Updated NBA MVP Odds: LeBron James Poised to Make History with Another Award

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

Updated NBA MVP Odds: LeBron James Poised to Make History with Another Award

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    With the Miami Heat currently riding a 15-game win streak, LeBron James appears all but certain to win his fourth MVP award in 2013.

    Assuming James ends up being named MVP, he'd become only the fifth player in NBA history to win the award at least four times, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five) and Wilt Chamberlain (four). He'd also become the first player since the NBA-ABA merger to win the MVP four times within a five-year span.

    In short, James' dynamic February seems to have sealed up another piece of NBA history for his resume.

    The list of legitimate challengers to James' throne only grew smaller when San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker sprained his ankle on March 1. He's now expected to miss roughly the entire month, leaving one fewer MVP contender for James to worry about.

    To be featured here, a player must either be the star player on their own team, a league leader in a statistical category or on one of the teams with the best records in the league.

    With Parker going down, can anyone step up and stop James from making more history?


    Note: Statistics and records are current through games played on March 3, except where otherwise noted. Last week's rankings here

Honorable Mention

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    In alphabetical order:

    Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

    A night after getting tossed around by Indiana's Roy Hibbert, Stephen Curry captivated the NBA world by dropping 54 points at Madison Square Garden in a loss to the New York Knicks.

    He's guided the Golden State Warriors to the sixth-best record in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, averaging 22.1 points, 6.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game this season. Of any player in the Honorable Mentions, Curry is the most likely to move into the top 10 next week.


    Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

    With Tony Parker's ankle injury likely knocking him out for almost all of March, Tim Duncan will need to step up as the San Antonio Spurs' backbone to stave off the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    That apparently won't be much of a problem for Duncan, who finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in only 26 minutes against the Detroit Pistons in the Spurs' first Parker-less game. He's still only averaging around 30 minutes per game, but he's been utterly dominant while on the court this season.


    Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

    It's easy to look at Blake Griffin averaging the lowest per-game stats of his career and write him off in the MVP race, but to do so would be a disservice to his improvement this season.

    He's only averaging 32.4 minutes per game this season, which makes his 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game rather impressive. He's also shooting career highs from 3-9 feet (46.7 percent), 10-15 feet (38.3 percent) and 16-23 feet (38 percent), according to HoopData, for a Los Angeles Clippers team with one of the three best records in the Western Conference.


    Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

    Joakim Noah earns some long overdue MVP credit this week for keeping the Chicago Bulls afloat in a Derrick Rose-less season. With fellow All-Star Luol Deng and former All-Star Carlos Boozer, Noah has helped guide the Bulls to a 34-26 record, tied with the Brooklyn Nets for fourth in the Eastern Conference.

    Noah's 23-point, 21-rebound, 11-block tour de force against the Philadelphia 76ers on the final day of February earns him the Honorable Mention this week, but following up with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in a 96-85 win against the Nets on March 2 wasn't too shabby of an encore.


    Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

    Before spraining his ankle on March 1 against the Miami Heat, Zach Randolph was riding a streak of five straight double-doubles. With 35 double-doubles on the season, he trails only David Lee of the Golden State Warriors in that category, according to ESPN.com.

    The ankle kept Randolph sidelined against the Orlando Magic on March 3, and he's questionable for a March 6 matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. If the injury keeps Z-Bo shelved for long, he'll likely be replaced in next week's MVP Honorable Mentions, no matter how hot the Memphis Grizzlies have been.


    Just missed the cut: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks; Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz 

    Dropped from rankings: Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

10. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Last week's ranking: 9

    Remember those concerns about Danny Granger cutting into Paul George's minutes upon his return? Whoops.

    Despite Granger's return to the lineup, George played at least 41 minutes in each of the Indiana Pacers' five games from Feb. 23 through March 3. The Pacers have been riding George all season and don't appear intent on stopping now, even with Granger back and healthy again.

    Who can blame them? George has "budding superstar" written all over him this season now that he's averaging 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

    He's struggled with his shot at times this season, shooting only 42.6 percent from the field overall, but he's knocking down nearly 40 percent of his six three-point attempts per game.

    George's PER of 17.2 has never been his friend when it came to the MVP race, and ranking 15th in the league in win shares (7.2) doesn't help much either.

    Having the Pacers a game ahead of the New York Knicks for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference certainly merits a bit of outside MVP consideration, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

9. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 8

    Thanks to Tony Parker's ankle injury, it won't be long before Russell Westbrook is the second-highest-ranked point guard on the list of MVP favorites.

    Westbrook hit the ground running after the All-Star break, scoring at least 23 points in each of the Oklahoma City Thunder's first six post-All-Star break games. He shot above 52 percent from the field in four of those six games while finishing with at least 17 shot attempts each game.

