7 Surprising NBA MVP Candidates Poised to Maintain Current Production

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2012

7 Surprising NBA MVP Candidates Poised to Maintain Current Production

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    The 2012-13 NBA regular season has been highlighted by the emergence of unlikely title contenders and award winners.

    From former underachievers to big names that are past their prime, there are several candidates who are not typically seen in the Most Valuable Player Conversation. 

    So which unlikely candidates will maintain their MVP-caliber pace in the 2012-13 season?

    Winning the award would certainly be an outstanding achievement. With that being said, taking home the hardware is far from the only reason to give the following players your appreciation and admiration.

7. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 25

    Experience: 4 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    18.42 PER, 19.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 51.0% 3PT

    Truth be told, O.J. Mayo would probably find himself higher on this list had the Dallas Mavericks posted a better record than 9-10. Nonetheless, the former USC Trojan deserves recognition for his outstanding play through 19 games.

    Thus far, Mayo ranks eighth in the league at 19.8 points per game. He ranks first at 51.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

    Mayo also ranks fifth amongst shooting guards in terms of overall field goal percentage at 47.3.

    Although Mayo has room to improve in statistical categories other than scoring the basketball, this has been a magical beginning to the season. Should Dirk Nowitzki return and Mayo continue to produce at this level, his rank on the MVP list could improve.

    He may even walk away with All-NBA honors.

6. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

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    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    Experience: 5 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    19.41 PER, 16.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 BPG

    Entering the 2012-13 NBA regular season, popular belief was that the Atlanta Hawks were doomed without Joe Johnson. As I previously outlined once Johnson was dealt, the Hawks actually became a better team by adding perimeter depth.

    That said, few expected Al Horford to emerge as the team's MVP.

    For the season, Horford is averaging 16.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He leads the Hawks in scoring and rebounding, and is shooting a team-high 54.2 percent.

    Horford continues to shoot the lights out from mid-range, but his newfound interior toughness is helping him sustain his efficiency across the board. 

    The Dominican big man is attempting 50.0 percent of his shots from the restricted area. During the 2010-11 regular season, his most recent healthy year, Horford attempted just 28.0 percent of his shot attempts from said location.

    This comes by virtue of Horford bulking up during the offseason and exerting his will on the low-post and offensive glass.

    Although Josh Smith will remain the face of the franchise, Horford deserves recognition for the leadership role he has taken on. After all, the Hawks are averaging 3.4 points more per 48 minutes with him on the floor than without him.

    That and the fact that Atlanta is 10-5 with Horford at the helm.

5. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 31

    Experience: 11 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    20.34 PER, 17.7 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 1.4 APG

    Many fans are watching Zach Randolph and wondering where his recent scoring and rebounding outbursts have come from. The truth of the matter is, Randolph is doing what he has always done with one major exception.

    He's finally healthy.

    Even though Randolph's game is roughly the same as it's been in recent years, his numbers are nothing short of mesmerizing. Z-Bo is averaging 17.7 points and 13.3 rebounds, including 5.0 offensive boards per game.

    Randolph's most recent performance saw him go off for 38 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks on 15-of-22 shooting against the Phoenix Suns. This came as Randolph was matched up against the reputable Luis Scola.

    One game prior, Z-Bo put up 17 points and 15 rebounds against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

    In fact, Randolph has posted a double-double in 14 of his 16 games this season. 

    That consistency—along with Memphis' 13-3 record—speak volumes to Randolph's MVP campaign.

4. Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 22

    Experience: 3 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    18.59 PER, 18.2 PPG, 9.3 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG

    The Philadelphia 76ers have spent their first 18 games without franchise player Andrew Bynum in the rotation. As Bynum has spent time on the sidelines with an injury, however, Jrue Holiday has stepped up to lead the Sixers to a record of 10-8.

    Holiday has done so with averages of 18.2 points and 9.3 assists per game.

    Thus far, he is the only player in the league to average at least 16.5 points and 9.0 assists. Russell Westbrook sits at 20.9 points and 8.7 dimes, while Chris Paul averages 16.1 points and 9.5 assists.

    Most importantly, no other point guard has had a greater individual impact on their team's early season success.

    With Holiday on the floor, the Philadelphia 76ers are averaging 94.7 points scored per 48 minutes. When Holiday is on the bench, however, Philly is putting up just 83.5 points per 48.

    In other words, the 76ers are the worst offense in the NBA when Holiday is off the floor.

    Though they may be overachieving, Holiday has the 76ers just four games back of the 14-4 New York Knicks with Bynum still sidelined by injury.

    He may not be the most popular choice, but you would be hard-pressed to make an argument against Holiday for MVP.

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 36

    Experience: 15 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    27.22 PER, 18.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.4 BPG

    Could Tim Duncan take home his third career MVP award in year 16? It's hard to debate against his candidacy. 

    Thus far in 2012-13, Duncan is averaging 18.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 blocks per game. Best of all, each and every one of those numbers is sustainable when you consider who it is you're talking about—the most decorated player in the history of the power forward position.

    Duncan is a 13-time All-Star, four-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP and two-time league MVP. At age 36, it appears as if Duncan is doing all he can to remind the younger generation of just who he is.

    Duncan is coming off a down season in which he averaged 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 blocks during a down year, but his usage rate was exactly the same as it is this season.

    The difference: health and mobility. Both of which make Timmy a legitimate MVP contender.

2. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 30

    Experience: 11 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    20.55 PER, 18.3 PPG, 7.3 APG, 3.2 RPG, 49.0% FG

    Most will make the claim that Tony Parker is an obvious contender for the MVP award. Chances are, those individuals are unaware of just how deserving Parker is for said honor.

    To start it off, let us note that the San Antonio Spurs are 49-7 during their past 56 games with Parker in the lineup. In addition, since the beginning of the 2011-12 NBA regular season, the Spurs are 28-5 during games in which Parker scores at least 20 points.

    Talk about valuable.

    As for the defensive end of the floor, the Spurs are allowing 92.3 points per 48 minutes when Parker is on the court. When Parker is off the court, however, San Antonio is letting up 97.1 per 48.

    Once again, that is true value. 

    The Spurs' net rating with Parker on the floor is positive-10.5. When he is on the bench, that number drops to negative-4.1.

    That's a 14.6 point difference, folks.

    That's called being the most valuable player on one of the NBA's best teams. 

    If that's not MVP-worthy, what is?

1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 28

    Experience: 9 Seasons

    2012-13 Season Averages:

    24.07 PER, 26.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG

    Carmelo Anthony may be one of the most respected players in the NBA, but he's been the furthest thing from an MVP candidate in recent seasons. Not when he's struggled so mightily in New York for a team that has redefined underachievement.

    That is, until Mike Woodson took over.

    Since March 26, the eighth game of the Woodson era, Anthony is averaging 25.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. During the 2012-13 regular season alone, Melo is averaging 26.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.9 steals.

    Most importantly, Melo is playing defense and opting to facilitate instead of falling into isolation sets. Who would have thunk it?

    As a result of this elevated defensive effort, the Knicks sit at an Eastern Conference best 14-4. They're also allowing just 94.9 points per game, all the while scoring an average of 102.7.

    Anthony is key to both of those statistics.

    Furthermore, the Knicks are averaging 107.4 points per 48 minutes when Anthony is on the floor. When he is not, however, they are averaging just 91.6.

    For further proof, New York also has a net rating of 14.2 with Melo and 1.7 without him.

    On a final note of MVP-worthiness, Anthony is posting percentages of .457/.435/.810.

    Impressed yet?