As the NBA season progresses, it's becoming more and more clear as to which players stand out on their teams.
Whether it's a young franchise centerpiece or a season veteran, every team has a most valuable player regardless of how successful or unsuccessful the franchise has been this season. A most valuable player may not always be the most statistically significant player, but instead someone who contributes a great deal of intangibles to the team, like leadership or motivation.
With that being said, let's go around to each team and take a stab at who may be their MVP for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign.
Though his future in Atlanta has been frequently questioned in the past couple of years due to trade rumors, Josh Smith is still suiting up for the Hawks and has been a key part to their early-season success.
After trading away starting guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, Smith now takes the reins as the go-to guy for Atlanta. His numbers aren't as high as seasons past for him, but his contributions on both sides of the ball are crucial for the Hawks, who are battling for a high position in the Eastern Conference.
Though the trade rumors haven't completely subsided for Smith, my estimation is that he will remain in Atlanta for at least the remainder of this season. With him intact, the Hawks have at least a chance to make a decent run in the postseason, rather than trying to install the new pieces they would get in return for Smith.
His all-around solid play for Atlanta has been vital as a supporting starter the past few years, but now Smith must step up as the MVP for his team as they continue to make a push for a top seed in the East.
Even with the departure of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, there is still a "Big Three" in Boston. Alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo is a crucial piece to the Celtics and has proven his worth as an elite point guard in recent seasons.
Rondo is the heartbeat for the Boston offense, and his great court vision and passing ability allow him to facilitate for his superstar teammates. While his lack of a consistent shooting touch doesn't qualify him as the most complete all-around point guard, he makes up for it with his ability to slash to the basket for easy layups.
His leadership has seen a lot of growth over recent seasons, as his role has increased with the team. Rondo is respected as a fierce competitor on the court, and this kind of drive is a great motivator for the rest of the team, making him Boston's most valuable player.
It's been a pretty rocky start to their first season in Brooklyn for Deron Williams and the Nets. After a 14-14 start, the team decided to fire head coach Avery Johnson, and even a shiny new arena and uniforms can't mask the disappointment of Williams' performance so far.
When the Nets dealt for Williams and his expiring contract, they were able to get the reward from their risk when he decided to re-sign with them this offseason.
Having him in the backcourt with the newly acquired Joe Johnson and with other solid contributors like Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez, this team looked poised to do some damage. That hasn't been the case thus far, as no one on the team has really stepped up to get the wheels rolling in Brooklyn.
Williams, however, is more than capable of doing so, and he's definitely the top candidate to lead this team back into the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Part of Williams' struggles so far may have had to do with the system Avery Johnson had in place as head coach, which may have been a factor in his firing.
Whatever the reason for the early struggles, Williams has shown he is talented enough to turn it around and bounce back into form as an elite point guard in the league. The Nets need a leader to emerge, and I'd put my money on Deron Williams, who should really benefit from a change of pace in the coaching staff.
After a 7-5 start, it looked like maybe the Charlotte Bobcats had finally turned a corner and that better days were ahead.
However, in classic Bobcats fashion, they managed to follow up this start with a crushing 18-game losing streak, making them the laughingstock of the NBA once more.
In the midst of all this defeat, however, second-year point guard Kemba Walker has shown a lot of progress in his game and is showing signs of fulfilling the potential Charlotte saw in him when they drafted him ninth overall.
Walker is posting averages of 18.1 points, 6.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds per contest with a solid 18.92 PER tacked on as well. His improvement has been a silver lining this year for Charlotte, and it may solidify his status as a part of the Bobcats' future franchise core along with rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and big man Bismack Biyombo.
If Walker continues to show signs of progression, as well as leading the team on offense, there's no doubt that he will close out the 2012-13 season as Charlotte's most valuable player.
Though he hasn't played a single minute for the Chicago Bulls this season, and even if we aren't quite sure yet when he will, Derrick Rose will still finish the year as their most valuable player.
Rose's ACL tear in Game 1 of the Bulls' opening playoff series last season devastated their chances at any sort of run at a championship, and they are still feeling the effects this season without Rose. His timetable for return is still questionable, but there's still strong hope that he will play this season and that Chicago will be in position for a postseason berth.