    After struggling with his shooting efficiency in November and December, Westbrook finished February shooting 50.3 percent from the field. Before February, he had never shot over 50 percent overall for an entire month.

    Westbrook ranks eighth in the league in win shares (8.5) and is tied with Blake Griffin for eighth in PER (23.7), according to Basketball-Reference, suggesting that he's around the right place on this list.

    Despite being on a Thunder team that will likely seize the top seed in the Western Conference thanks to Parker's ankle injury, Westbrook still has virtually no chance of being named MVP this season. His teammate Kevin Durant continues to be his most serious obstacle in the MVP race. 

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

8. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 10

    LeBron James wasn't the only Miami Heat player to tear through the month of February.

    Dwyane Wade finished the month averaging 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the field. It was by far his best month of the 2012-13 season.

    After looking like a shell of himself early in the season, Wade now appears about as close to 100 percent healthy as an NBA player can be after 60 games. He's less than a tenth of an assist per game away from joining James, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook as the only players to be averaging 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season, according to Basketball-Reference.

    He's now moved up into a tie with Tony Parker for fifth in the league in PER (24.3) and is tied with Stephen Curry for 13th in win shares (7.3), according to Basketball-Reference.

    With James also deciding to go supernova in February, the two Heat superstars guided their team to a win streak of 15 games and counting.

    While Wade's MVP resume would be stellar on most other teams, having James on his team virtually negates all chances of him winning the award.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent

7. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Last week's ranking: 3

    Had Tony Parker not sprained his ankle in the San Antonio Spurs' first game in March, he'd likely be challenging Kevin Durant for the No. 2 spot in the MVP race this week.

    The Spurs instead expect to be without Parker for roughly the next four weeks, which all but eliminates his chances of being named MVP.

    Before the ankle injury, Parker had been playing lights out, averaging 21 points and nearly eight assists per game and shooting 53.3 percent from the field. In February specifically, he finished with 26.1 points and 8.3 assists per game while shooting 54 percent overall.

    He ranks fifth in the league in both win shares (8.9) and PER (24.3), according to Basketball-Reference, although he's bound to fall at least in win shares in the coming weeks.

    Without the ankle injury, Parker was lining up to be a sure-fire top-five MVP candidate and arguably the favorite outside of LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

    Depending on when he returns, he'll now be lucky to finish within the top 10.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent

6. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Last week's ranking: 7

    After a brutal stretch of play around the All-Star break, Carmelo Anthony bounced back nicely heading into March.

    He finished with a combined 27 points on 12-of-45 shooting in the New York Knicks' two losses bookending the All-Star break, but scored at least 29 points in each of the Knicks' next five games. He drew only six free-throw attempts in those two losses, but had at least nine FTAs in all five of the next games.

    On the other hand, Anthony still hasn't shot above 50 percent from the field since a Feb. 10 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and has only knocked down nine of his 43 attempts from three-point range since Feb. 13.

    The March 3 loss to the Miami Heat only opens more concerns for the Knicks. LeBron James shut Anthony down after he started red-hot in the first half, and the Knicks had no one who could stop James late in the game.

    He also left the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 4 with a knee injury. If the injury ends up being serious, it'll only further lower his MVP chances. 

    With the Knicks now a full game behind the Indiana Pacers for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Anthony needs to bounce back and become more efficient than ever to have any remote chance at finishing as the MVP.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1.5 percent

5. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    Last week's ranking: 5

    Lost in LeBron James' February dominance tour was the equally impressive play of James Harden, who had his best month yet as a Houston Rocket.

    The Rockets didn't rip off a double-digit win streak like the Miami Heat, but Harden did finish the month averaging 28.7 points, 6.8 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.

    He shot 52.9 percent overall, 49.3 percent from deep and 83.1 percent from the charity stripe for the month, making the Oklahoma City Thunder look like lunatics for trading him right before the start of the season. 

    Those averages and shooting percentages aren't all that far off from James' typical numbers. Harden isn't yet the hyperefficient Terminator that James has become, but he's proven to be a multifaceted guard capable of dominating in a number of ways.

    Harden leads the league in free throws attempted per game (9.9) and is tied for 11th in made three-pointers this season (124), according to ESPN.com. He's an excellent slasher who loves to draw contact, but he's also more than capable of bombing away from deep.

    With the Rockets still clinging onto the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race, Harden remains as viable an MVP candidate as anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are breathing down the Rockets' necks, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Last week's ranking: 6

    After exiting the All-Star break facing a very winnable slate of upcoming games, Kobe Bryant decided to go into Superman mode for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    He exploded for 40 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 22, then followed up with his "Amnesty THAT" game against the Dallas Mavericks (38 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a middle finger to Mavs owner Mark Cuban).

