Golden State crew and if this winning continues, don’t be surprised to see him higher next week.
5. Kawhi Leonard (Last Week: 6)
Leonard is quietly continuing to lead this San Antonio Spurs team to the third-best record in the West. While his efficiency and scoring have dropped off a bit, he’s still the team’s best player. Leonard is one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league while carrying an extreme offensive load.
The Spurs have won seven games in a row following their loss to the Rockets on November 9. If they can continue their winning ways with Leonard providing the goods, expect to see him here all year.
6. Russell Westbrook (Last Week: 4)
The Thunder aren’t looking as good as they did earlier in the season. Losing three games in a row against the L.A. Lakers, Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings, they seem to be struggling late in games. While Westbrook still continues to put up excellent individual statistics, it’s hard to determine what type of Westbrook you’ll get on a nightly basis. The Thunder are currently 8-8 and Westbrook’s efficiency has dropped since last week’s rankings. As long as the Thunder are in the playoff hunt, Westbrook deserves to be in this conversation. But if they’re on the outside looking in, it’s going to be hard to justify Westbrook being considered.
7. DeMar DeRozan (Last Week: 5)
DeRozan is still averaging over 30 points per game, but his team is starting to lose some winnable games. Last week, the Raptors lost four of five games and DeRozan showed some signs of subnormal play. He’s shooting less than 50 percent from the field and hasn’t been able to develop a consistent three-point shot. If the Raptors can make up some ground, DeRozan should be in this conversation further.
8. Jimmy Butler (Last Week: N/A)
Butler has always been known as a good player, but he’s shown signs of superstardom lately. As the Bulls have been the surprise team in the Eastern Conference, Butler has been their most consistent player on both sides of the ball. On offense, Butler has become more efficient, shooting 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc. On defense, he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Butler deserves to be in this conversation, as he’s top 10 in scoring (25.8 points per game), top 25 in three-point efficiency and leading this Bulls team to 9-6 (third-best in the Eastern Conference).
9. Kemba Walker (Last Week: 8)
Walker and the Charlotte Hornets have lost three in a row, but are still one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Their team has had some alarming losses, but the play of Walker has continued to impress. His consistent and efficient scoring paired with his defensive effort make him to be one of the best two-way players in the league. Walker is shooting 47 percent from the field, 41 percent from three and averaging the lowest turnover rate among the top 13 scorers in the league. He’s taking care of the ball, playing consistently and scoring efficiently, which is why he’s in this conversation.
10. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 7)
Lillard is still scoring at a high rate for the Portland Trail Blazers, but the team is struggling with inconsistent performances. While Lillard is ranked fifth in points scored (28.4 points per game), he’s also looked exposed on defense. Most recently, Lillard allowed Derrick Rose to have his best shooting performance of the year – scoring 18 points on 53 percent shooting. While it doesn’t sound like prime D-Rose statistics, this was well above Rose’s season averages of 15 points on 44 percent shooting.
Their backcourt is one of the best in the league, but Lillard can’t seem to get help from the other positions on the floor. In order for Lillard to be in the MVP conversation, he’s got to vault the Blazers into the top four of the Western Conference. Right now, it doesn’t look like that can happen.
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