Finally, a change at the top. After some astronomical performances by some of the best players in the NBA, there have been some significant changes to our MVP rankings this week.
Each week, Basketball Insiders drops our MVP rankings. How is your favorite player stacking up against the competition?
1. Russell Westbrook (Last Week: 6)
Last week, the Oklahoma City Thunder had three straight losses and Westbrook looked like he was frustrated. However, this week, he managed to rattle off four straight triple-double performances while the Thunder went 4-0. Sitting at 12-8 on the season, Westbrook is leading his team by posting historic numbers and keeping them in a playoff spot. Currently, Westbrook is averaging 31.2 points, 11.3 assists and 10.3 rebounds per game. If he keeps this up, it’d be hard to give the award to anyone else.
2. James Harden (Last Week: 1)
The Houston Rockets had a West Coast road trip, but they’ve still managed to win two of their last three games. Their most recent game against a good defensive team in the Utah Jazz exposed some of Harden’s weaknesses; he had 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but he only shot 34 percent from the field. His turnovers have gone up and although he’s been good, we had to move him down because of Westbrook’s impressive stretch.
3. Kevin Durant (Last Week: 4)
The Golden State Warriors are in the midst of a 12-game winning streak and a big reason for that is Durant. While his teammate Stephen Curry is also playing well, Durant is averaging more points, shooting a higher percentage and playing some incredible defense. Durant is making this Warriors team look unstoppable, even if he has teammates that will compete against him for this award. He continues to shoot a higher percentage than anyone in the top-50 of scoring while still averaging 27.1 points per game (seventh in the league). If he can continue to play at this remarkably efficient level, he’ll firmly be in the conversation.
4. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)
James didn’t get bumped down because of his play, he moved because the players who were below him have been extremely impressive and deserved to be higher. As mentioned previously, James’ MVP odds will come down to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ record. This past week, the Cavaliers had a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. James is going to put up incredible statistics that will be taken for granted, as usual. We all know that. That’s why it’s imperative that his team wins as many games as possible. He’s averaging 23.5 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds, but we expect that kind of greatness from James (even though he’s posting a career-high in the latter two stats). Fair or not, if he wants to win this award, Cleveland needs to have an excellent win total.
5. Kawhi Leonard (Last Week: 5)
We have nothing against Leonard; his team record is great and he’s putting up good individual statistics. The problem is that his numbers don’t reflect the very well-rounded player that he is. He’s ranked 12th in the NBA in scoring and averages fewer assists per game than big men like DeMarcus Cousins and role players like Lou Williams. He’s a great defensive player and probably one of the best two-way players in the game, but his lack of true playmaking ability does hurt him a bit.
6. Chris Paul (Last Week: 3)
The L.A. Clippers have had a rough week, losing games to the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. They’ve shown signs of vulnerability and with that, Paul’s ranking has taken a bit of a hit. He’s turning the ball over at a higher rate and shooting the ball less efficiently than he was in recent weeks. As the Clippers have come back down to earth, so too does Paul. If the Clippers are a top-two seed, Paul has a good shot to be in the MVP conversation because of his playmaking ability and two-way play. But right now, the Clippers don’t look like that team.
7. DeMar DeRozan (Last Week: 7)
DeRozan is still in the conversation because his Toronto Raptors are 12-6 and have won four straight. He currently is third in the league in scoring (averaging 28.9 points per game) and has slowly added more playmaking to his game. While he still can’t knock down shots from beyond-the-arc, his field goal percentage is close to 50 percent. DeRozan can only be in the conversation if his team is a high seed in the Eastern Conference and he stays within the top five of scoring. In today’s NBA, it would be hard to give this award to a player who’s primarily just a scorer.
8. Jimmy Butler (Last Week: 8)
Butler is still in the top 10 in scoring while leading this Chicago Bulls team to third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Bulls recently lost to the L.A. Lakers, they haven’t played many other games to justify moving Butler up or down. They’re still third-best in the East, so he clearly has an outside shot at the MVP based on his value to his team. Similar to Leonard, Butler is great in many ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet and is an outstanding two-way player. He should be in the conversation based on his team’s record and performance. For more on Butler, check out Lang Greene’s recent article on his impressive play.
9. Kemba Walker (Last Week: 9)
Walker’s Charlotte Hornets are another Eastern Conference team that’s had an up-and-down week. Losing and winning against the New York Knicks, winning against the Memphis Grizzlies and dropping a contest to the Detroit Pistons, they’re still a prime contender for a top-four seed in the East. Walker is their go-to option and he’s been great on both offense and defense. He’s averaging 24.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent from the field. His ability to hit shots from just about anywhere, defend opposing guards and provide clutch baskets make him extremely valuable.
10. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 10)
Lillard is the reason the Portland Trail Blazers are even a .500 team. They recently had a loss against the Houston Rockets and an emphatic win against a Paul-George-less Indiana Pacers, and Lillard is going to need consistency from his team to vault him into consideration. Lillard is a top-five scorer in the league and he’s played better on the defensive end the past few games, but his team’s record is holding him back. The most underrated part of Lillard’s skill set is his leadership ability. He’s arguably the best leader in this whole group since he’s not afraid to speak up to teammates and he leads by example. With that said, if Lillard can’t push Portland up the standings, it will be hard for him to compete for the award.
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