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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 1/2/18

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

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In one week’s time, not much has changed in terms of the Most Valuable Player race.

Since we last checked in on the battle for the league’s most coveted award on the day after Christmas, only one player lost his spot on the ladder. That individual gave way to a newcomer, who at this point of the season has fully forced himself into the MVP conversation.

While not much has changed in the matter on one week, due to some recent injury events, the next MVP ladder could look quite different from this version.

So without further ado, your current MVP standings.

  1. DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan is playing like a new player entirely this season.

What that means exactly is that, for the first time in his career, DeRozan is a threat from beyond the arc. For a player that was already a master of the midrange (a dying art form in today’s NBA), adding a long distance shot to his arsenal completes DeRozan’s ability to score from any level of the court.

While DeRozan isn’t currently averaging a career-high in scoring (about 2.5 points down from last season), he’s posting a career-best 118 offensive rating, and showing his best facilitation skills as well with 4.9 assists per game.

Fresh off of a career-high and Toronto Raptors franchise record 52-point game over the Milwaukee Bucks — a contest that saw DeRozan go 5-for-9 from beyond the arc — the superstar shooting guard has done enough to firmly grasp a rung on this MVP ladder.

Toronto is currently fourth and sixth in offensive rating and defensive rating, respectively, in the entire league. So far, DeRozan has been their clear catalyst to a 25-10 record and second place in the Eastern Conference. With a complete star player and well-rounded attack on both sides of the ball, the Raptors could pose a legitimate threat to LeBron James’ conference dominance.

  1. Kyrie Irving

Over a week’s time, Irving hasn’t lost any ground on his spot in MVP race. But he hasn’t necessarily done anything spectacular to gain ground on those in front of him.

In that wild Boston Celtics comeback against the Houston Rockets that saw Boston erase a 26-point Houston lead, Irving led his team with 26 points. However, in the fourth quarter, which started off 81-69 in favor of Houston, Irving scored just three points, while turning the ball over twice.

That’s not an incredible indictment on Irving’s contributions to his team during that particular game, just that his teammates and coach are more than capable of mounting a comeback even without their best player piggybacking them to a win.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Like Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t been able to do enough in the last week to close the gap between himself and Kevin Durant.

But with the return of Steph Curry to the Warriors lineup, the next few weeks could be a perfect time for the Greek Freak to re-insert himself into the top-three of the MVP race.

As long as Milwaukee’s star jack-of-all-trades continues to dominate each facet of the court, that should be enough to pull him closer to Durant as time moves on. With Curry in the fold, it will be hard to continuously argue Durant’s claim to the award should Golden State continue their winning ways.

For Antetokounmpo, continuing to post near triple-doubles on a nightly basis is just one half of his battle to gain footing on those in front of him in MVP race. At 19-16, and sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks would be slated for a first-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers if the playoffs started today. Calling that situation less than ideal would be a massive understatement. Antetokounmpo needs to reach into his ever-growing bag of tricks and pull the Bucks into a much more favorable fourth or fifth seed placing, as they’re currently just one game behind either spot.

Antetokounmpo will get the numbers, but to have a serious shot at MVP, his team needs to finish in the top half of the playoff picture.

  1. Kevin Durant

Not all hope is lost for Kevin Durant’s MVP bid now that Steph Curry is back, but it doesn’t look good.

Curry’s return marked a season milestone for the superstar point guard. In his first game back, he hit 10 three’s, the most by any player this season. Welcome back, chef. As a result, Durant slid right back into his role as co-star and chipped in with a fruitful 20 points, nine assists, and five rebounds. Certainly a good game, but the focus was Curry.

For as great as Durant has been in his time without his star teammate, Curry still makes the most impact for not only himself but those around him. With Curry on the court, the Warriors operate with a 123.6 offensive rating, and a 108.2 rating without him. That’s a far cry from the 117.6 to 111.2 ratings the team posts with and without Durant.

All of this isn’t to say Durant isn’t an MVP-caliber player; we know he his. But his candidacy was, and will always be, contingent on Curry. With the point guard back in the fold now, it’ll be hard to imagine that Durant keeps ahold of his current spot on the MVP ladder.

  1. LeBron James

For the first time this season, LeBron James has a legitimate shot to make up serious ground on the top spot of the MVP ladder.

With James Harden sidelined for at least the next two weeks due to a hamstring injury, James has a chance to overtake him in the MVP hierarchy. But he has to get the Cleveland Cavaliers back into the win column.

Following a Christmas Day defeat to the Golden State Warriors, James and the Cavs dropped two more games in a row, both to teams with lesser talent in the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz.

Both losses, despite a triple-double in the Kings game and a 29-8-6 line on his birthday against the Jazz, are blemishes on an immediate MVP resume.

The good news for James, though, along with Harden’s unfortunate injury, is that the Houston Rockets were losing before their star player was lost to injury. Houston was in the midst of a five-game losing streak before their double overtime win against the Los Angeles Lakers, the very game they lost Harden to injury.

Should Houston stay afloat and re-establish their winning ways with their MVP on the sideline, coupled with James’ continued dominance, a hole will be poked in Harden’s MVP armor. For Harden’s case, and the sake of his first ever MVP award, he should hope that hamstring heals up quicker than expected.

  1. James Harden

As noted, James Harden has fallen under hard times.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the league’s leading candidate for most valuable player suffered a hamstring strain while dropping 40 points on the Lakers in an effort to snap a five-game losing streak for his team.

Now that Harden is sidelined for the time being, his MVP worth will truly be tested. Should the Rockets start winning again, thanks to the quarterbacking of Chris Paul, a slight discussion of Harden’s true worth will be questioned (prematurely, though, considering his worth is incredibly obvious). That being said, it’s hard to do anything but lose ground in an MVP race while on the bench.

With James hot on his tail, Harden will be in a heated battled for the MVP trophy in the second half of the season when he returns from injury.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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