While the top of the MVP watch list hasn’t changed, we’ve got some newcomers 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?
Walker has been terrific for the Hornets this season. However, as the season has progressed, his statistics have slowly decreased. The Hornets currently sit at fourth in the Eastern Conference, winning three out of their last four games. Walker has been consistent, averaging 23.6 points, five assists and four rebounds. But in order to really put himself into the conversation, he’ll need to carry more of an offensive load with this team. While he has been very good defensively, he’s barely in the top-15 in scoring and hasn’t won enough to warrant more consideration.
Butler is still in the top 10 in scoring while leading this Chicago Bulls team to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have struggled, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons last week. But Butler should be in the conversation based on his individual performance and early team success. While some of his contributions don’t show up on the stat sheet, Butler has still been impressive regardless of the statistics.
Lillard has moved up because his team is over .500 and Portland has won two of their last three games. While he isn’t on one of the NBA’s elite teams, he is averaging some incredible statistics and helping his squad win. Currently, Lillard is sixth in the league in scoring (28 points per game), while also averaging 5.6 assists and five rebounds per game. Lillard is the clear leader and number-one option on the young Blazers. In order for him to climb up the rankings, he needs to lift Portland higher in the standings.
Wait, Stephen Curry wasn’t on this list last week?! Well, he’s back on now. After playing second fiddle to Kevin Durant early on in the season, he’s once again becoming a primary threat (at times) for the league’s best team. Even with a teammate like Durant, Curry is averaging 25.9 points, six assists and four rebounds per game. But what’s most impressive is his ability to take a back seat without letting it affect him negatively. He’s still shooting close to 50 percent from the field, making plays and creating for others while allowing Durant to become the primary option on this team. All signs point to Curry maturing as a player and being smarter as a teammate.
DeRozan is still shooting 48 percent from the field and scoring 28 points per game (which is good for fifth in the league). This, on a team that’s second in the Eastern Conference at 14-7. They were on a six-game win streak before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers two nights ago, and DeRozan’s been their primary option. While he’s not the playmaker that Kyle Lowry is, DeRozan has been the consistent scoring threat night in and night out. If DeRozan starts to miss more shots or Lowry picks up a greater offensive load, then we may see Lowry on this list instead of DeRozan. For now, the former USC star is seemingly doing more for this Raptors team.
Lowering James wasn’t due to flipping water bottles with his teammates on the bench. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 15-5 and have slipped up in a couple games in the past week. While James is arguably the best player in the league, voters will look for any reason to give the MVP trophy to someone else since they’re tired of crowning James. That means his team needs to be the absolute best in order for him to win this award. He’s still in the top-15 in scoring and continues to be the unselfish superstar we’ve come to love. But his numbers are always going to be taken for granted. Fair or not, James is held to a different standard.
Leonard has moved up this week because the San Antonio Spurs continue to win. Currently, the Spurs are one game behind the Golden State Warriors for the best team in the Western Conference at 18-4. Leonard is averaging the most points and steals on the Spurs, leading the second-best team in the league. As long as the Spurs keep winning and Leonard continues to be in the top-15 in scoring, he deserves to be high on the list of MVP candidates.
The Golden State Warriors are continuing to play incredible team basketball. While Durant’s teammate Steph Curry is playing excellent basketball as well, Durant is seemingly doing more for this team. However, Durant has not only stood out on the offensive end, he’s been extremely impactful on the defensive end as well. Beyond his 26.5 points on 55 percent shooting, he’s also top-30 in steals and defensive rebounds while also averaging 1.5 blocks per game. Durant deserves to be in the conversation, but is probably in a tier just below behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Houston Rockets are currently playing some of the best team basketball in the league. Last week, they beat the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets in consecutive nights away from home. This week, they’ve won both of their games (against the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers) by an average of 20 points. The reason they’ve been so good is because of James Harden. His ability to make plays for his teammates, score at will and contribute on defense have been the difference maker for Houston. Harden is averaging 28.5 points, 11.4 assists and 7.5 rebounds while shooting over 45 percent from the field. There’s no question that Houston will go as far as Harden takes them.
Westbrook is continuing to put up monstrous numbers on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that’s won six straight games. Currently, Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists and 10.9 rebounds while playing close to 36 minutes per night. Even if the Thunder don’t make the top-four in the Western Conference, Westbrook has a very good chance at winning the MVP based on his statistical dominance alone. If he keeps this up, it’s going to be extremely hard to give the MVP trophy to anyone else.
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