Carmelo Anthony not only belongs in the 2013 NBA MVP discussion, but he deserves the same consideration as reigning MVP LeBron James and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant.
Could Anthony be the overall favorite to bring home his first Maurice Podoloff Trophy? Does he have what it takes this season?
Or does Zach Randolph, as the power forward is giving the Memphis Grizzlies a bruising reputation?
What about Kobe Bryant, who’s leading the league in scoring? Or Tim Duncan, whose San Antonio Spurs lead the Southwest (again), and who is looking for his fifth ring.
All six of those players are in the running, and there are others, too. But who is the best player of all? What does it take to be the NBA MVP?
If you look at most previous winners, it takes: a superstar, a high scoring average, additional solid stats, league leaderships, a winning and usually dominant team, a postseason appearance, a high seed, a singular impact on one’s team, a distinguished improvement in one’s play from prior seasons, team leadership, game-winning shots, takeover games, offensive runs, at least a bit of defense and a dash of personality.
These are the top 10 players who lay claim to such credentials in 2012-13.
Where would the Boston Celtics be without Rajon Rondo?
They’re 1-2 without him, and you can tack on an additional loss for Rondo’s first-quarter ejection against the Brooklyn Nets recently.
That makes a .648 winning percentage (11-6) with the dynamic point guard and .250 with the Courtney Lee-Leandro Barbosa combo. Who?
In 16 of the 17 full games Rondo has played, he led both teams in assists, and is leading the league in that category by a whopping four a game.
Rondo has 12 double-doubles and is shooting 51 percent from the field, both tops amongst guards.
Veteran teammate Jason Terry told ESPN what makes Rajon MVP material:
“The way he controls the game, his leadership, his ability to dominate the game on both ends of the floor is what makes [Rondo] special.”
Rondo responded: “The MVP is in the picture. I would like to be one day, but we've just got to keep winning.”
David Lee is so under-the-radar. His and Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors are breathing down the L.A. Clippers’ necks out West, just a game behind in the Pacific.
The Warriors haven’t looked this good since 1991-92 and Lee, more than Curry, is the reason why.
Lee and Curry’s scoring impact is comparable (a one-PPG difference) and the forward has been more accurate from the field.
David Lee has also ripped down the third-most rebounds in the NBA, which has helped him accumulate the third-most double-doubles. He’s in the top 10 in efficiency, too. Curry is 27th.
Lee is also playing better defense this year and has been a bigger presence in the paint, historically his biggest weaknesses.
The Warriors have climbed from the worst defensive team in Lee’s first season in San Francisco to currently 18th-best.
Russell Westbrook is doing it all right now, and if he weren’t in the long shadow of another MVP candidate—say on a team of his own—he might be higher on the list.
Westbrook is pouring in his usual 20+ PPG and after an off year has returned to point-guard form, averaging three more assists per game with 8.5 to last year's 5.5.
But his biggest improvement has been on the other side of the ball, where he is recording the most steals and defensive rebounds of his career.
Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring with nearly 30 points a game.
Bryant is always a candidate for MVP and he is still playing at a high level, despite the L.A. Lakers’ bad record and worse morale.
He’s shooting 40 percent from three and 49 percent overall, his most accurate season.
The Lakers are struggling to gain a foothold in the playoff race right now, nursing the 12th seed.
But you can be sure they’ll make it to the postseason, and Kobe Bryant will be the reason why.
Zach Randolph has been throwing his 250 pounds around. According to commercialappeal.com, he’s “changed his pre-game routine and now lifts weights before each game.” It shows.
The Memphis Grizzlies have the best defense in the league.
Randolph is snagging 13 rebounds (five offensively!) and a block a game, all career highs.
He’s popping nearly 18 points per game on 50 percent shooting and leads the league in double-doubles with 16.
The Grizzlies are better than their 14-5 record shows, losing three of the last five games, and should in the end capture a No. 4 seed or better.
Chris Paul is currently the best point guard in the league and has the L.A. Clippers humming. The Clippers are looking to take the first division title of their 43-year history.
Only the Thunder and aging San Antonio Spurs stand in the way of the West’s top seed. Two games separate all three teams.
Paul has been his typical defensive terror and leads the league in steals. He’s scoring 16 points a game and dishing nine dimes.
How ironic that the San Antonio Spurs play at the Alamo. They’ve made the postseason all 15 years with Tim Duncan and under Gregg Popovich, and have taken home four crowns.
Last season, they looked like they’d be going to their fifth Finals after sweeping the Utah Jazz and L.A. Clippers, and going up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder, before fizzling.
Now Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the boys are at it yet again, holding on to the second seed.
The ageless Duncan is the favorite for MVP according to sheridanhoops.com.
He’s having his best season in three years, up in every main category but assists.
Only 10 players have won the NBA MVP back-to-back. LeBron James is one. If he wins this year, LeBron would become the only player to do it twice.
James is arguably the best player in the league, with plenty of statistics to back it up.
He’s the NBA’s second-most efficient player, scoring 25.5 points per game on 54 percent shooting and dominating the boards like he never has in his career (8.6 RPG).
He throws in seven assists, one-and-a-half steals and a block every game to boot.
But believe it or not, most of King James’ numbers are down and the Miami Heat are underachieving, making it difficult to justify a fourth award.
Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, is up and so are his New York Knicks. Both are overachieving.
Anthony is scoring 27.7 points per game, second to Kobe Bryant, and has taken the Knicks to that new level they never seemed able to reach.
For the first time, you can believe and it isn’t fool’s gold—the Knicks can compete with anyone, even the Miami Heat, in the East. New York is a legitimate threat to make it to the Finals.
Anthony’s vocal leadership that began in earnest with a gold medal in London has continued uninterrupted through the first quarter of the NBA season.
But his play, though better, is still weak in some areas (ball sharing, defense), and either he or the Knicks need to show just a little more for him to overtake the 2013 favorite.
Kevin Durant is the favorite to with this season’s NBA MVP on several levels.
To be fair, there is a whiff of “he’s due” in the air. By the time 2012-13 ends, Durant may well be a four-time scoring champion. He’s right there with Anthony and Bryant at 27 PPG.
Nobody comes close to Durant’s line, though, not even James. Durant scores more, rebounds as much, steals more and blocks a lot more. He annihilates LeBron at the line: 89 to 69 percent.
And the Thunder look like the team to beat in the West, and maybe the whole NBA.