Whenever he does return, the Bulls will be getting back their leading scorer, and he will have an immediate positive impact on the team. Rose's contributions, even in an injury-shortened season, will be large enough for him to still be this team's MVP.
With the development of the defending Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans are having a much easier time moving on from the LeBron James era.
Irving has proven himself to be a viable option as a franchise centerpiece, and the Cavs have started to build their team around him accordingly. His all-around scoring ability and solid perimeter defense make him an All-Star-caliber player and easily the best player on Cleveland's roster.
Irving's potential to keep growing into an even more skilled player gives him a very high ceiling for his NBA career. At only 20 years old, there's plenty of time for him to make an impact in the league, and he may have a future not only as his team's MVP, but possibly as the league's MVP as well.
With superstar Dirk Nowitzki sidelined with a knee injury for the first chunk of the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks needed someone to emerge and carry the scoring load that he left behind.
The person that answered this call was one of the Mavs newest members, O.J. Mayo.
After a roller-coaster career in his first few seasons as a part of the Memphis Grizzlies, Mayo seems to have finally found his place in Dallas.
This year, Mayo is posting near or above career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, as well as a notable improvement in his three-point shooting percentage, shooting 45 percent this year compared to his 36 percent last season.
As Dirk works his way back into big minutes, it remains to be seen just how much he has left in the tank. Even if he does return to his form as a big-time scorer, Mayo's proven ability to carry this team will translate even with Nowitzki in the lineup and will make him Dallas' MVP this season.
The Denver Nuggets worked their way into the big blockbuster deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers and came away from it with a pretty nice piece in Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia.
While it has been tasking for Iguodala in his attempt to mesh with the Nuggets system, he is beginning to look more comfortable with his coaches and teammates.
After spending eight seasons as part of the 76ers, Iguodala has demonstrated his ability to be a great all-around player with insane athleticism.
The Nuggets have been in search of a talented star to add to their team of fringe-stars in order to bring them to the next level of success in the postseason. Though Iguodala didn't make an instant splash as a defined leader for this team of young guys, there is still time for him to grow with them throughout the rest of the season.
I believe that when he hits his stride, he will become a crucial and important factor for Denver for the rest of the year.
Now in his third season in Detroit, Pistons center Greg Monroe is solidifying himself as a main part of the team's future.
Monroe is faced with the tough task of developing individually while the team continues to struggle in a rebuilding phase, but he has shown signs that he can be a consistent double-double guy and a centerpiece for the future of the Pistons.
He's posting solid averages of 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds so far this year, as well as a career high 3.2 assists, making him one of the better passing big men in the NBA.
One part of his value to the team is his mentoring of the younger and very raw prospect Andre Drummond, who is being groomed to be Monroe's frontcourt partner for the years to come in Detroit.
Monroe helping to develop a promising young guy like Drummond, as well as his contributions to a team struggling for offense (21st in the league in points per game), makes him a vital part to the Pistons' success as well as their most valuable guy on the roster.
One of the bigger surprises this year in the NBA, and especially for the Golden State Warriors, has been the amazing play of big man David Lee.
Lee, in his third season as a part of the Warriors, is averaging an impressive 20.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game along with his team-leading 21.04 PER. His great numbers have given Golden State an offensive threat in the paint, even with the absence of newly acquired center Andrew Bogut.
With other potent scorers like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the roster, it makes Lee's numbers even more impressive and speaks to his teammates' trust in his veteran presence between the blocks.
The Warriors have opened a lot of eyes this season with their impressive start (21-10 through December 31), and Lee has been and will continue to be one of the main factors in their success throughout the rest of their 2012-13 campaign.
There's been little doubt as to who the best player on the Houston Rockets is, and it happens to be the same guy who also has the team's best beard.
James Harden, ever since coming to Houston from Oklahoma City via trade, has been lighting it up for the Rockets and has propelled himself into consideration for some league MVP votes at the end of the season.
Harden's averages of 26.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game make him one of the better all around players in the NBA, and he really seems to be enjoying his chance to spread his wings as a team's No. 1 guy.
