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NBA MVP Watch 11/7/14

Jabari Davis takes an early look at the 2014-15 MVP race, kicking off our weekly, season-long MVP Watch.

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It may seem a bit early to be discussing the Most Valuable Player award and any end-of-season acknowledgement for that matter, but here at Basketball Insiders we tend to look at it as a progressive assessment throughout the season. For us, part of what makes sports – basketball in particular – so exciting are the ongoing debates and conversations about records, awards and accomplishments. Every week, we’ll be releasing our NBA MVP Watch, where we look at the top candidates for the award.

We’ve already seen several pre-season candidates for this year’s MVP award succumb to early-season injuries, which gives other players an opportunity to join the discussion. Kevin Durant’s foot should heal in time for him to play at least 65 games, but the odds are against the league’s reigning MVP finding a way to repeat the feat. The Western Conference looks like a merciless and unforgiving trek once again, so it will be interesting to see and track the impact Durant is able to make upon returning, once he works himself into game-shape and gets back into the Oklahoma City Thunder’s flow. While Durant and potentially even teammate Russell Westbrook could conceivably return in time to play themselves back into the conversation, it is nice to see a few new names within the mix to go along with some of the usual suspects.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

The league may be witnessing the development of its next legitimate superstar in Anthony Davis. Although there are some who have shared their displeasure with the new-found attention Davis and his Pelicans are receiving, the reality is we should all get used to it. Put simply, Davis is an absolute stud and seems to have the type of personality that resonates with fans as well as all the on-court tools it takes to grab the attention of analysts. What is particularly scary about Davis is the fact that you get the sense he is just scratching the surface and is willing to accept and work on the feedback he receives from his coaches and veterans. The legitimacy of his candidacy could be determined by how much improvement can be seen in his Pelicans in 2014-15, but Davis’ name is one we should expect to hear plenty of over the next decade (and beyond).

James Harden, Houston Rockets

You may think James Harden’s MVP-bid would be hurt by the fact that Dwight Howard is also playing well for Houston, but that couldn’t be further from the case. For one, the MVP –although an individual award– is generally won by the best player on one of the best overall teams. The fact that Howard seems to have returned to peak form and actually looks happy while playing is a testament to Harden’s ability as a leader. Leadership was a serious question for each of these players heading into the offseason, especially with some of the reports and comments that came from several players this summer, but the duo has certainly answered any queries to start the year. Time will tell whether they can maintain it, but as long as the Rockets are rolling, both Harden and Howard will be considered.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Curry is another legitimate candidate for MVP this season. Sixth in voting last year, the 26-year-old point guard has quickly become one of the league’s best and most dependable players. He’s already making a run at being one of the all-time great shooters at his position, but what has been most impressive about Curry’s development has been how well-rounded his game has become. Curry is an excellent playmaker both in transition and in the half-court set. He may not be a lockdown defender, but gives a far more consistent effort as an on-ball defender as well as playing the passing lanes. His Warriors have gotten off to a tremendous start and Curry will also remain in this conversation, especially as long as they stay at or near the top of the conference.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

With Durant out, LeBron James would likely be the consensus front-runner in terms of expectations in the early going. His Cavaliers are in the midst of enduring a somewhat predictable adjustment period as their key players adapt to new roles and responsibilities, but that will probably work to James’ advantage once the group is able to iron out the kinks under head coach David Blatt. Barring any significant and prolonged drop-off from a productivity or efficiency standpoint, we fully expect James to at least remain toward the head of the pack.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Although Blake Griffin shares the reins with his point guard Chris Paul when it comes to leading the Clippers, his development over the past few seasons is impossible to deny. While he can still jump out of the gymnasium and claim the souls of those opponents still (somehow) foolish enough to challenge him at the rim, Griffin’s ability to put the ball on the floor in playmaking situations, operate more comfortably from the block/post and comfort when facing up and shooting over defenders are precisely why he earned the acknowledgement of being third in last year’s MVP voting. Paul may be the “mind behind the motor” when it comes to the Clippers, but Griffin is now the guy they turn toward for much of the heavy lifting.

Honorable Mention

Even though one of these players may ultimately take the prize, we should also always leave room for consideration of potential dark horse candidates. John Wall has entered the year looking like a man on a mission and seems to have his shorthanded Washington Wizards (who are without Bradley Beal) starting exactly where they left off after an impressive 2013-14 season and playoff run.

DeMarcus Cousins is playing at a very high level and his Kings are off to the best start (5-1) in years. Time will tell whether it will last, but Cousins definitely deserves some credit for the improvements he’s continued making both on the court and from a leadership perspective.

Former MVP Derrick Rose’s health will likely play a factor both in his candidacy for the 2014-15 award and in how well his Chicago Bulls perform throughout the year. More than anything, most of us simply want to see Rose remain in the lineup; but (admittedly) it would also be great to see him also return to form and be able to sustain it.

Be sure to stick with us throughout the season as we’ll take a look at the MVP race every week, as well as looking at the league’s top rookies.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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