Now that the NBA has officially settled in after a wild first two weeks of the 2017-18 season, it’s time to start an early tab on the Most Valuable Player award race.
Since this season is still very much in its infancy, this list will likely be subject to change on a weekly basis. Some of the names that you see here may stick around for a wire-to-wire MVP campaign, while others may just be drifters, capitalizing on the early stages of this season with their hot starts.
Last season produced one of the more compelling MVP races in recent memory, when Russell Westbrook and James Harden went head to head for the league’s supremacy, only to have Westbrook and his triple-double average win out. This year may not be as nail-biting as the season progresses, simply because the chances that two players repeat a nightly triple-double battle like last season isn’t as likely.
Nevertheless, the NBA is a ball of excitement and chaos at all times, so don’t expect to be disappointed by this race. Be sure to keep yourself posted on how the race develops here at Basketball Insiders with our weekly updates.
- Kemba Walker
The Charlotte Hornets are getting more than a handful from their star point guard to start his sixth season in the league. Through the first seven games, Walker (almost single-handedly) has his team at 4-3 with notable wins over the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies.
What makes Walker a legitimate MVP candidate at the moment aren’t just his game-to-game averages, which at 24.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds certainly are enough to put him in the conversation. No, it’s how much of a different team the Hornets are when Walker is on the court.
So far this season, the numbers for Charlotte’s offense are astoundingly bad when Walker hits the bench for a breather. In the 74 minutes Walker hasn’t been on the court for the Hornets, they operate with an offensive rating of 76.9. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe how bad is. But when the New York native point guard is on the court, the Hornets are in a whole new realm of basketball with a 110.1 offensive rating.
Walker also improves his team’s defense, shooting, assist percentages, cuts down turnovers, and does just about everything short of actually playing basketball for the four other guys on the court with him. In this brand new season, Walker is off to a red-hot start and it would be criminal to leave him off of this list.
- DeMarcus Cousins
On the heels of his dominating performance while back in Sacramento for the first time, Cousins has squarely placed himself into the MVP watch while he does what he can to help the New Orleans Pelicans make the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference.
The big man duo in the Big Easy is leading the charge for the Pelicans offense. But on the back of Cousins and his career year so far, they may be able to bruise their way into the postseason.
Through the first seven games of this season, Cousins is putting up gaudy numbers. 29.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists are all career-highs so far for Boogie. Whether that level of production can keep the pace all season long is another story, but the consistency that Cousins has shown to start the year is more than enough to warrant his place on this inaugural list.
In a matchup with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, Cousins dropped a 29-12-10 triple-double to stun LeBron James and the Cavaliers. And despite the final result against the Golden State Warriors ending in a loss, Cousins and the Pelicans showed they were more than capable of trading blows with the NBA’s heavyweight champ.
- Russell Westbrook
After turning in one of the most historic MVP campaigns ever, Westbrook finds himself a few spots down from where he was used to sitting last season. But with a new-look team and what appears to be an evolving role, the point guard with one trophy already on his mantle can never be counted out.
Even with the likes of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony manning his wings, Westbrook is still cashing out triple-doubles like they’re no big deal. Through six games this season, Westbrook has notched three triple-doubles already.
Most of the hate on Westbrook over the years was that he couldn’t play well enough alongside the likes of Kevin Durant, and his ability to put the team over the individual was consistently in question. Well, with a few big name running mates in his stable for this season, Westbrook has refined his role entirely in the early goings of the season. Averaging just 16 shots a game, his lowest total since his second season, Westbrook has become the deadly facilitator he proved he could be last year. At the current moment, he leads the league in assists per game with 12.2.
In arguably the most competitive division in basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder may need this new version of Westbrook to steer them into a playoff appearance.
- Blake Griffin
Once again it’s the Blake Griffin show for the Los Angeles Clippers.
A new-look Clips team is off to a solid 4-2 start this season, mainly in part to Griffin playing at a level that he sometimes didn’t seem too capable of reaching while he was sharing the floor with Chris Paul.
After signing his max contract extension in the summer, it appears that Griffin put in serious work to help the areas of his game that were at times the weakest. Six games into this new season, Griffin is posting the second lowest defensive rating of his career and on the other end knocking down shots from beyond the arc at an elite rate.
Consider this: just two seasons ago, Griffin was attempting 0.5 three-pointers a game. He connected on a third of them. This season, Griffin is attempting 5.5 three-pointers a game and hitting 42 percent of his takes.
That’s not just improvement for a non-shooter, that’s an elite level shooting clip.
Granted, Griffin may not keep up this hot shooting for an entire season, but in the early goings, he’s proving that he’s added an entirely new weapon to his arsenal and can truly be an inside-out threat in this league.
Making the playoffs in the West won’t be a breeze, but with this level of Griffin showing up to the court every night, the Clippers should be right in the thick of things as the season goes on.
- Steph Curry
What’s an MVP list without Curry, right?
In the second year of the Kevin Durant era in Golden State, the Warriors aren’t starting out as hot as they are accustomed to. Last season the Warriors’ third loss of the year didn’t come until Dec. 1, but this year the Warriors racked up three losses before October even ended.
But Curry has been his usual chef self, and expecting Golden State to return to their winning form is a safe bet.
At 28 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds, Curry is keeping pace with his numbers from last season. And luckily for him, a Harden-Westbrook battle doesn’t look like it can keep him out of the top two of the MVP race so far this year. Even in Golden State’s stacked offense, when Curry is on the floor the reigning champions see their offensive rating increased by 24.3 points.
On Monday night, Curry looked most like himself on his way to 31 points in an absolute shellacking of the Clippers, 141-113.
Barring anything insane happening, the Warriors look poised to be in contention for their second straight title come season’s end. And Curry will be a more than large part of that.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
No surprise here. The Greek Freak looks in position to dominate not only the entire league but the entire MVP field as well.
Off to an insane start to this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 34.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. That doesn’t seem like real life, but I promise it is.
Antetokounmpo has led the Milwaukee Bucks to wins over the Boston Celtics, Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets, all three of which look to be playoff teams to start the season. At 6-foot-11 and moving like a gazelle, Antetokounmpo provides an entirely new problem for the rest of the NBA.
After making improvements to his shooting over the offseason, Antetokounmpo is now connecting on a respectable 33 percent of his three-point shots. If he can hold that number consistently throughout the entire season, there’s no reason to believe he relinquishes this top spot in the MVP race.
With the Celtics losing Gordon Hayward to a devastating injury, the window is open for the Bucks to push back against the Eastern Conference elite powers, such as Cleveland and Washington. As long as the Greek Freak continues his blazing pace, the Bucks are as dangerous as any team.
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