Updated NBA MVP Odds: Can Kevin Durant Really Dethrone LeBron James?

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2013

Updated NBA MVP Odds: Can Kevin Durant Really Dethrone LeBron James?

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    Two-thirds of the way into the 2012-13 NBA season, LeBron James appears to be the runaway favorite for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.

    He's got the Miami Heat riding on an 11-game win streak while averaging nearly 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game in February.

    Thanks to Kevin Durant, however, it's still a little too early to be carving James' name into the MVP trophy.

    Durant is leading the league in scoring with 28.8 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line. No player in NBA history has ever finished a season in the "50-40-90 Club" while also winning the scoring title.

    James and Durant are the MVP front-runners, but other stars still have an outside chance. To be listed here, a player either has to be one of the league's leaders in a major statistical category, his team's unquestionably best player or on one of the teams with the best records in the league.

    Find out here what it'll take for Durant or anyone else to replace James as the MVP favorite with roughly 25 games left.

    Note: Statistics and records are current through games played on Feb. 24. Last week's rankings here

Honorable Mention

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    In alphabetical order:


    Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

    With the Golden State Warriors ripping off three straight wins after dropping their first post-All-Star break game, Stephen Curry maintains his spot in the honorable mentions this week.

    Curry, who's averaging career highs in points (21.0), assists (6.6) and three-point field goals (3.1) per game, is knocking down 44 percent of his shots from deep. Alongside Klay Thompson, Curry gives the Warriors one of the most deadly sharpshooting backcourts in the NBA.


    Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

    When Tim Duncan hasn't been injured in 2012-13, he's continued to have a turn-back-the-clock type of season for the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 16.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in only 29.6 minutes per game.

    San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich remains Duncan's largest obstacle in the MVP race. In the Spurs' five games since Feb. 13, Duncan has only exceeded the 30-minute mark once.


    Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

    Since being traded to Toronto at the very start of February, Rudy Gay has both transformed himself into the Raptors' go-to scorer and made the team shockingly competitive again.

    His field goal percentage (.390) and three-point shooting percentage (.273) have been abysmal since joining his new team, but he's otherwise averaging 21.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game for Toronto. The Raptors must stay alive in the playoff race for Gay to remain on this list, though.


    Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

    Blake Griffin isn't just a dunker anymore. He's averaging 18.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in only 32.4 minutes per game for the Los Angeles Clippers, who still have the third-best record in the Western Conference.

    He's tied with Kobe Bryant for seventh in the league in win shares (7.9) and tied with Carmelo Anthony for ninth in PER (23.3), according to Basketball Reference. If Griffin wasn't playing so few minutes per game, he'd likely be a top-10 MVP candidate this season.


    Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

    With the Memphis Grizzlies riding a seven-game win streak, Zach Randolph finds his way back into the MVP rankings for the first time since the Rudy Gay trade.

    Z-Bo put up four straight double-doubles coming out of the All-Star break, giving him 34 for the season. He's averaging 15.7 points and 11.7 rebounds for a Memphis team learning to adjust to the post-Rudy Gay era.


    Just missed the cut: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics; Al Jefferson; Utah Jazz

    Dropped from rankings: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers; Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks 

10. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 10

    LeBron James is the Miami Heat player drawing most of the headlines, but Dwyane Wade has been sneaky good in 2013 as well.

    Wade went from averaging 17.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in November to 22.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game through Miami's first 12 games in February.

    On the season, Wade is shooting a career-high 51 percent from the field, which almost justifies his new "WOW" nickname. (Not really.)

    He's also one of only three players to be averaging at least 20 points, four rebounds and four assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field (alongside James and Kevin Durant), according to Basketball Reference.

    Wade recovered from his slow start to the season to currently rank seventh in the league in PER (23.9) and 11th in win shares (6.6), according to Basketball Reference.

    With Miami riding an 11-game win streak, Wade's biggest obstacle in the MVP race is his supernova of a teammate, James, the reigning MVP and current MVP front-runner.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

9. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Last week's ranking: 8

    The return of Danny Granger to the Indiana Pacers' lineup means Paul George falls one spot in the MVP rankings this week.

