Updated NBA MVP Odds: Entering Season's Final Push
The Miami Heat's 27-game win streak may finally be over, but LeBron James' chokehold on being the landslide favorite for 2013 NBA MVP Award hasn't loosened a bit.
James' MVP resume this season is nothing short of impeccable. He's the best player on the league's best team, is shooting a career-high 56 percent from the field and holds the league lead in both PER and win shares.
In case that wasn't enough to seal the deal, the Heat's 27-game win streak should do the trick.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra held James out of the March 31 showdown against the San Antonio Spurs due to a reported right hamstring strain, which is about the only thing that could slow James' runaway MVP case down. If the injury keeps James out for the rest of the regular season (doubtful, but at least remotely possible), it may leave the door open for another player to wrestle the award away from the King.
Granted, with the calendar turning to April, it would take a Herculean performance from another top candidate to stop James from winning his fourth MVP in five years.
For a player to garner true MVP consideration on this list, he must either be among the league leaders in a major statistical category, the unquestionable best player on his squad or on a team with one of the best records in the NBA. (James, naturally, meets all three criteria.)
With the No. 1 spot all but locked up, read on to find out who's jostling for position behind LeBron as the MVP race heads into the homestretch.
Note: Statistics and records are current through games played on March 31, except where otherwise noted. Last week's rankings here.
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In alphabetical order:
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry almost deserves to stand alone on the Honorable Mentions list due to how dominant he was in late March for the Golden State Warriors. Between the 25 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists that he dropped in a 109-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 25 and the 39 points, six assists and five rebounds that he had in a 125-98 win against the Portland Trail Blazers just five days later, Curry has been virtually unstoppable.
Believe it or not, Curry's three-point field-goal percentage (.455) is higher than his overall field-goal percentage (.449) on the season. With Curry averaging 7.4 three-point attempts per game, he has emerged as the most lethal high-volume sharpshooter in the league.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Marc Gasol returns to the MVP Honorable Mentions this week after returning sooner than expected from an abdominal strain and looking no worse for the wear. In his first three games since his return on March 27, Gasol averaged 18.3 points, six rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Gasol is far more likely to merit serious consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year award than for MVP, but he's only taken upon a more central role for the Grizzlies since the team traded away Rudy Gay. There's no question who's been the better Gasol brother in 2012-13, and suffice it to say, it's not Pau.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
With Danny Granger now officially out for the rest of the season, Paul George needs to continue playing like a superstar for the Indiana Pacers to make serious noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. George has marvelously weathered the storm without Granger thus far, averaging per-game career highs in points (17.9), rebounds (7.7), assists (4.1), steals (1.8) and minutes (37.6) in his third season as a pro.
George's barely above league average PER of 17.4 doesn't do him any favors in the MVP race, but the fact that he ranks 12th in the league in win shares (9.2, according to Basketball Reference) merits the slightest bit of fringe MVP consideration.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Of anyone here on the Honorable Mentions list, Blake Griffin is in danger of completely falling completely next week. Griffin shot only 40.4 percent from the floor over the Los Angeles Clippers' five-game span from March 23-30, three of which were losses.
It's difficult to fully disqualify Griffin for an MVP Honorable Mention, however, given that he ranks seventh in the league in win shares (10.0) and is 11th in PER (22.85), according to Basketball Reference. Griffin may be hitting a late-season slump, but he's been one of the most valuable players in the league this season by those two measures of efficiency.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
Deron Williams' post-All-Star break surge hasn't slowed any as we head into April. After averaging only 16.7 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting overall and 34.7 percent from three-point range before the break, Williams has jumped to averaging 22.2 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.4 percent from deep since mid-February.
Just missed the cut: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks; Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Dropped from rankings: Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets (injury)
10. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Last week's ranking: 10
Depending on who you consult, Russell Westbrook is either a dynamic X-factor for the Oklahoma City Thunder or a plague upon the locker room.
ESPN's Skip Bayless recently bloviated about how Westbrook will only hold Kevin Durant back in the playoffs when Westbrook decides to get an itchy trigger finger. There's no denying that he still could improve his shot selection at times, but to say that "Westbrook ultimately will prove to be more burden than benefit" shows a complete lack of understanding of this Thunder team.
Yes, Durant has set himself apart as the league's best scorer in 2013, as he's fewer than 10 games away from clinching his fourth straight scoring title. With that said, Westbrook's explosiveness, athleticism and, quite frankly, his recklessness, all help Durant's scoring ability more than they hinder it.
Opponents can't cheat defensively away from Westbrook, lest they want to see him explode for 30-plus points before the night's end. That only helps Durant receive more open looks and keep defenders off-guard, as opponents can't constantly send double- or triple-teams his way.
Also helping Westbrook's fringe MVP case: He ranks fifth in the league in terms of win shares (10.3) and ninth in PER (23.4), according to Basketball Reference. Most teams would give up an arm and a leg to land even one player like that, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have two.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent
9. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
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Last week's ranking: 9
Tim Duncan likely won't receive much love from voters in this year's MVP race, which is a crying shame.
