For the first time in more than two years, LeBron James doesn't have a stranglehold on the MVP award.
James has been terrific in the season's first two weeks, but thanks to the strong work of no fewer than four legitimate challengers, he's got some company at the top.
Paul George has ascended, leading the Indiana Pacers to the league's best record and playing the kind of two-way game that should get serious MVP consideration. Kevin Durant is leading the league in scoring, and Chris Paul has the Los Angeles Clippers piling up points at an absurd pace.
Oh, and Kevin Love is back to his statistically dominant ways after a season on the sidelines.
It's still almost comically early to make judgments on where the league's top contenders will eventually stack up in the MVP race, but it certainly seems like we're in for a historically competitive battle. Let's see how things stand in this week's Most Valuable Player odds.
2013-14 Stats: 23.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks
Last Week: 10-1
The New York Knicks are falling apart around Carmelo Anthony, which, on its own, is going to put a damper on 'Melo's MVP chances. For as long as the award has existed, voters have always valued team performance very highly.
With the Knicks struggling early, Anthony's odds have taken a major hit.
He's not doing much to help himself, either. Through the first two weeks of the 2013-14 season, Anthony has hit just 41 percent of his shots from the field and 32 percent from long range. Both of those figures are significantly lower than the rates he posted in what might have been his career year last season.
On the plus side, Tyson Chandler's injury will most likely force 'Melo to play much more at the power forward, which is where he's been more effective in recent seasons.
Per Ian Begley of ESPN, he called a players-only meeting and is saying all the right things about playing through adversity.
"We've got to want it, we've got to want to do it. We've got to believe in ourselves, and right now we're playing like we don't even believe in ourselves," Anthony said. "It's just effort."
He deserves credit for the verbal leadership he's shown so far.
But if the Knicks continue down the path they're on, there's a strong likelihood that 'Melo will find himself outside the top 10 in a hurry.
MVP Odds: 30-1
2013-14 Stats: 18.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks
Last Week: 15-1
Stop me if you've heard this one before: The San Antonio Spurs sit atop the Western Conference, and Tony Parker is the man most responsible for getting them there. That analysis could have come from any of the past five or six seasons, but today it's as accurate as ever.
Parker is hitting over 53 percent of his field goals, and his per-minute numbers are all basically identical to the ones he put up a year ago. He was a fringe MVP contender last season, so it's only fair that he remains one now. The only reason for his slight decline from last week's spot is the emergence of younger candidates ahead of him.
Someday, Parker will fall out of the MVP discussion. But with the way he and the Spurs have managed to stay among the NBA's elite for so long, it's hard to know when that'll be. Maybe check back in 2019 or so.
MVP Odds: 25-1
2013-14 Stats: 19.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Last Week: 25-1
Don't be fooled by Stephen Curry's per-game stats; the Golden State Warriors point guard is actually having a better statistical season than he did in his breakout campaign last year.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Curry's per-36-minute averages in scoring, rebounding and assists are all up from what they were in 2012-13. Plus, he's now attempting 9.6 three-point shots per 36 minutes, up from his rate of 7.2 per 36 minutes last year.
Basically, Curry is playing less this year, but doing more with his minutes.
Unfortunately, the occasionally careless ball-handler has also seen his turnovers spike. After posting a career-best turnover rate of 13.7 percent last year, Curry is now coughing up the rock on 21.3 percent of his possessions. In fact, his shaky ball security is the main reason the Warriors are last in the league in turnovers, a statistical ranking that is currently preventing them from capitalizing on their remarkably improved defensive numbers.
Statistically, the Warriors profile as an elite team in most other areas. If Curry can clean up his turnover problem, watch out.
MVP Odds: 20-1
2013-14 Stats: 21.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.3 steals, 3.9 blocks
Last Week: Unlisted
If these odds were based on raw production and overall impact, Anthony Davis would probably rank in the top five. That's how good he's been in the first two weeks of his second season.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, the New Orleans Pelicans forward is fourth in the league in win shares, first in PER and trails only defensive juggernaut Roy Hibbert in blocks per game. When you toss in his incredible defensive versatility—watch him completely annihilate an opponent's pick-and-roll by ably switching out onto a guard sometime—an MVP award starts to sound pretty darn reasonable.
But, the Pelicans can't really hope for much more than a low playoff seed and a relatively early postseason exit this year. Because of that limited ceiling, Davis' chances at winning the award are unfairly slim. Whatever struggles New Orleans endures this year won't be because of Davis.
Simply put, he's taken a massive leap this season, and he belongs in the discussion of the league's elite players right now.
MVP Odds: 20-1
2013-14 Stats: 14.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks
Last Week: 4-1
Clearly, name recognition still counts for plenty when it comes to the MVP discussion.
Derrick Rose has been absolutely awful this year. His per-game numbers are all the worst they've been in any year of his career, and his shooting statistics are currently the chief cause of nausea in the Chicago area.