His high-level of play makes him a very important aspect to the Rockets' future, and he will continue to lead them for the rest of this season as well.
It hasn't been quite the season the Indiana Pacers wanted so far this year, as they have had to deal with an injury to one of their main scorers, Danny Granger, as well as disappointing play from center Roy Hibbert, who recently signed a maximum contract this past offseason.
Even in the midst of this, Indiana is still 18-13 (as of December 31) and remain a threat to be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference at the end of the season. Without Granger for a good chunk of the first part of the season, swingman Paul George has stepped up to help the Pacers out and has shown a lot of improvement in doing so.
George, in his third year now, has helped fill the scoring void Granger left and has really stepped up on defense, using his length and wingspan to generate steals, blocks and alter a lot of shots.
As the Pacers continue to make their push in the East with the return of Granger, George will still play a valuable role throughout the rest of the season and will remain this team's most valuable player.
The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference with their current 18-game winning streak, and the on-court mastermind behind it has been point guard Chris Paul.
Whether it's finding his teammates for alley-oop dunks, hitting shots of his own or playing lockdown defense, Paul has meant the world to this Clippers team and has turned them into the best team in Los Angeles.
His leadership on and off the court and his coach-like capabilities make him one of the best possible guys to have on your roster, and he has undoubtedly changed the culture for the Clippers with his presence and contagious competitive fire.
Chris Paul may not always post ridiculous scoring numbers, but the effects he has on this budding team make him their MVP for sure—and possibly even the league MVP at season's end.
This season hasn't exactly gone as the Los Angeles Lakers or many others expected it to. When L.A. acquired both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this past offseason, many pegged them as the favorites to dethrone the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference and contend for a title.
However, an early injury to Steve Nash and the team's lack of depth has sent them into a period of struggle. Longtime Lakers star and future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, has done anything but struggle so far this year.
Bryant, in his 17th NBA season, is leading the league in scoring (30.1 points per contest) and has carried the team through their struggles, giving them at least some hope in their losses.
His production, even with guys like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in the lineup, proves that this is still Kobe's team and that he has no intentions of letting that go before he calls it quits on his career.
With his alpha-dog status in Los Angeles still intact, Kobe Bryant is indeed still the go-to guy for the Lakers and will remain their most valuable player for this season and possibly until he retires.
The Memphis Grizzlies got off to a really fast start to their 2012-13 campaign but have cooled off a bit as of late, standing at 19-9 (as of December 31).
A key part to their early success this season has been veteran big man Zach Randolph, who is averaging a double-double with his 17 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest this year. Randolph has continued to produce at a high level for Memphis and is a part of one of the best frontcourts in basketball alongside center Marc Gasol.
His blue-collar style of play and hustle have been contagious for this Grizzlies team over the years, and they seem to have had a breakthrough in the early part of this season.
Memphis hasn't quite been able to take the next step in advancing through the postseason in recent years, but with Randolph's great play and veteran leadership making a legitimate impact this year, that may change come playoff time.
As if there were any question as who the Miami Heat's MVP was and is going to be for the rest of the year.
LeBron James has been phenomenal this season for the Heat (his first since winning the championship), and any questions about contentment or lack of hunger have been answered with his dominance.
While teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been great contributors for Miami this year, LeBron remains the main man for the Heat and is possibly the best basketball player on the face of the Earth.
This slide could have possibly been left blank with how obvious it is that James is the Heat's MVP—since he is also the current frontrunner for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.
Since his arrival in Milwaukee, Monta Ellis has continued his ways as a talented scorer and has formed one of the more potent backcourts in the NBA alongside fellow guard Brandon Jennings.
While Ellis isn't the most complete all-around player, his scoring ability alone can make a huge difference for the Bucks on any given night and has given Jennings a reliable option to pass to on offense.
The Bucks seem capable of sneaking into the playoffs as a lower seed in the Eastern Conference, and once they get in, Ellis will be salivating at the chance for another postseason run (since he has had only one chance in his entire NBA career back with the Golden State Warriors in the 2006-07 season).
If given the chance at a playoff spot, Ellis will be extra motivated throughout the rest of the season, and we should see his already solid play get even better, leading him to be the Bucks' most valuable player for this season.
