Ah yes, we are 14 games into the NBA season and there are plenty of things to discuss already. Are the Clippers legit? Is Kevin Love back? Do the Lakers have a chance? Those questions will all be answered in time. However, there’s one question that most likely won’t be decided until all 82 games are finished. Who’s going to win MVP? Well, I’m going to give you my top 5 candidates based on what I’ve seen so far this season. Please don’t kill me…..
5. Kevin Durant
You can say whatever you want about Durant. “He’s a snake” “He’s unloyal” keep on talking, it only fuels him. Durant, as much as you don’t want him to, has been great this year. Durant is averaging a clean 27 points per game on 57% shooting and 42.5% from downtown, but that’s just the start. His efficiency has skyrocketed, his TS% is a league leading 68.2%, and he boasts an impressive PER of 30.5. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s averaging 8.1 rebounds per game (a career high) and his offensive rating is a ridiculous 129. The Warriors currently own a 13-2 record and Durant has been the best player on the team, so why isn’t he ranked higher on this list? Because Stephen Curry is on his team…..and Klay Thompson……and Draymond Green. Why does that matter? Let’s not forget MVP stands for most valuable player. While the award is based on talent more than value, there’s a reason why barely anyone wins the award when their team is lower than a 3 seed. When you join a team that has 3 all-NBA players on it and made back to back finals, people question your actual value to your team. You can win the MVP being the best player on a decent team. You can’t win the MVP on a team that is still historically good without you. Sorry Kevin.
4. Chris Paul
There’s only one team that owns a better record than Durant’s Warriors, the Chris Paul led LA Clippers. They’ve been outstanding this year. Forget boasting a 14-2 record and battering every team that came their way, they’ve just been unfair. But this article isn’t about how great the Clips have been, it’s about a certain player. Chris Paul. It doesn’t really matter how old CP3 is, he’s always incredible. In fact, many people have taken Paul’s greatness for granted and not truly appreciated how good of a player he really is. I think they’ve noticed this year. His stat line isn’t mind-blowing, 18.4 ppg-8.5 apg- 5.1 rpg-3.0 spg on 47% shooting, but there’s more to it. His PER is an absurd 30.8, he leads the league in win shares with 3.8, and his OBPM is an impressive 10.4. If you’re not impressed yet, prepare for me to blow your mind.
- The Clippers own 2nd best offensive and defensive rating, and best net rating in the NBA
- When Chris Paul is on the court, the Clips have the 2nd best offensive rating, best defensive rating, and NBA leading 21.2 net rating. That net rating is 7.11 points than the next best rating.
Here’s where it gets funny
- When Chris Paul is off the court, LAC is tied for the 18th best offensive rating, the 17th best defensive rating, and the 18th best net rating with a -2.2.
That’s insanity. We’re talking all-time historic value for Paul right here. When he’s on the court, his team is statistically the best team in the NBA. When he’s off the court, his team becomes the 12th worst team in the NBA. The difference of net rating between when Paul is on and off the court is 23.4. Oh. My. God. Combine that value, with his very solid stat-line, and his team’s 14-2 record and you could very well argue he deserves the MVP. Unlucky for Paul, he’s decided to become un-human in a season where 3 other players……. also became un-human.
3. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is a monster, there’s really no other way to put it. Whether he’s upset about KD leaving, or is finally reaping the benefits of having the offense completely focused around him; he’s exploding. A league leading 31.8 points per game? Nice. Second in the NBA with 10.5 assists per game? Also nice. A team leading 9.6 rebounds per game as a point guard??? Very, very nice. His PER is just a ridiculous 31.4 and his value to his team is unexplainable. The difference between his team’s net rating when he’s on and off the court is 21.3, only slightly less than Chris Paul’s. However, it’s worth noting that when Russ is off the court, the Thunder have the worst offensive rating in the league. Talk about value. So after look his incredible stats and tremendous value, why is he not ranked first in the MVP rankings? There are three things.