After a few down years, The Big Fundamental exploded back onto the scene in 2012-13, looking like a 10 years younger version of himself. Duncan told USA Today's Sam Amick that "a lot of different stuff" has fueled his resurgence, but it essentially boils down to him feeling healthy for the first time in years.
He's been demonstrating it on the court this season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.7 blocks in only 30.2 minutes per game. When Tony Parker went down with a sprained ankle in early March, Duncan stepped right up and put the San Antonio Spurs on his back, finishing the month with 10 double-doubles in 14 games.
As a result of his ageless play, Duncan now ranks fourth in the league in terms of PER (24.7), according to Basketball Reference, trailing only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. In other words, in a highly accepted measure of player efficiency, Duncan only falls behind three of this season's leading MVP candidates.
Considering that he's on the team with the best record in the Western Conference, Duncan's MVP resume appears largely flawless. The low number of minutes per game he's been playing will be the only thing holding Timmy back from meriting serious MVP consideration this season.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent
8. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
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Last week's ranking: 6
The Los Angeles Lakers' tenuous hold on the Western Conference's final playoff spot causes Kobe Bryant to take a spill in this week's MVP odds list.
The meniscus tear that Metta World Peace suffered in late March could not have come at a worse time for the Lakers, who appeared, for the first time this season, to be cruising toward the playoffs. Instead, the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks have made up ground in the playoff race, giving Bryant no option but to tough his way through a bone spur in his left foot.
Whether it was due his own injury or the compounding ailments of his teammates, Bryant's shooting efficiency plummeted to a season-low 42.8 percent in March. He still averaged 26.5 points, a season-high 7.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game over the month, but the Lakers need the far more efficient Bryant from earlier this season to re-emerge if they're going to make one final playoff push.
If the Lakers weren't such a hot mess in 2012-13, Bryant would be a top-five MVP candidate without question. Next to LeBron James, Kobe is the only player in the league averaging at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, according to Basketball Reference.
A top-five MVP candidate can't come from a team that doesn't even qualify for the playoffs, though. Still, Bryant has a chance to shoot back up these MVP rankings with a masterful performance against the Mavericks on April 2, which could effectively ends Dallas' playoff dreams.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent
7. James Harden, Houston Rockets
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Last week's ranking: 5
James Harden's time as a top-five MVP candidate appears to have come to an end this season.
Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale rested Harden down the stretch during a 103-94 loss against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 29, then held Harden out entirely the next night in a 98-81 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. If Harden takes off a few more games in preparation for the playoffs, it'll be a dagger in his chance to finish in the top five of MVP vote-getters.
When he's been on the court for Houston this season, he's been nothing short of sensational, averaging 26 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. With his willingness to lower his head and drive his way to the basket, he's also the only player in the NBA this season averaging at least 10 free-throw attempts per game.
The Beard ranks fourth in the league in terms of win shares (12.2), only a tenth of a point behind Chris Paul, according to Basketball Reference. He's fared slightly worse in terms of PER, however, ranking only eighth in the league (23.5) in that regard.
If Harden's sore right foot heals up quickly and allows him to not miss much more time, he still has a chance at a top-five MVP finish with a late run by the Rockets. Otherwise, he'll have to simply settle for being in the top 10 of MVP candidates in his first year as a team's No. 1 option.
Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent
6. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
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Last week's ranking: 7
With the New York Knicks riding an eight-game win streak (and counting), Carmelo Anthony takes a step this week toward becoming a top-five MVP candidate once again.
Early in the season, as the Knicks raced out to an 18-5 record, Anthony appeared to be a legitimate challenger to LeBron James' MVP throne. Over November and December, 'Melo shot 47.3 percent from the floor, according to NBA.com/stats, leading to assumptions that a new, more efficient Anthony had emerged.
Once the calendar turned to 2013, however, Anthony's shooting efficiency went into free-fall mode. He went from shooting 42 percent in January (while averaging 30.3 points per game, in his defense) to only 40.6 percent in February and 40.3 percent in March.
His three-point shooting percentages dropped significantly in each month of 2013, too, going from 38.9 percent in January to 30 percent in February and then to 25.5 percent in March. If that didn't end his MVP candidacy right there, a right knee injury that forced him to miss six games in March effectively did.
Winning tends to cure all, though. The Knicks' eight-game win streak has put some significant separation between them and the Brooklyn Nets for the Atlantic Division lead, which should earn Anthony some deserved recognition in the final few weeks of the MVP race.
Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent
5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
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Last week's ranking: 4
The Los Angeles Clippers' inability to beat a single Western Conference playoff team throughout the entire month of March causes Chris Paul to take a slight tumble in this week's MVP rankings.
CP3 allowed Tony Parker to get the best of him in a 104-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on March 29, but he had a chance to avenge himself the next night against the James Harden-less Houston Rockets. Instead, the Clippers got their doors blown off in a 98-81 loss despite 19 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals from Paul in only 32 minutes.
Despite the recent losses, Paul has the Clippers only one win away from the first 50-win season in franchise history. It's difficult to find too much fault with a point guard who averaged 19.4 points, 10.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in March on 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 87.8 percent from the charity stripe.