    Granger returned on the second night of a back-to-back against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 23, finishing with two points on 1-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes. George played 42 minutes that game, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the 90-72 win.

    As Granger earns more minutes, it's likely that George's playing time (and scoring) will see a bit of a dip.

    Though he's been a breakout star in 2012-13, averaging career highs in points (17.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (4.0), three-point field goals (2.2), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.7) per game, the Pacers will likely use Granger's return as a way to buy George rest before the start of the playoffs.

    Advanced metrics don't do George huge favors in the MVP race, either. He's 13th in the league in win shares (6.8), according to Basketball Reference, and his PER of 17.3 is barely above league average.

    Considering that the Pacers hold a half-game lead over the New York Knicks for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, George deserves a hint of MVP consideration. Granger's return won't do him any favors in the MVP race, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

8. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 9

    After the mid-February All-Star break, Russell Westbrook picked up right where he left off.

    Westbrook finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and seven turnovers in a 122-119 loss to the Houston Rockets in his first post-All-Star break game. He followed up two nights later with a season-high 37 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 127-111 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    As noted by Royce Young of Daily Thunder, Westbrook appears to be in line to finish February shooting over 50 percent from the field. If he avoids a catastrophe against the New Orleans Hornets on Feb. 27, it'll be the first time in his career he's ever finished a month above 50 percent.

    Westbrook currently ranks ninth in the league in win shares (7.6) and 11th in the league in PER (23.2) for an Oklahoma City Thunder team with the third-best record in the league.

    His largest MVP hurdle, as always? His fellow superstar teammate Kevin Durant.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent

7. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Last week's ranking: 4

    Carmelo Anthony takes the steepest tumble of any player on this list due to the New York Knicks' recent struggles.

    After starting the season with an 18-5 record, the Knicks have been decidedly average over the past two months. February, in particular, has been a rough month for Anthony and the Knicks, who dropped four straight games from Feb. 10 through Feb. 22.

    In the Knicks' final game before the All-Star break, Anthony injured his arm and scored only 12 points while shooting 5-of-24 from the field. In his first post-All-Star break game, Anthony finished with 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting in a 30-plus-point blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers.

    Anthony's three-point shooting, which was his strong point earlier in the season, has also taken a nosedive as of late. In the Knicks' four games from Feb. 13 through Feb. 24, Anthony only knocked down four of his 26 attempts from downtown.

    He's now tied with Blake Griffin for ninth in the league in PER (23.3) and ranks 13th in the league in win shares (6.1), according to Basketball Reference.

    There's time to turn the Knicks' fortunes around, but Anthony won't be a top-five MVP candidate again until he helps stop the bleeding for New York. 

    Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent

6. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Last week's ranking: 7

    It's admittedly late in the season to have a player from a sub-.500 team in the MVP favorites list.

    With the way Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have played lately, however, it's hard to believe they'll be a sub-.500 team for much longer.

    Bryant in particular has been phenomenal throughout the month of February. His scoring (22.6 points per game) has taken a dip largely due to a three-point-shooting slump, but he's contributed 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game throughout the month.

    That well-rounded assault has helped the Lakers dash out to an 11-4 record in their past 15 games, getting them within reach of the Western Conference playoff race once more.

    If Bryant sneaks the Lakers into the playoffs over the Houston Rockets or Utah Jazz, he'll earn more than a few top-five MVP votes for his herculean effort.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1.5 percent

5. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    Last week's ranking: 6

    James Harden emerged from the 2013 All-Star break as a man on fire.

    In his first post-All-Star break game, Harden exploded for a career-high 46 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a 122-119 win against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. He dropped a combined 49 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and four steals in his next two games.

    He ranks fifth in the league in scoring with 26.4 points per game and is one of only three players, along with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, to be averaging at least 25 points, 5.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this season, according to Basketball Reference. He also leads the league in free-throw attempts per game (9.9).  

    With the hot streak the Houston Rockets have been on in February, Harden now ranks third in the league in win shares (9.4) and eighth in PER (23.6), according to Basketball Reference.

    As long as Harden can keep the Rockets challenging for one of the final few Western Conference playoffs spots, he'll be deserving of some fringe MVP consideration.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Last week's ranking: 5

    Against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21, Chris Paul had just about the worst start to the second half of the 2012-13 season imaginable.