Kevin Love has shown that he can be a dominant force in the league during his first few seasons as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, making himself the franchise's main centerpiece for the future.
Love's inside-out offensive game and ridiculous rebounding ability make him one of the best power forwards in the game and easily the player most vital to the T'Wolves prospects of success in the coming years.
Though he missed the first portion of the year with a broken hand, Love has returned quickly to form for Minnesota and is still undoubtedly its best player. Behind Love's great play and the help of other guys like Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, this Timberwolves team could end up surprising a lot of people as the season progresses.
After earning a gold medal before he even step foot on an NBA court, New Orleans Hornets top pick Anthony Davis was bound for success in the league.
So far this year, Davis has been battling an ankle injury, causing him to miss some games, but in the games the rookie has played in thus far, he has been impressive offensively and defensively, showing no signs of his game struggling to translate from college to the pros.
Davis has crazy length allowing him to pester any player of any size on defense and also allowing him to put up almost unblockable shots when he has the ball.
The Hornets are still rebuilding as a whole, but they definitely hit the jackpot when they got the first overall pick this past summer to draft this special big man out of Kentucky. He will continue to lead the way for this organization this season (assuming he can stay healthy) and for seasons to come.
In one of the bigger surprises this year, the New York Knicks have become some serious contenders in the Eastern Conference, with a significant factor being Carmelo Anthony's inspired play.
Anthony, averaging 28.5 points per contest, has lead this Knicks team, even without their other superstar, Amar'e Stoudemire, to an impressive 21-9 start (as of December 31). Not only that, he has also thrust himself into consideration for one of the league's best overall players, adding to his usual billing as one of the best scorers in the NBA.
The Knicks have a lot of seasoned guys on the roster, but none more important than Melo this year, who has seemingly taken it upon himself to bring the Knicks out of the depths of the Eastern Conference and into the higher tier of legitimate contenders.
Thanks to Melo's high-caliber performance so far this season, the Knicks have looked like a dangerous team. And even if the chemistry between him and Amar'e doesn't quite work still, he will still remain the main factor for the Knicks' success and their unquestioned MVP.
Much like LeBron James, Kevin Durant remains the unquestioned MVP of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have remained as one of the NBA's best teams even after dealing an important part of their core in James Harden.
Durant has seen increases in his averages from last year's successful season in points, assists, rebounding, blocks, steals and all of his shooting percentages as well. His increased production has given him a crazy-good PER of 28.21, second only to LeBron's PER of 30.03.
You can tell that Durant is hungry for championship gold this season after coming so close to tasting it this past summer. His motivation and drive has been a huge boost to the team as a whole, and he has made his teammates better in the process.
Because of his overall effect on the team and his improved play, there's no reason that Durant won't keep it up for the rest of the year, and he will definitely continue to be the Thunder's MVP throughout the regular season and postseason.
After dealing with the Dwightmare last year, the Orlando Magic were looking for a fresh start this season and have been able to be fairly competitive considering their lack of star power.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this has been starting guard Arron Afflalo, who is leading the team in scoring this year with his 17 points per contest.
Afflalo was poised for a breakout season with his increased playing time in Orlando this year and has slowly started to fulfill that prophecy after a somewhat slow start to the year.
Now, as the year progresses, Afflalo will become more comfortable with his new team and should continue to produce at a high level for a Magic team that isn't exactly oozing with top-tier talent.
At the beginning of the year, I'm sure a lot of 76ers fans may have expected to see the likes of Andrew Bynum in this spot. However, due to his chronic injuries, another Sixers player has emerged instead—and that man is Jrue Holiday.
Holiday seems to finally be hitting his stride in his fourth year with Philadelphia and is posting career highs in points, assists and rebounds, making him the most talented player currently on the roster for the 76ers.
Whether he can keep this up throughout the season is still questionable. But I believe that if and when Bynum makes his debut for the Sixers, it will only be beneficial to Holiday, and he will still retain his spot as the teams most valuable player thanks to his ability to facilitate the offense and create offense of his own.
The Phoenix Suns are in a bit of a weird rebuilding stage right now with no real star in place to lead the team in the post-Steve Nash era.
