Updated NBA MVP Odds: Will Any Late-Season Surges Impact MVP Picture?

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

Updated NBA MVP Odds: Will Any Late-Season Surges Impact MVP Picture?

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    Whatever got into Carmelo Anthony since the beginning of April has him skyrocketing up the MVP leaderboard in the final days of the regular season.

    Anthony exploded for 50 points against a superstar-less Miami Heat in the New York Knicks' first game in April, and then he proceeded to drop 40 and 41 points, respectively, in the Knicks' next two games.

    By doing so, he became the first player to score 40-plus points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field for three-straight games since Michael Jordan did it in the 1991-92 season , according to the Elias Sports Bureau

    Melo's scoring binge in April helped him wrest the scoring leader title away from Kevin Durant, at least for the time being. It also has him firmly back in the discussion for finishing as one of the top five MVP candidates, too.

    Anthony isn't the only player making a late charge up the MVP rankings, though. To be considered a top MVP candidate here, a player either has to be among the league leaders in a major statistical category, the most dominant player on his team or on a team with one of the best records in the league.

    How far has Melo's late-season explosion pushed him up the MVP favorites list? Let's find out.

     

    Note: Statistics and records are current through games played on April 10, except where otherwise noted. All advanced statistics come from Basketball Reference or NBA.com/stats, except where otherwise noted. Also, check out last week's rankings here.

Honorable Mentions

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    In alphabetical order:


    Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

    It physically pains me to not have Stephen Curry as a top-10 MVP candidate. He ranks third in the league in three-point shooting percentage (.449) and leads all players in three-point field goals attempted (555), making him the most terrifying sharpshooter in the NBA.

    Curry's defense is the main thing that prevents him from ascending into the top 10. Opposing point guards have managed a better-than-league-average PER of 16.6 against him this season, according to 82games.com

    If he tightens up on the defensive end, Curry will emerge as a viable MVP candidate for years to come.

     

    Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

    Like with Curry, I feel pangs of guilt for not including Marc Gasol as a top-10 MVP candidate this season. He's been one of the league's most dominant defenders and has only taken upon a larger offensive role since the Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay back in February.

    Gasol's per-game averages of 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks simply don't jump off the page like those of other top MVP candidates, though. With a little more consistency on the offensive end, Gasol should be recognized as one of the top two-way players in the league.

    In all likelihood, that will have to wait until the 2013-14 season.

     

    Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

    Blake Griffin may not immediately jump out as someone who deserves an Honorable Mention in the MVP race, but consider this: He ranks eighth in the league in win shares (10.4) and 12th in PER (22.8).

    Only six other players rank in the top 12 in both categories: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, James Harden, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook. Spoiler alert: You'll be seeing every one of those players listed here as a top-10 MVP candidate. 

    Griffin may be averaging a career-low in terms of minutes per game, but he warrants a fringe MVP nod for his improvement on both ends of the court this season.

     

    Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets

    I've been unfair to Brook Lopez by not including him in these MVP rankings this year. Just because he doesn't post the rebounding numbers that you'd expect from a typical big man (only 6.4 boards per game in 2012-13), that doesn't mean that he hasn't made his impact on the Brooklyn Nets.

    He's struggled on defense at times this season—especially guarding the pick-and-roll—but he's made significant strides on both ends of the court, too. The Nets were almost universally mocked for signing Lopez to a four-year max deal in the summer of 2012, but he's gone out and justified that contract with his inspired play this year.

     

    Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

    Deron Williams doesn't deserve a top-10 MVP nod due to his pre-All-Star break mediocrity, but he's been the superstar the Nets desperately need since mid-February.

    His pre- and post-All-Star Game splits—16.7 points and 7.6 assists on 41.3 percent shooting pre-All-Star break compared to 22.8 points and 7.9 assists on 48.1 percent shooting since the All-Star Game—almost look like they belong to two different players entirely.