    In 27 minutes against San Antonio, Paul recorded only four points on 1-of-6 shooting, three assists, two rebounds and a steal. He also managed five personal fouls and three turnovers.

    Luckily for the Los Angeles Clippers, CP3 bounced back two nights later against the Utah Jazz with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a 107-94 win. Despite only having one steal in those two games combined, he's still leading the league with 2.5 steals per game on the season.

    He also ranks third in the league in PER (26.0) and fourth in win shares (8.9), according to Basketball Reference.

    Paul can't be docked too much in the MVP race for one lackluster game against the Spurs. Tony Parker, the Spurs starting point guard, created more separation between he and Paul in the MVP race with that game, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent

3. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Last week's ranking: 3

    The San Antonio Spurs have a habit of falling under the radar, but Tony Parker's play in February is making it difficult for them to do so.

    Parker is averaging 26.6 points, 8.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds in only 34.6 minutes per game for San Antonio this month. He's shooting a ridiculous 55.2 percent from the field and 90 percent from the charity stripe, too.

    On the season, he's shooting 53.6 percent from the field, the highest he's managed since 2005-06. He's also currently shooting a career-high 83.1 percent from the free-throw line, and nearing his career high in assists per game (7.6).

    Parker ranks fourth in the league in PER (24.6) and fifth in win shares (8.8), according to Basketball Reference. No matter what statistics you look at, there's no denying that Parker has been one of the league's best players in 2012-13.

    The Spurs only dropped a total of five games in 2013, despite injuries sidelining Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili for multiple nights.

    Parker is the No. 1 reason why the Spurs continued trudging along with the league's best record despite all of that, which makes him the MVP favorite outside of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2.5 percent

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 2

    LeBron James may be the 2013 MVP front-runner, but Kevin Durant isn't ready to concede the award to him just yet.

    James poked some air out of Durant's MVP case in Miami's 110-100 win over Oklahoma City on Valentine's Day, the second of three straight losses for the OKC Thunder. Durant started an ice-cold 2-of-10 from the field, but did finish the game with 40 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

    In the Thunder's first post-All-Star break game, Durant messed around and got a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists against the Houston Rockets. Houston's James Harden decided to go thermonuclear in the fourth quarter, however, sending the Thunder to their third straight loss.

    Durant helped the team right the ship during the last weekend of February, stringing up back-to-back wins against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls. K.D. dropped a cool 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Minnesota, then followed up with 19 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in only 32 minutes against the Bulls.

    He's tied with James for the league lead in win shares (13.5), ranks second in the league in PER (28.7) and ranks second in the league in win shares per 48 minutes (.298), according to Basketball Reference.

    Durant's MVP case largely boils down to three keys. He'll need to maintain the league lead in scoring (he's averaging a league-high 28.8 points per game), continue shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line and have the Thunder finish with a better record than Miami to have any chance of dethroning James.

    With roughly 25 games left in the season, it's not out of the question that Durant could still win the MVP over James. LeBron has a sizable lead over Durant in the award race at this point, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 25 percent

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 1

    LeBron James and the Miami Heat have hit their stride since the start of February, much to the chagrin of the rest of the NBA.

    As a result, James has become the unquestionable MVP favorite heading into March.

    The Heat dropped their first game of the month to the Indiana Pacers but won their next 11 games. In February, James is averaging 28.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game while shooting an astronomical 64.4 percent from the field.

    In fact, James hasn't shot under 50 percent from the field in a game since a 100-98 loss to the Boston Celtics all the way back on January 27.

    On the season, he's knocking down a career-high 56.7 percent of his baskets while also chipping in a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game.

    Advanced metrics only further establish James' case as the runaway MVP favorite. He's tied with Kevin Durant for the league lead in win shares (13.5), despite having played two fewer games, and leads the league in PER (31.6) by nearly three points, according to Basketball Reference.

    With the Oklahoma City Thunder's recent three-game skid, the Heat now have the second-best record in the NBA behind only the San Antonio Spurs. There will be no stopping James in the 2013 MVP race if he and the Heat stay as red-hot as they've been in February.

    Odds of winning MVP: 65 percent