With most teams about 15 games into the season, statistical trends can now be recognized as pattern rather than anomalies. That being said, the race for NBA MVP is now becoming more clear, with five players leading the way.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Entering this season, the Thunder replaced Kevin Durant with Victor Oladipo and Serge Ibaka with Domantas Sabonis, despite that, Oklahoma City is treading water at 10-8, thanks to Russell Westbrook. Without much scoring around him, defenses have been able to concentrate all their efforts on stopping Westbrook. Even with every opposing defense keying on him, Westbrook is setting a historic pace, scoring 31.2 points per game, 11.1 assists per game, and 9.9 rebounds per game according to NBA.com. With Westbrook holding one of the highest usage percentages in the league, both his mental and physical stamina will continue to be tested as he single-handedly leads the Thunder this season. Aside from being one of the NBA’s statistical leaders, Westbrook is perhaps the NBA’s most entertaining player. Westbrook is unmatched in his intensity and his explosiveness, making any Thunder game must see T.V.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
With Davis plagued by injuries last year, many NBA fans and analysts dubbed Karl Anthony-Towns as the best young big-man in the NBA. Davis’ start to this season has once again cemented him as one of the NBA’s best all-around players. Dominating on both offense and defense, Davis is averaging a league-high 31.3 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 2.9 blocks per game, and 1.6 steals per game according to NBA.com. Even while being forced to shoulder the offensive load of the Pelicans, Davis is scoring his league-high 31.3 points per game with resounding efficiency, shooting 51.8 percent from the field according to NBA.com. While Davis’ stats and individual play have been astounding through this part of the season, his chances of winning MVP rest solely on his teammates and their ability to help Davis reach the playoffs.
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
After a down year that featured bad defense and bad chemistry, Harden is now the beneficiary of several changes in Houston. With new head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets utilize an up-tempo offense that features spacing, three-pointers, and fast-breaks. This wide open style of basketball has suited Harden’s unique skill-set perfectly. Newly moved to the point guard position, Harden now handles the ball on almost every possession for one of the leagues fastest offenses. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have helped space the floor for Harden and given him reliable shooters to pass to en route to a league high 12.4 assists per game according to NBA.com. Even while using his teammates more than ever, Harden is still among the leagues top scorers, averaging 28.3 points per game according to NBA.com. Now playing in an open offense with solid teammates, Harden’s unique combination of a strong body, long arms, elite shooting, fantastic handle, and an uncanny ability to get to the foul line can possibly result in an MVP season.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard is as complete of a player is there is in the NBA, scoring 24.8 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game, and 2.1 steals per game according to NBA.com. Leonard is now a dangerous offensive threat in addition to being the best perimeter defender in the league. Leonard has improved his shooting every year he has been in the league, now shooting 38.6 percent from three and 46.2 percent from the field according to NBA.com. Improved handle along with Leonard’s supreme athleticism and length have also helped aid in Leonard’s spike in scoring. Despite averaging almost 25 points per game, what sticks out about Leonard’s play the most is his ability to completely dominate a game on the defensive end. Leonard consistently stifles the best players in the NBA with incredible hands, quick feet and the best anticipation in the league.
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
No MVP discussion can be complete without mentioning LeBron James. James has led the Cavaliers to a 13-2 record by averaging 23.6 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, and 9.7 assists per game according to NBA.com. While those numbers are gaudy, fans and MVP voters have become accustomed to seeing this type of output from King James. James’ sustained excellence may be his biggest enemy in winning the MVP as the recency bias of several players having break out seasons may affect voters.
[Featured Image by Alonzo Adams/AP Images]