    If the mid-February Williams sticks around for all of next season, expect D-Will to find himself firmly in the MVP conversation in 2013-14.

     

    Just missed the cut: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks

    Dropped from rankings: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

10. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    Last week's ranking: 7

    With James Harden's first full-season as a No. 1 option winding down, does anyone still doubt that he deserved every dollar of the five-year, $80 million contract that he signed with the Houston Rockets?

    Harden's detractors suggested that his success with Oklahoma City was a direct result of the presence of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. As we've learned this year, that's completely untrue.

    The Beard struggled with his shot at times throughout the season as he adjusted to opponents making him their defensive focal point each night, but he managed to find other ways to contribute. He's the only player in the league averaging more than 10 free-throw attempts per game, and he posted per-game career highs across the board in points (25.9), assists (5.9), rebounds (4.8), steals (1.8) and blocks (0.5).

    Of course, a large part of Harden's stat-stuffing ability in 2012-13 came from his career-high average of  38.2 minutes per game, but advanced statistics paint his MVP case, too. He's fourth in the league in win shares (12.6) and 10th in PER (23.3), both of which shatter his previous career bests.

    His somewhat lackluster defense keeps him from meriting top-five MVP consideration, as do his up-and-down performances since the end of March. The Rockets can't complain, though, as they're heading to the playoffs a year earlier than expected.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

9. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 10

    Skip Bayless owes Russell Westbrook a mea culpa.

    Bayless believes that because Westbrook is averaging more shots per game this season than Kevin Durant, he "can't be trusted." As Bleacher Report's own Kelly Scaletta points out, however, Westbrook's shooting tends to make Durant a better scorer, statistically speaking.

    This shouldn’t be a total surprise. Westbrook's unpredictability on offense leads him to take a few head-scratching shots per night, but it also flummoxes opponents to the point where they must respect him at all times defensively.

    He's not the most efficient shooter in the league (43.8 percent on the season), but a player averaging 23.4 points, 7.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals for one of the NBA's three best teams deserves at least some MVP buzz. As ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh noted (subscription required), Westbrook's 2012-13 season statistics are frighteningly similar to Derrick Rose's from his MVP campaign in 2010-11. 

    The fact is, Westbrook ranks fifth in the league in win shares (11.2) and eighth in PER (23.9) this season. If that's not worthy of being considered a top-10 MVP candidate, what is?

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.25 percent

8. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 4 

    Dwyane Wade skyrocketed up these MVP rankings in February and March as the Miami Heat strung together their 27-game win streak, but that's now only a distant memory for Wade and the Heat. 

    Instead, soreness in Wade's right knee has caused him to miss eight of the Heat's past 10 games. He plans to play against the Boston Celtics on April 12, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, but there's no telling how many more games he'll play in the regular season.

    After a rocky start to the season, Wade began laying waste to his NBA peers once the calendar flipped to 2013. He averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the field in February, then followed up with per-game averages of 20.8 points, 5.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals in March.

    That resurgent play helped Wade jump to seventh in the league in PER (24.1), despite starting the season facing questions about whether he had permanently lost a step. As he explained to USA Today, he's only grown more efficient in his old age because he "understands which shots are [his] shots and [he's] not shooting shots that aren't [his]."

    If not for his knee troubles, Wade would have a strong shot of finishing as a top-five MVP candidate, despite playing on the same team as the runaway MVP favorite (LeBron James). As it currently stands, he'll likely finish outside the top five in the MVP race. 

     Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent

     

7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Last week's ranking: 9

    Are we sure that Tim Duncan is 36 years old this year? Can someone check his birth certificate?

    After appearing to tail off the past two years, Duncan experienced a season-long resurgence in 2012-13. A 36-year-old man simply shouldn't be able to post averages of 17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 blocks in only 30 minutes per game, but that's exactly what he's done this season.