Everybody expected a little rust from D-Rose upon his return, but accuracy rates of 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from long distance are worse than what even the most cautious prognosticators could have foreseen.
Still, Rose looks like he's physically recovered from his knee injury, which means his struggles are likely to dissipate as he logs more and more time on the court. He'll have to turn things around in a hurry, though, because he's occupying this spot on the list based on reputation alone at this point.
Rose is too good to be something like an "honorary" member of the MVP-odds discussion. His chances have taken a hit, but it's still much too early to write him off altogether.
MVP Odds: 12-1
2013-14 Stats: 26.4 points, 15.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Last Week: Shamefully Unlisted
Kevin Love leads the NBA in win shares, rebounding and eye-popping outlet passes, which tells us a couple of things.
First, it's now clear that his twice-broken hand is feeling much, much better. And second, it was a crime to exclude him from the first edition of MVP odds. Sorry, big guy; you're back where you belong now.
I guess concerns about his defense and rotten injury luck contributed to his exclusion, but really, there's no excuse for keeping such a statistically dominant player out of these rankings. Because while it's true that the Minnesota Timberwolves' stat-stuffing machine really does struggle defensively, his contributions in the areas that voters love are undeniable.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, three players have finished a season with Love's current averages of at least 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
It's tough to imagine those numbers holding up over a full year, but if they do, Love will have a serious case for MVP honors.
MVP Odds: 10-1
2013-14 Stats: 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 12.4 assists, 2.9 steals, 0.0 blocks
Last Week: 5-1
It says a lot about the candidates ahead of him that Chris Paul has put up the kind of incredible numbers he has, only to see his odds remain unchanged.
CP3 is the engine that makes the NBA's second-best offense go, and he's putting up the best individual numbers we've seen from him since his truly remarkable 2008-09 campaign. Nobody gets to desired spots on the floor or changes pace like Paul, and as we get more and more access to motion-tracking analytics, his nuanced game is going to get the appreciation it deserves.
It's just hard to imagine him doing enough to overtake the trio occupying the three spots ahead of him, though.
MVP Odds: 5-1
2013-14 Stats: 30.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks
Last Week: 3-1
It feels wrong to have Kevin Durant lower than the No. 2 spot in any legitimate treatment of the NBA's superstar hierarchy. In truth, it's possible that KD is still the league's second-best player, and he might wind up leading the NBA in scoring.
But his overall MVP resume just isn't as impressive as the two players ahead of him.
Durant should see his efficiency numbers spike as Russell Westbrook rounds into form, which could help elevate his status a bit in future rankings. At the same time, the Oklahoma City Thunder's improved bench might allow for a reduction in Durant's playing time. That'd certainly be helpful in keeping him fresh for what should be a deep playoff run, but it won't aid in creating the kinds of gaudy numbers MVPs need.
If OKC manages to leapfrog the Spurs out West, KD might also see his odds improve.
There's no shame in having the third-best shot at a Most Valuable Player award, but it just feels strange to have Durant in this spot. We'll see if he can do enough to move up in the coming weeks.
MVP Odds: 4-1
2013-14 Stats: 24.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks
Last Week: Unlisted
Nobody has upped his MVP profile in the season's first two weeks like Paul George.
His Indiana Pacers are the league's lone undefeated team, he has increased his scoring average by more than seven points per game, and he's still one of the best two or three perimeter defenders in the league.
Per Basketball-Reference.com, he and teammate Roy Hibbert sit atop the NBA rankings in defensive win shares, and the Indiana Pacers have easily held on to the defensive supremacy they established a year ago.
George has undoubtedly addressed the few remaining weaknesses in his game faster than anyone expected. If he continues to be the best player on the team that possesses the league's top record, it's going to be very difficult to deny him serious MVP consideration.
Toss in the voter fatigue that might hurt the No. 1 candidate's case and a Most Valuable Player trophy starts to sound pretty realistic.
There's a long way to go, but George has distinguished himself with some truly remarkable play in the early going of the 2013-14 season. If he keeps it up, he could unseat the reigning king.
MVP Odds: 3-1
2013-14 Stats: 24.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks
Last Week: 3-2
Want to hear something crazy? LeBron James has somehow managed to improve on his absurdly good shooting numbers from last year.
That's right, after putting up accuracy rates of 56.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13, LBJ is hitting 57.9 percent of his shots overall and 47.6 percent from long range this season.
I guess he wasn't kidding when he said he'd gotten better over the summer.
The Miami Heat have had some troubling defensive issues this year, but that's to be expected from a two-time champ more concerned with preserving the health of its veterans than it is with winning games in November. Still, if the Heat don't amass another gaudy win total, James' MVP case will take a hit.
There's just no denying that LBJ is still the league's best player. But with George and the Pacers ascending, and the reality that voters tend to shy away from awarding the same player three straight MVPs—no matter how deserving—James' odds are worse than they've been in a very long time.
This is going to be a hell of a race.
MVP Odds: 2-1