While there are plenty of players who deserve to be in the discussion, there are only a handful who have a legitimate chance of taking home the award. James has had the best season from day one, and only the best of the best can compete with what he’s done.
But while James is in the lead, there’s still an entire half-season that has yet to be played. The award is still up for grabs, and those who are in the running can make their case as the year goes on.
Steal the Spotlight
Like so many of the NBA’s MVP candidates, Russell Westbrook is having a career year. He’s always been known as someone who can make plays with his athleticism, but improved decision making has made him more of a threat and less of a liability.
That being said, he has one big obstacle in his way for the award, and that obstacle is Kevin Durant.
As long as Durant is on the floor, Westbrook is going to remain the No. 2 option. He’s shown throughout the year that he can take over as a go-to scorer, but he also has to know his role, and sometimes that role is to get Durant the ball.
Westbrook is one of the league’s best players at the point guard position, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are Durant’s team. The forward has become the face of the franchise, and unless he falls off the map for one reason or another, he is going to be the one challenging LeBron James for the game’s top honor.
Kobe Bryant is having one of his best NBA seasons. He’s averaging right around 29 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, and his shooting percentages are among the best of his career.
The problem is that his team isn’t winning, and history has shown that MVPs don’t come from losing franchises.
As well as Bryant has played, even his own coach recognizes that the team needs to win for him to earn recognition. “I don’t think you can put anybody at MVP when you’re below .500,” D’Antoni said (according to Mark Medina of insidesocal.com).
The Los Angeles Lakers have been the most disappointing team of the 2012-13 season, and there’s simply no debating it. If they can turn their season around and miraculously become one of the best squads in the league by April, Bryant will stand a chance.
If they can’t, however, and continue to disappoint those who saw a championship in their immediate future, Kobe will be left behind when it comes to MVP voting.
Win the East
The New York Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2012-13 season. They exited the 2012 playoffs in the first round, and a new-look roster made many wonder just how good they could be.
Nobody expected the Knicks to find as much success as they have, but that doesn’t change the fact that they must win the East if Carmelo Anthony wants to take home the MVP award.
Despite the questions and criticism surrounding this team, Anthony has stepped his game up to another level. He’s one of the league’s top scorers at 29 points per game, his percentages have increased despite a rapid rise in attempts, and he’s having a career year in his 10th season.
The thing that’s held Anthony away from the MVP race in the past was his effort level on both ends of the floor. This season, he’s shown that he can make an impact on defense—although he’s still nowhere near the defender LeBron James is—and his discipline on offense is the reason for his efficient play.
You can no longer blame 'Melo for the disappointments in New York. If he can lead the Knicks to the top record in the Eastern Conference, he will be the player who deserves the credit.
There’s no question that Chris Paul is an MVP candidate. He is one of the league’s best facilitators, and he impacts the game on both ends of the floor. The team has struggled when he’s been unable to perform because of injury.
The only thing that is going against Paul at this point is that his scoring is down—and MVP voters love players who score.
The last MVP to average less than 24.6 points in a season was Steve Nash in 2006. Nash finished the year at 18.8 points per game, which is nearly two points higher than what Paul has accomplished thus far.
The refreshing thing about Paul is that he doesn’t seem to care too much about his own points-per-game average. However, if he decides he wants to make a run at the league’s most prestigious individual award, he has to be a bit more selfish when it comes to finding his own opportunities.
Keep Doing What He’s Doing
LeBron has had the best overall showing halfway through the year, but Kevin Durant has quickly begun to make his mark as the favorite for the 2013 MVP award.
The old adage that the MVP is the best player on the best team is a bit overused, but that being said, Durant is the reason the Oklahoma City Thunder are consistently among the league’s best.
The 24-year-old has boosted his points-per-game average higher and higher with each passing month, and between Jan. 18 and Jan. 23, he averaged an insane 38.5 points per contest.
Durant is so much more than just a scoring machine. He’s improved on defense, and he's averaging a career high in assists and utilizing his length on the glass despite his lanky frame.
If both Durant and James continue to play at their current levels, Durant will challenge The King more than any other player when it’s all said and done.