    Injuries sidelined the Big Fundamental in late January and early February, but he's been simply sensational since the All-Star break, averaging 18.8 points, 10.6 boards, 2.5 dimes and 2.4 blocks per game. While Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili battled injuries of their own, Duncan kept the San Antonio Spurs in the thick of the race for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

    He currently ranks fifth in the league in PER (24.6), and he is one of only four players above the age of 30 to boast a top-20 PER this season (along with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker).

    Again, until someone proves otherwise, I'm hereby suspending my belief that Duncan is as old as he says. There's absolutely no way that a 36-year-old man should be able to do the things he's done this season.

    Odds of winning MVP: 0.5 percent

6. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Last week's ranking: 8

    If the Los Angeles Lakers do end up qualifying for the 2013 NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant deserves the lion's share of the credit.

    Bryant has been the most consistently excellent Laker all season, but he's managed to step his game up even further during the team's final playoff push. Since the calendar flipped to April, Bryant is averaging 29.8 points, 8.2 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, guiding the Lakers to a 4-1 record.

    With the Utah Jazz breathing down the Lakers' necks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Lakers have needed every one of those points, rebounds and assists from Bryant. He hasn't played fewer than 41 minutes in game since March 28, almost single-handedly willing the Lakers to win on most nights.

    The highlight of Bryant's late-season brilliance came on April 10, in a must-win road game against the Portland Trail Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back. Bryant finished with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks, three steals and only one turnover, becoming the first player in NBA history to put up those particular numbers, according to the Elias Stats Bureau.

    He's tied with Marc Gasol for sixth in the league in win shares (10.8) and ranks 11th in PER (22.8) on the season. It may seem blasphemous to put someone on a team that's barely above .500 this high in the MVP favorites list, but Bryant deserves special consideration.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent

5. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Last week's ranking: 3

    Injury concerns and the rise of two other top MVP candidates caused Tony Parker to take a slight tumble in this week's MVP odds.

    Parker initially sprained his left ankle on March 1 against the Sacramento Kings, which caused him to miss the San Antonio Spurs' next eight games. He returned on March 22 and toughed it out the next two weeks, but suffered a shin injury in a 100-88 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 4. He has been sidelined ever since.

    Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is likely taking precautionary measures by resting Parker before the start of the playoffs, but it's fair to question whether Parker will return before the end of the regular season.

    Parker's been a monster this season when he has been healthy enough to take the court, though. With per-game averages of 20.6 points, 7.5 assists and 3.0 rebounds, Parker is on pace to become the first Spurs player in franchise history to average at least 20 points and seven dimes per game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    He's also one of only three players to be putting up at least 20 points and seven assists per game this season, according to Basketball Reference, along with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

    If Parker does miss the Spurs' final few games of the season, he'll have a difficult time maintaining his place as a top-five MVP favorite, despite how excellent he's been this season when he's played.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1 percent

4. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Last week's ranking: 6

    Carmelo Anthony apparently decided to turn into the NBA's Terminator once the calendar flipped to April.

    In his first five games of the month, he finished with at least 36 points per game while shooting 50 percent or better from the field. That run helped him become the first New York Knick in nearly 30 years to score at least 35 points in five-straight games, according to the Associated Press.

    Considering that MVP voters tend to often fall victim to the trap of recency, Melo's scoring binge couldn't have come at a better time.

    With all of that said, Anthony still can't be considered a top-three MVP candidate. There's no ignoring that Anthony shot 42 percent overall in January, 40.6 percent in February and 40.3 percent in March, especially when Kevin Durant and LeBron James both tout season-long shooting percentages in the 50's.

    Melo's phenomenal play in April did help him shoot back up the PER leaderboard, where he ranks sixth in the league (24.5) for the time being. However, he ranks only 16th in the league in win shares (9.1), trailing players such as Mike Conley, George Hill, and his own teammate, Tyson Chandler.