However, the man most likely to take the reins in the remaining part of the season and step up as a significant contributor is one of the Suns' longest-tenured players, Jared Dudley.
Dudley isn't known for blowing anyone away on the stat sheets, but he is a high-energy player who makes a lot of big plays for the Suns that don't always show up in the box score.
His knowledge of the team's system and constantly running motor make him a potential threat on both sides of the ball, and Dudley's willingness to help the team in any way necessary makes him the most valuable player for Phoenix.
Even with all of the hype around Anthony Davis, Portland's starting point guard Damian Lillard has proven that he deserves to be in the running for Rookie of the Year with his quality play for the Trail Blazers so far this season.
As the race heats up, and as the Blazers continue to fight for position in the Western Conference standings, you can bet that Lillard will be at the helm, guiding the team.
If you are arguing that LaMarcus Aldridge is still the Blazers' best player, then I would agree with you. Lillard, however, will continue to prove throughout the rest of the season that he is this team's most valuable player since he is the one running the offense and contributing with his own 18.3 points per contest.
It's been a pretty rough season for the Sacramento Kings and Isaiah Thomas, but there's still hope for a brighter future.
In the midst of suspensions and injuries to key players like DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, respectively, the Kings have been searching for an answer to their woes. Thomas had the starting job locked down at the end of last season and going into this year, but lost his spot when he and the team struggled at the beginning of this season.
With replacement Aaron Brooks not looking much better, head coach Keith Smart seems to have warmed to the idea of giving Thomas another chance, and he seems to have taken the ball and ran with it.
In his 40 minutes against the Boston Celtics on December 30, Thomas scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with five assists and four boards. This is hopefully a sign that Thomas has been rejuvenated by this opportunity.
His energetic play and leadership may just be able to turn the Kings' season around before it's too late.
The San Antonio Spurs continue to prove that old-school basketball is just as effective as the flashy, new-style of the younger teams, and a lot of this has to do with the elite play of point guard Tony Parker.
Parker continues to have another fine season for the Spurs, who remain one of the top teams in the Western Conference even with all of their main stars being over the 30-years-old mark. Parker has compiled solid averages of 19.3 and 7.3 assists per game and a telling PER of 22.98.
By running the offense, Parker continues to create scoring opportunities through team chemistry with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, as well as the newer guys like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
His All-Star-level play will continue throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs for the Spurs, proving that he is indeed their most valuable player.
There hasn't been a whole lot of good to come out this season for the Toronto Raptors, but the team is hoping that guard Kyle Lowry can step up and maybe lead the team to a respectable record in the remaining part of the schedule.
Lowry showed last season in Houston that he has the potential to be one of the best point guards in the NBA and has still shown flashes of that in Toronto. However, a triceps injury has set him back a bit this year, causing him to miss several games.
If he can stay healthy, though, Lowry should continue to shine for the Raptors, using his scoring ability as well as his defensive instinct to contribute on both sides of the ball, making him a leader on the court for this young Toronto team.
It's unsure how much longer Al Jefferson will be playing in Utah with his contract expiring, but if he does remain in a Jazz uniform for the rest of the season, there's reason to believe he will be their most valuable player.
Jefferson is averaging a double-double this season (17 points and 10 rebounds per game) and has been the main contributor for Utah offensively and defensively in what's been an up-and-down season for the Jazz.
He is in a contract year and will surely be motivated to continue playing at a high level to gain some leverage as a free agent this summer.
Therefore, based on his stats and veteran leadership, Jefferson remains the top talent on the Jazz roster this season and should continue his dominance for the rest of the season.
In another case similar to Derrick Rose, John Wall has yet to suit up for the Washington Wizards this season, nursing his knee injury. But there's little doubt that he will end up as the team's MVP this season.
The Wizards have struggled mightily this year without Wall and have posted an awful record of 4-24 as of December 31. They rank dead last in points per game (88.8) and are 23rd in assists without their usual starting point guard.
Wall, when he returns, will have an instant impact on this team and will give them a much needed offensive boost. His presence as the team's most valuable player is already being felt due to their inability to win consistently without him in the lineup, which will only be solidified once he returns to help the seemingly helpless Wizards.