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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – 12/14

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While the top of the MVP watch list hasn’t changed, we’ve got some slight changes closing out the top 10. As we’re about one-quarter through the season, the race is starting to become close and polarizing.

Each Thursday, Basketball Insiders drops our MVP rankings. How is your favorite player stacking up against the competition?

 

stockdown4510. Jimmy Butler (Last Week: 9)

Butler is still showing signs the ability to carry this Bulls team to a top-four seed, but Dwyane Wade has also stolen a little bit of his shine. In the last five games, Wade is averaging 22.8 points per game and you’re starting to see him as more of a go-to option. While Butler is still in the top ten in scoring, this Bulls team hasn’t had the success they had earlier in the season. After losing three of their last five, Butler is on a team that’s sixth in the Eastern Conference and starting to show signs of offensive struggles.


stockdown459. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 8)

Lillard has been the most consistent Blazer, but his team is one game under .500. While he ranks within the top six in scoring (27.7), his defense is still suspect and he’s made some crucial mistakes in key games. There is no doubt Lillard’s off-the-court value is one of the best on this list, but his team needs to be better in order for him to rank higher in the conversation.

 

stockup458. Kemba Walker  (Last Week: 10)

Walker has been terrific for the third best team in the East. He’s playing good defense, shooting well from outside and supporting his teammates consistently. Although Walker’s scoring has dropped off, his teams’ record hasn’t. Currently, Walker is averaging 22.8 points and five assists per game while shooting over 46 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. In order for Walker to move up, his team will need to climb the rankings and his production will need to see an increase as well.

 

stocknochanges457. Stephen Curry (Last Week: 7)

Curry continues to play second fiddle to Kevin Durant, but that doesn’t matter. This Warriors’ team is possibly the best we’ve ever seen and he’s a focal point of it. Give Curry a ton of credit. He decided to take a backseat to KD in order to win. He shouldn’t be scrutinized for it, he should be respected.

The numbers aren’t godly for Curry, but his statistics are still within the top ten of the NBA. It’s going to be very hard for him to win this over his teammate, but if Harden and Westbrook drop off, he could be considered more heavily.


stocknochanges456. DeMar DeRozan (Last Week: 6) 

DeRozan has been superb for the Raptors. What’s impressive is that his offensive game has been deemed inefficient by many, and yet he still continues to prove others wrong. The Raptors are playing some historically great offensive basketball and DeRozan is a significant reason why. Currently averaging just under 28 points per game, DeRozan is the most efficient guard within the top nine for league scoring. He’s also providing more assists than ever before, averaging almost two assists more than his career average. While DeRozan still hasn’t found his form from behind-the-arc, he’s still providing efficient offense on the second best team in the East.

 

stocknochanges455. LeBron James (Last Week: 5)

James is probably the best player in the league, but it’s hard to justify him being MVP.  While his on-court impact is extremely noticeable, his statistics and team record are not in the same discussion as other players on this list. If it weren’t for historical anomalies like Westbrook and Harden, James would have a much better case for MVP.

James will most likely continue to climb up these rankings as the season progresses. Typically, the MVP discussion is a two-part race; the players who spark early success and the players who remain in the conversation throughout the year. The players who remain in the conversation throughout the year are usually guys who’ve helped their teams to the most successful seasons. Westbrook and Harden are doing something we’ve never seen before, but to think that it may continue is optimistic thinking. Not saying that it can’t happen, but keeping this pace up for an 82-game stretch will be difficult.


stocknochanges454. Kawhi Leonard (Last Week: 4)

Leonard has quietly led the Spurs to a 19-5 record and is leading his team in points scored (24.7). The reigning defensive player of the year has continued to play great defense and while his team has been good whether or not he’s on the floor, his impact cannot be questioned.

We can’t move Leonard up as the latter three players are doing more for their respective teams but if they slip up in team record or statistics, Leonard may find himself moving on up.


stocknochanges453. Kevin Durant (Last Week: 3)

The Golden State Warriors seem unbeatable at times, and much of this is due to the incredible play of Kevin Durant. Sure, he’s got three other stars that he can call teammates. But his efficiency, ability and defensive athleticism have made him more potent than any player on the best team in the league. Durant is currently shooting 53.5 percent from the field 0 that’s 10 percent higher than Harden, and almost 11 percent higher than Westbrook. While his scoring isn’t up to par with those two, his ability to seamlessly fit into this Golden State offense and put up these numbers is remarkable.


stocknochanges452. James Harden (Last Week: 2)

The Houston Rockets are now tied with the Clippers for the third-best record in the Western Conference. Leading the way on their team is James Harden. Not only is Harden putting up historically great numbers, he’s also putting in effort on the defensive end of the floor and helping his team win basketball games. Currently averaging 28.1 points, 11.6 assists and 7.7 rebounds, Harden is literally carrying his team to a top four seed.


stocknochanges451. Russell Westbrook (Last Week: 1)

Westbrook recently struggled against a desperate Portland Trail Blazers’ team. But he’s still the front-runner for this award based on his godly numbers and team record. While the Thunder aren’t necessarily contending for a title, he’s still keeping them afloat in a top-heavy Western Conference. If Westbrook wasn’t on this team, the Thunder would be nowhere close to where they are. The team that surrounds him is inconsistent and doesn’t provide enough offense to allow Westbrook to take a break. He’s constantly forced to do everything and anything to help this team win. If he wasn’t in Oklahoma City, we’d probably be talking about the lottery for this Thunder team.

Want more MVP discussion? Check out our latest podcast in which Oliver Maroney and Ben Golliver discuss MVP candidates, biggest surprises and more.

Be sure to check out the latest MVP rankings every Thursday night on Basketball Insiders.

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About Oliver Maroney

Oliver Maroney

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.