Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
In alphabetical order:
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Of anyone on this list, Lillard is most at risk of dropping off completely next week. He hit a rough patch in the Blazers' five games from Nov. 26 through Dec. 3, averaging 17.6 points per game (a good thing) on only 33.8 percent shooting from the field (not so good).
His per-game averages of 19.1 points, 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game should be enough to keep even the most pessimistic of Trail Blazers fans pleased, but he'll need to prove that he's not hitting the first round of the dreaded rookie wall now that teams have plenty of tape on him with which they can prepare.
O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks
Through 17 games in 2012-13, Mayo is averaging an eye-popping 2.9 three-point field goals per game and shooting 52.7 percent from downtown. He's shooting at a higher percentage than Ray Allen from deep, and Allen's more open each night in Miami than he's been in the past half-decade.
Throw in a career-high 20.2 points on a career-high 47.6 percent shooting from the field, along with 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, and Mayo suddenly looks like a possible star down the road once again, not to mention dark-horse MVP candidate.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Parker's per-game averages of 18.1 points, 7.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds don't have the "wow" factor of some of his fellow MVP candidates, but all he's done is lead the San Antonio Spurs to one of the three best records in the Western Conference, right alongside the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite Parker only playing just over 32 minutes per game (and already racking up one DNP-Old), the Spurs offense has been five points better per 100 possessions with him on the court vs. on the bench, according to 82games.com. The defense holds the opposing team to four fewer points by the same token.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Rondo's MVP candidacy revolves around his passing ability. He leads the league with 12.9 assists per game and was working on a 37-game streak with double-digit assists before being ejected in a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 28, for which he earned a two-game suspension.
The Celtics split the games in Rondo's absence—a win against Portland, a loss against Milwaukee—but sorely missed his floor leadership in the latter game.
To become a realistic MVP contender, Rondo will need to step up his scoring (12.6 points per game) and show at least a modicum of improvement in his free-throw shooting (61.3 percent).
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
The thought of Varejao as a legitimate MVP candidate may sound ridiculous, but when you consider that he's finished each of his past nine games with 15 or more rebounds, his candidacy quickly gains some credibility.
Varejao leads the NBA with 15.2 rebounds per game and has kept the Cavaliers competitive while star point guard Kyrie Irving recovers from a finger fracture.
If the Cavaliers catch fire when Irving returns and begin threatening for the playoffs, Varejao could well be on the outskirts of the MVP race for the long haul.
Dropped from rankings: Dwight Howard (ranked 10th last week).