Mid-way through December, the race for Most Valuable Player is beginning to heat up. Perennial challengers like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant are firmly throwing their names into the fray, while “newcomers” like Stephen Curry, Marc Gasol, and James Harden continue to dominate.
The MVP award is usually extremely top-heavy, so the relative balance is definitely a welcome sight to see thus far. Here are the leading candidates to take home the gold:
1. Stephen Curry (GSW): Wow, Curry’s rise to ascension has been nothing short of remarkable. By last season, Curry’s ability as an impressive scorer, floor general and leader was finally entrenched in everyone’s minds since he is one of he most talented guards the NBA has seen in years. But team success, or lack thereof, has always plagued him in terms of MVP voting in the past.
At 21-2, Golden State holds the best mark in the league, is currently riding a ridiculous 16-game win streak, and passes the eye test as a legitimate championship contender. They are finally elite at both ends of the floor (1st in Opponent FG%, 2nd in PPG) and Curry, along with new coach Steve Kerr, is one of the main reasons why. With averages of 23.7 ppg and 7.7 assists, coupled with an insatiable hunger to succeed, Steph is the early leader to take home the MVP trophy.
2. James Harden (HOU): “The Beard” has everyone fearing both he and the Rockets early on. In our preview, we doubted if Houston’s lack of depth would make them take a nosedive in the standings. But early on, not only have they proven to be an elite team (even with Dwight Howard missing over 2 weeks of action), Harden has led them to better records than Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers), San Antonio, Dallas and OKC.
Although his defense isn’t at an elite level yet, he has made an effort to improve on that end. The reason why he is a real MVP candidate, however, is for his unrivaled offensive versatility. Harden is currently leading the league in scoring (26.3), with career-highs in both assists (6.7) and rebounds (6.4). If he keeps up his stellar play and the Rox continue to pick up victories, Harden will be in the discussion all year long.
3. Kyle Lowry (TOR): K-Low is easily the most unknown of everyone in this category. Seriously, are we even sure all casual fans are aware of his talent and the Raptors’ success in 2014? If you follow the NBA closely, you’ll agree there is no doubt he belongs here.
The unquestioned leader of the Eastern Conference’s top team (18-6), Lowry is averaging an incredible 19.6 points, 7.6 assists and almost 5 boards a night. He is a bulldog on an elite defensive unit and always frustrates top opposing PGs each night. Right now, however, he is considered a “dark horse” for this award but will be a front runner if the Raps can stay in the title conversation once 2015 hits.
4. Marc Gasol (MEM): You know what they say, contract years bring out the best in players. As is the case with Gasol, who has turned into a go-to guy for the Grizz this season. Gasol is averaging a career-best 19.4 ppg and is one of the key factors to Memphis’s impressive 19-4 start.
Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Courtney Lee have all been great on both ends but Gasol’s improved post game has led to personal bests in PER (23.1) and Usage Rate (25.4%). Simply, Gasol has earned the trust from both his teammates and coach Dave Joerger to get the job done late in games. If Memphis can stay elite, Marc is in for a big pay-day this summer.
5 (tie). LeBron James (CLE) & Anthony Davis (NOP): Hey, we couldn’t leave the King out of the MVP discussion. I know what you’re thinking, the Cavs are playing just OK right now (14-9), LeBron is having his worst year shooting the ball in six seasons, and he hasn’t looked like the same imposing force through the first couple months.
But if you look at his production over the last couple of weeks, both James (avg. 34 & 7 in his last 3) and the Cavs (8-2 in their last 10) are trending upwards. With the Eastern Conference remaining pretty mediocre, the Cavs should bounce back in the standings and capture a top-3 seed by the end of the season. If they do, you’d be a fool to exclude LeBron in the conversation for the award he’s captured more than anyone else in the new millennium.
Despite the up and down play of the Pelicans, Davis is still a very viable MVP candidate. In fact, he’s poised to climb higher on this list in the coming weeks once he fully returns from a scary chest contusion.
We all know what “The Brow” brings to the court when healthy: an elite offensive skill set at the four position, excellent shot-blocking instincts, and a winning attitude. His numbers are eye-popping (24 ppg, 10 rpg, 3 bog) for a 21-year old. And the scary part is, Davis is just scratching the surface of his potential.
John Wall (WAS)
Blake Griffin (LAC)
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)
Klay Thompson (GSW)
Jimmy Butler (CHI)