    He went for 33 points, five assists and five rebounds in the Lakers' last game of February, then dropped 34 points, six rebounds and four assists, along with the game-winning layup, in a 99-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks on March 3.

    That win against Atlanta brought the Lakers to .500 for the first time in 2013, leaving them 2.5 games behind both the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

    If Bryant provides enough heroics to guide the Lakers into the playoffs, his MVP buzz will only continue to rise.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Last week's ranking: 4

    By virtue of Tony Parker's injury and the Los Angeles Clippers' continued excellence, Chris Paul moves up a spot in this week's MVP rankings.

    Paul's had somewhat of a rough go with his shot recently, shooting over 50 percent only once in the Clippers' five games from Feb. 23 through March 3. He also shot only 5-of-20 from three-point range in that five-game span, but he did finish with at least seven assists in each of those games.

    Paul has proven time and time again that he can take over for the Clippers when necessary, a lesson learned by the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 28. He scored the Clippers' final eight points in a 99-91 victory that night, finishing with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting along with eight assists, six rebounds and a steal.

    CP3 ranks third in the league in PER (26.1) and fourth in win shares (9.8), according to Basketball-Reference, which seems to suggest that he's to be taken somewhat seriously in this MVP race.

    LeBron James' recent brilliance says otherwise. Unless James returns to Earth in the next six weeks, Paul only has an outside shot of being named MVP.

    With Parker's ankle injury, Paul does at least have the inside track to a top-three MVP finish.

    Odds of winning MVP: 2.5 percent

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 2

    After a rough mid-February swoon, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder bounced back in a big way to upset the Los Angeles Clippers at home on March 3.

    Durant did his part by chipping in 35 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three three-pointers and two steals in 45 minutes. Aided by Russell Westbrook, the Thunder looked every bit the NBA championship contender they've set out to be.

    As always, Durant's MVP candidacy comes down to three major things, only two of which are in his control: Maintaining his 50-40-90 shooting averages, leading the league in scoring and weighing how well LeBron James is playing.

    Through 59 games, Durant's place in the 50-40-90 Club is still intact. He's shooting 50.9 percent from the floor, 42.2 percent from three-point range and 90.7 percent from the free-throw line so far this season.

    Durant temporarily lost his hold on the league's scoring title at the beginning of March, however, after scoring fewer than 20 points in three of the Thunder's final four games in February. Granted, he finished with two of his three career triple-doubles in that four-game span, too.

    James' continued excellence is the largest obstacle for Durant in the MVP race, however. K.D. trails only James in terms of PER (28.7) and win shares (14.2), according to Basketball-Reference.

    If the Thunder get red-hot and pass the San Antonio Spurs in the playoff race with Tony Parker out, Durant still has an outside shot at the MVP. At this point, he'll likely need James to start coasting through the rest of the regular season to have a realistic chance at the award.

    Odds of winning MVP: 20 percent

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 1

    With roughly six weeks left in the season, the 2013 MVP is LeBron James' to lose.

    Plain and simple, James destroyed the NBA in February. He averaged 29.7 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game for the Miami Heat while shooting an eye-popping 64.1 percent overall for the month.

    He's shooting a career-high 56.3 percent from the floor and a career-high 41 percent from the three-point line this year. He's also averaging a career-high 8.2 rebounds per game and dishing his second-most assists per game (7.3) ever, too.

    James now has a full three points of separation between his PER (31.7) and the next closest player, Kevin Durant (28.7), according to Basketball-Reference. He also now holds the league lead in win shares (14.5) over Durant (14.2) by three-tenths of a point, according to Basketball-Reference.

    Two things can still open the door for another MVP candidate, but only one is realistic: A prolonged Heat slump (not going to happen) or a somewhat serious injury to James (possible, but unlikely).

    We got a glimpse at a temporarily wounded James in the Heat's March 3 game against the New York Knicks, as James landed awkwardly on his left leg in the third quarter and injured his knee. He bounced back to the tune of 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but told the Miami Herald after the game that he was "still concerned a little bit" about the knee (h/t ESPN.com).    

    Hypothetically, if James got sidelined for the next month a la Tony Parker, then Kevin Durant, Chris Paul or another MVP dark horse could still swoop in and take the award home.

    If James stays healthy and continues playing the way he's been playing, no matter how vigorously Durant and CP3 crank up their triple-double game to keep up, he's the obvious choice.  

    Odds of winning MVP: 70 percent