    MVP voters could well ignore Anthony's lackluster winter months if he maintains the league scoring lead over Kevin Durant in the final few games of the season. It doesn't mean that it would be the right choice, though.

    Odds of winning MVP: 1.5 percent

3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Last week's ranking: 5

    Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers struggled throughout March, but their dominant win against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 7 was all the reminder that anyone should need of why CP3 remains a top MVP candidate.

    With 24 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals, Paul orchestrated a complete and utter dissection of the Lakers, who were desperately fighting for their playoff lives. Any time the Lakers threatened to regain momentum, Paul managed to thwart them with a huge basket of his own or a dump-off to a teammate for an easy score.

    There's a reason Paul earned the nickname of "Point God," after all. The Clippers earned their first Pacific Division title and 50-win season in franchise history this year with Paul at the helm, but they'd be nothing more than a fringe playoff team without him.

    Paul ranks third in the league in both win shares (13.2) and PER (26.5), and continues to hold the league lead in steals per game (2.45). Besides Rajon Rondo, who's been sidelined since January with a torn ACL, CP3 leads all other players in assists per game (9.7), too.

    Throw in Paul shooting a career-high 88.9 percent from the charity stripe—no small feat for a team whose big men appear allergic to free-throw shooting—and there's no denying his place as a top-five MVP candidate this season.

    At this point, there's only one question that remains: Can Paul stave off Carmelo Anthony's late surge up the MVP favorites list and hold onto third place?

    Odds of winning MVP: 2 percent

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last week's ranking: 2

    Carmelo Anthony recently threw a wrench into Kevin Durant's attempt to make NBA history this season.

    Durant could become the first player in league history to finish with the league lead in scoring while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line. He's been in the "50-40-90 Club" since mid-December and held the scoring title for most of the season, too.

    But after the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder clashed on April 7, Anthony seized the league scoring lead from Durant, putting his history-making bid in serious jeopardy.

    Despite Anthony's ascendance to the top of the per-game scoring leaderboard, Durant should have little trouble finishing ahead of Melo in the MVP race. K.D. trails only LeBron James in both win shares (18.0) and PER (28.0), with no player threatening to take his spot in either category.

    He's posting career highs in shooting percentage (.506), free-throw percentage (.907), assists per game (4.5), blocks per game (1.3), win shares (18.0) and win shares per 48 minutes (.287), and also holds the league lead in total minutes played this season (3,017). 

    In short, besides James, no player has been more valuable to his team this year than Durant. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, James' magnificence has relegated Durant's career-best season to an afterthought in the MVP race.

    Odds of winning MVP: 3 percent

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Last week's ranking: 1

    In last week's rankings, I said that LeBron James could miss every game for the rest of the season and should still be considered the runaway MVP favorite.

    Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided to put that theory to the test with the No. 1 overall seed all but locked up, deciding to rest James for four of the Heat's six games between March 31 and April 10.

    And you know what? Even with Carmelo Anthony dropping 35-plus points a night and Kevin Durant remaining firmly in the "50-40-90 Club," James still hasn't lost his stranglehold on the award.

    Anyone who denies James' greatness this season is turning a blind eye to reality. The King has been a dynamo on both ends of the court, turning other great players into shells of themselves when playing against him.

    He's first in the league in both win shares (18.8) and PER (31.6), the latter by more than a three-point margin. If that fact alone didn't clinch the award for James already, his eye-popping 56.3 percent shooting from the field this season should do the trick.

    The Heat's 27-game win streak from Feb. 3 to March 27, the second-longest streak in NBA history, eliminated all doubt about which team should be considered the championship favorite this season. It's gotten to a point where other teams very well may need to clone James to stand a realistic shot of dethroning the defending champions.

    He's gotten to the point that he's now throwing alley-oop dunks to himself, all the while making it look completely effortless. In essence, James has become as much of a runaway freight train in the MVP race as he is on the fast break.

    Odds of winning MVP: 90 percent