His per-game statistics aren't as flashy as some of the other top MVP candidates, but that's largely the result of him playing a career-low 33.3 minutes per game this season. He does lead the league in steals per game (2.4) and leads all active players (aka, anyone not named Rajon Rondo) in assists per game (9.6) too.
Advanced statistics only further bolster Paul's MVP case. He ranks third in the league in both PER (26.4) and win shares (12.4), behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant, according to Basketball Reference.
The Clippers don't appear nearly as threatening these days as they did during their 17-game win streak in December, however, which detracts from Paul's MVP resume a bit. He's on the brink of falling out of the top five MVP candidates, but remains there for the time being.
Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent
4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
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Last week's ranking: 3
With the Miami Heat's 27-game win streak finally snapped, Dwyane Wade falls one spot this week on the MVP favorites list.
Wade doesn't drop here entirely due to the Heat's March 27 loss against the Chicago Bulls, of course. After all, it was the team's first loss suffered in nearly two months.
Instead, the range of injuries recently weighing upon Wade causes his slight fall this week. He missed two straight games on March 24 and 25 due to a slight knee injury, then he missed Miami's matchup against the San Antonio Spurs on March 31 because of an ankle injury.
It's not unfathomable that coach Erik Spoelstra would start buying days of rest for his stars with the top seed in the Eastern Conference already locked up and the playoffs rapidly approaching. If anyone's going to benefit from a few games off before the playoffs, it's most likely to be Wade.
Even with a couple of games of rest in the final few weeks of the season, Wade won't tumble too far down the MVP favorites list. The man once known as Flash got his groove back after an early season swoon by shooting above 53 percent from the field in both February and March while averaging over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game across the two months.
Unfortunately for D-Wade, his biggest MVP obstacle isn't anything within his own control. It's the fact that he plays on the same team as the undisputed MVP favorite, LeBron James.
Odds of winning MVP: 1.5 percent
3. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
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Last week's ranking: 8
Since returning from a sprained ankle on March 22, Tony Parker hasn't missed a beat.
Parker came right out of the gate with 22 points, five assists and two rebounds in a 104-97 win against the Utah Jazz in his first game back, then followed that performance up with 23 points, seven assists, four rebounds, a steal and two blocks in a 96-95 loss to the Houston Rockets two nights later.
A week after his return, Parker got the best of Chris Paul and led the San Antonio Spurs to a 104-102 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. That victory helped the Spurs maintain the best record in the Western Conference and prevented the Clippers from gaining confidence about their chances against elite teams heading into the playoffs.
Largely due to the eight games that he missed with his sprained ankle, Parker dropped to 10th in the league in win shares (9.4), according to Basketball Reference. He's slightly better in terms of PER (23.8), ranking seventh in the NBA.
The injury killed any realistic chance that Parker had at taking home the MVP award this season, but he's made a late charge back into the top-five.
So long as the Spurs maintain their hold on the best record in the West and Parker keeps up his hot hand, he'll have a real shot at finishing within the top-three of the MVP race.
Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
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Last week's ranking: 2
Kevin Durant can't catch a break in the MVP race.
With eight games left in the season, he's averaging a league-high 28.3 points per game while shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range and 90.8 percent from the charity stripe.
If Durant can finish with his fourth consecutive scoring title while maintaining his place in the 50-40-90 Club, he'd be the first player in NBA history to ever do both in the same season.
Up until February, I believed that K.D. actually held the edge over LeBron James in the MVP race. The King then went supernova in February and March, creating an enormous amount of separation between himself and any other challenger.
Durant held the edge over James in terms of win shares while the Miami Heat were in cruise-control mode through January, but the Heat's 27-game win streak put an end to that. As of April 1, Durant trails only James in both PER (28.0) and win shares (17.1), according to Basketball Reference.
Without question, this has been the finest season of Durant's career. It's just no match for LeBron.
Odds of winning MVP: 3 percent
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat
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Last week's ranking: 1
LeBron James could miss the final 10 games of the 2012-13 season and he'd still be considered as the runaway MVP favorite.
That speaks to just how dominant he's been this year for the Miami Heat.
James essentially ended the MVP debate in February after averaging 29.7 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 64.1 percent from the field that month.
Following up in March with per-game averages of 25.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists only helped seal the deal for the King. The Heat only losing two games total in February and March didn't exactly hurt James' MVP case, either.
On Grantland, cartographer Kirk Goldsberry utilized data visualization to demonstrate exactly how James has improved his shooting efficiency since joining the Heat. Essentially, LeBron went all basketball nerd on the league and started taking more low-post shots and fewer off-balance three-pointers.
That's left James with no true holes in his MVP resume. He leads the league in both PER (31.3) and win shares (18.1), according to Basketball Reference, which means that no player has been more effective and valuable for his team this season than the reigning MVP.
He sat out against the San Antonio Spurs on March 31 due to a strained right hamstring, but it's too early to say how long coach Erik Spoelstra will hold him out for the rest of the year.
Realistically, it doesn't matter. Barring a 10-game triple-double streak from Kevin Durant, Chris Paul or Tony Parker, James will win his fourth MVP in five years this spring.
Odds of winning MVP: 90 percent