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NBA MVP Watch 2/25/14

The race for the NBA’s MVP award is growing tighter and more crowded as teams and players settle into the playoff push.

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Either this week’s list was written with Sly & The Family Stone’s “A Family Affair” in the background, or it simply means multiple teams have several players that are currently providing the type of productivity worthy of being mentioned in this discussion. For the record, there have been several examples where two teammates have finished within the top 10 of the NBA’s final MVP voting, most recently Dwyane Wade and LeBron James  in 2010-11.

#10 – Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets

2013-14 Averages: 18.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 58.1 percent FG

Howard’s return to (at least) close to physical form should definitely be credited for this season’s productivity, but it actually appears to go deeper than that with the 10-year veteran big man. He appears to finally be at peace within himself, perhaps for the first time since the 2010-11 season. Watch out for Houston down the stretch if they are able to remain healthy, in all senses of the word.

#9 – John Wall – Washington Wizards

2013-14 Averages: 19.7 points, 8.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 42.2 percent FG

Each time the Wizards have fallen upon tough times or hit a rough patch in their schedule, Wall has been the driving force behind the turnaround this year. Whether the result of a down year in the Eastern Conference or not, his Wizards remain in the thick of the playoff race and seem ready to battle the Bulls and Nets for the chance at the fourth seed and an opening-round home court advantage.

#8 – Goran Dragic – Phoenix Suns

2013-14 Averages: 20.3 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 50.8 percent FG

Prior to the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, the question of whether Dragic could consistently perform at a level high enough to be considered a “franchise player” was more than fair. After getting off to such a phenomenal start alongside Bledsoe and maintaining his stellar play in his absence, that question should be laid to rest. Dragic has shown improvement nearly across the board, and now has fans of the Suns hoping to see a pairing with Bledsoe in their backcourt for many years to come.

#7 – Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 Averages: 18.9 points, 11.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 45.9 percent FG

If Paul is suffering from the sprained thumb the team had concerns over, his play certainly hasn’t shown many signs of it. Even though Paul missed 20 games this year, he remains in the top 10 in double-doubles (T-seventh) and total steals (eighth). In fact, Paul still leads the league in assists per game and is actually just 48 shy of Wall’s league-leading total of 483 on the year even though he’s missed about one-third of the season to this point.

#6 – Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers

2013-14 Averages: 24.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 53.6 percent FG

Griffin has gone from being severely under appreciated for being quite as well-rounded as he actually is, to making it look easy on certain nights. He’s still performing at a career-high level in both points per game and free throw percentage, and appears to be developing as more of a consistent and focused defensive presence under Doc Rivers.

#5 – James Harden – Houston Rockets

2013-14 Averages: 24.3 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 45.0 percent FG

Beyond the scoring, Harden continues to make his presence known throughout all aspects of the game. He’s consistently been a more willing defender this season, whether matching up against a top scorer, taking a timely charge or playing the passing lanes to create easy points in transition. Perhaps, most impressively, he’s found a way to effectively co-exist and thrive alongside another franchise player in Dwight Howard while remaining just as productive.

#4 – Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

2013-14 Averages: 24.3 points, 8.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.4 percent FG

Curry has done it all for his Warriors in 2013-14, and only appears to be growing stronger as the year progresses. Since starting just 14-13 through mid-December, his Warriors have been one of the league’s hotter teams with a 21-9 record over the past eight weeks. Curry’s all-around play and presence have been a major part of that.

#3 – Paul George – Indiana Pacers

2013-14 Averages: 22.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 44.2 percent FG

With the HEAT right on the trail of his Pacers for the best record and eventual top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, it should come as no surprise that George hit the ground running as soon as we returned from the All-Star break. He’s averaging 31 points while shooting 57.1 percent from beyond the arc.

#2 – LeBron James – Miami HEAT

2013-14 Averages: 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 57.7 percent FG

Although James and the HEAT are making the second-half push many of us expected, he hasn’t quite leapfrogged Durant in this discussion just yet. Let’s just say, much like the distance between the HEAT and the top-seeded Pacers, the gap between James and Durant has significantly narrowed over the last few weeks. James is currently day-to-day due to a fractured nose he suffered during a recent road victory over the Thunder.

#1 – Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

2013-14 Averages: 31.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 50.9 percent FG

The MVP award is neither won nor lost as the result of two games or even a two-week stretch, which is why Durant’s total body of work is still enough to deserve to be atop this list. Much has been made of the team’s adjustment to Westbrook’s return, but if Durant truly wants to solidify what has been an MVP season he’ll provide the necessary leadership it takes to recapture the balance and chemistry the Thunder needs. Part of wanting to step into the spotlight of being the league’s marquee player (if only for a season) is the added responsibility of expectation. Not just of the incredible play Durant has obviously provided, but also the ability to display transcendence as a leader.

Next Up –

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – Love is far too good to be this far down the list from a production standpoint, but the MVP race simply is not a matter of the player with the best individual numbers. Productivity, at a certain point, must also result in overall team success to wear the ‘Most Valuable’ crown.

DeMar Derozan, Toronto Raptors – We can honestly and safely say that no one anticipated that DeRozan’s Raptors would emerge as a three-seed this year. Alongside what teammate Kyle Lowry has done, DeRozan absolutely deserves the continued recognition.

Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats – Much like the case for Love (but to a lesser extent), Jefferson has been very impressive for the Bobcats. They may be sub-.500, but are still currently holding a playoff spot.

Injured Reserve

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – Just as players don’t (often) lose their position due to an injury, Aldridge won’t disappear from this conversation as a result of his. That said, his Blazers are just 7-9 over their last stretch following that 31-9 start, and could definitely use a strong return from Aldridge when he is able to get back onto the court.

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs – Parker is another case of a team’s best player being out. His Spurs have been able to maintain in his absence, but will definitely need a healthy Parker to make another run at the Finals.

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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