- His turnovers. I know that no one else on his team can handle the ball and he has to run the offense every single time he’s on the court, but his turnovers are an issue. He’s averaging 5.3 turnovers per game and it doesn’t look like he’s going to cut down on TOs. There’s no doubt he does more right than wrong on offense over the course of a game. However, if he doesn’t cut down on the turnovers not only will his MVP candidacy suffer, but his team’s record will too
- You know, to be fair Westbrook has been more efficient than people predicted so far this season. He still hasn’t been too great though. He’s shooting 44.4% from the field and 33.7% from range which isn’t exactly jaw-dropping. He’s averaging 5.6 3 pointers per game and is failing miserably most of the time. As I said, I understand he has very little help on offense. However, if his efficiency stays subpar, and his turnovers stay plus 5, things won’t bode well for Westbrook or the Thunder
- His team’s record. I mentioned how a team’s record plays an impact on the MVP race earlier. If a player’s team is below a 4 seed, their chances of winning MVP dip dramatically. The Thunder started out 5-1 this year, but have struggled ever since. They now sit 7th in the west with an 8-8 record on a 3 game losing streak. The scary part is they aren’t just losing the games where Westbrook struggles. There have been multiple occasions this year where Westbrook has recorded a 30 point triple double and his team has lost. Now, maybe Westbrook can maintain this level of play for 82 games, but unless the rest of the OKC team start doing their part, the Thunder will be no better than a 5 seed.
Russ can’t win the MVP with a 5 seed, 5+ turnovers per game, and poor shooting. The reason he is ranked this high though is because I do believe there’s a chance. His stats are too good to rule him out, and you never know what could happen
2. LeBron James
Another NBA season. Another season Lebron going about 70%. Another season Lebron still putting up stats better than most of the league. It’s almost unfair isn’t it? The Cavs are looking the best they’ve ever looked since the creation of the big 3. Lebron is sacrificing his own stats to help his teammates grow and it’s working. Kevin Love is having a breakout season and Kyrie Irving is scoring much more efficiently. While Lebron is not aiming for a superstar stat-line, he’s still pretty damn close to it. His stat line is a clean 23.8-9.3-8.5-1.2-.6 on 50% shooting. Nothing more typical for Lebron. To be honest, if Russell Westbrook and James Harden weren’t averaging near 30 point triple doubles, Lebron’s stat-line would look much more appealing than it already is. Lebron doesn’t even averaging the most field goal attempts on his own team. Don’t be fooled though, if he wanted too, there’s little doubt Lebron could average stats similar to what Russell Westbrook. Aside from his already very impressive stat-line, there are two things that place Lebron so high in the MVP rankings. Lebron’s value is even larger to his team than Chris Paul’s is. When Lebron is on the court his team’s net rating is 15, which would be the best in the league. When he is off the court, his team’s net rating is a -10.1, THE WORST IN THE LEAGUE. That’s a difference of 25.1, oh my god. It’s also worth considering the Cavs will claim the first record and most likely 60+ wins. When you add a first seed, incredible value, and an impressive stat-line all together, that’s usually enough to win you MVP in a normal season. However, this year has been anything but a normal season
1. James Harden
You all done pissed off Harden. There wasn’t a player who received more undeserved criticism than James Harden last year. He’s making sure everyone who slandered him last year bites their tongue. He’s averaging 28.7 points per game, 12.5 assists per game, and 7.7 assists per game on 46% shooting. That’s ridiculous. Before we even go into any advanced stats, let’s just reflect on how absurd that stat-line is. Alright are we done appreciating greatness? Well let me blow your mind again. His PER is 29.8, his assist % is an astonishing 57%, and his box plus minus is 11.1. His team currently sits 5th in the west at 9-6 and it’s not unrealistic that they end up with the 4 seed. You wanna know how much Harden means to this team? When he’s on the court the Rockets boast an absurd 117.3 offensive rating. When he’s off the court, IT FALLS 20.2 POINTS TO A NBA WORST 97.1. Just admire that, take back all the things you said about how Harden is selfish and hurts his team, you’re wrong. “Oh wait but his defense!!” Alright well the rockets are 4.5 points worse on defense without Harden, s0 um, there goes that narrative. The difference in the Rockets net rating with Harden on and off the court is freaking 24.6. Harden isn’t a great defender sure, but anyone who actually watches the NBA knows he’s a much better defender than Russell Westbrook. Don’t say Harden is so bad on defense that it negates his offense because we both know that’s not true. Harden’s stat-line is vastly superior to everyone else’s on this list besides Westbrook, it’s not even debatable. Except, Harden trumps Westbrook when it comes to both value, and (currently) team record. You combine Lebron’s value and Westbrook’s stats and you get Harden. The only thing that will really stop Harden from winning MVP this year is if the Rockets fail to finish with a record. If Harden keeps the rockets on track, and the media’s obvious bias against him (see last year) doesn’t sway them to vote someone else, Harden will be the 2016-2017 NBA MVP.
Written by Jack Buckingham (@jackb_32 on twitter)
*all stats used are from BasketballReference.com