NBA Award Watch: Ranking Most Valuable Player Candidates
Despite the NBA season being only a quarter of the way complete, the race to be named the Association's Most Valuable Player is heating up. For the last half-decade, LeBron James has been the face of the award, winning four of the last five.
But Kevin Durant is once again in the mix, and several new challengers have thrown their hats into the ring for the league's highest honor.
This slideshow projects who the top MVP candidates in the league are and how the voting would turn out if the season ended today.
All statistics are from NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
5. Chris Paul
Stat Line: 19.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 11.3 APG, 47.1% FG, 34.8% 3PT
His scoring has been great, but what's really driving the Clips this year is Paul's passing. Along with LeBron James, Paul is the best in the league at making everyone around him better.
Think his teammates, especially the frontcourt duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, would get the easy looks they do if it weren't for Paul? The answer is clearly no.
To further expand on his passing prowess, Paul leads the league in assists, and off his passes, the Clippers score 25 points a night (also an NBA high). His assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.41 is ridiculously good; he only gives the ball away 2.6 times per game.
He's not too shabby on defense either. His 2.36 steals per game rank him second in the NBA.
Once again, Paul is the total package. The only player more efficient than him is LeBron James, and night in and night out, he gets the job done for Los Angeles.
Despite the monster numbers, it will be hard for Paul to gain traction in the MVP race unless his team starts winning more games. Currently, the Clips have the West's fourth-best record. If they make a serious climb up the standings, Paul's chances of nabbing his first MVP trophy will grow, but given the nature of the Western Conference, it will be a tough task.
Still, Paul's value to his team can't be overstated.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge
Stat Line: 23.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 48.6% FG
Aldridge has long been one of the Association's best forwards, but this season he's elevated his play, averaging a career high in points and rebounds.
Damian Lillard may be the Trail Blazer making the highlight reels, but Aldridge has been the team's workhorse. He's taken more field-goal attempts than anyone else in the league, but he's made more than any other player. Aldridge ranks seventh in total wins shares, so clearly, Portland depends on his output (stats via Basketball-Reference).
Aldridge officially put his name on the MVP ballot with a jaw-dropping 31-point, 25-rebound, two-block, two-steal performance on December 12 against the Houston Rockets. He is the first player to put up that kind of stat line in a game since Chris Webber did in 2001.
In just a year, his player efficiency rating (PER) has jumped from 24th in the NBA to 10th. He's playing the best basketball of his career and has put himself and his team on everyone's radar.
3. Paul George
Stat Line: 23.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 46.0% FG, 40.9% 3PT
Last season, Paul George showed flashes of superstardom, but now it's official—he's one of the NBA's elite talents.
After James, George is basketball's best two-way player. His once-average offense has caught up to his All-NBA-caliber defense.
When taking a deeper look at George's stats, his MVP candidacy quickly becomes apparent.
He's transformed into a dynamic offensive threat. George is a deadly three-point shooter, especially from the corners, and has made himself into a capable mid-range shooter. In that area, he's making 44 percent of his attempts, compared to just 36 percent a season ago, via ESPN Stats & Info.
Out of all of the candidates in this slideshow, he is arguably the most important to his team's offense. As of December 13, when George is on the floor, Indiana scores 106.2 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench that number drops to 89.1, a difference of 17, the fourth-highest in the league.
The other players in this list don't crack the top 10.
On the other end of the court, the numbers speak for themselves. He helps pace the league's stingiest defense, which is allowing only 93.6 points per 100 possessions. George led the league in defensive win shares a season ago and is at the top of the list again in 2013-14. His defensive rating is fourth-best in the NBA (stats via Basketball-Reference.com).
George may be third on this list now, but that could easily change by the end of the season. According to ESPN, the MVP has been awarded to a player on the team that finished with the best record 58 percent of the time since 1990.
There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but George is on the right path to take the MVP trophy away from his rival, King James.
2. Kevin Durant
Stat Line: 28.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, 48.7% FG, 40.6% 3PT
Once again, the league's most prolific scorer is gunning for MVP recognition.
We all know Kevin Durant can put up points like an expert pinball player, but contrary to popular belief, he is much more than just a scoring juggernaut.
Durant has become a better rebounder and crafty passer. Currently, he's averaging career highs in rebounds and assists. He understands that there is much more to the game than just scoring, and he's one of the most complete players in the league.
It wouldn't be shocking to see that Durant ranks third in offensive win shares, but did you know he's fifth in defensive win shares? He's not known for his defense, but it is always improving. His current defensive rating is the lowest it's ever been, and he's improved in the category the last three seasons (stats via Basketball-Reference.com).
In turn, Durant is one of the most efficient players in the game. His player efficiency rating of 28.31 puts him only behind Paul and James for the NBA's best.
Like we've grown accustomed to, the Thunder are one of league's top teams and a legitimate title contender. The way for Durant to win his first MVP is to push his squad to the top of the Western Conference while outplaying George.
If the Pacers really do win the East, voters should still be more inclined to reward Durant, who has been MVP runner-up three times, instead of George, as long as the Thunder are the best in the West.
Because of what's happening in the East, combined with Durant's improved stats, he definitely has a shot to win the award he's been furiously chasing.
1. LeBron James
Stat Line: 25.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 6.5 APG, 59.8% FG, 41.4% 3PT
King James hasn't been dethroned—for now.
James is truly remarkable to watch at this point in his career. He's the definition of consistency. You know exactly what type of season he's going to have.
What's terrifying for the rest of the league is that his shooting numbers are actually better than last season. His field-goal and three-point percentages are the highest they have ever been. James continues to get more and more efficient. He possesses the best PER in the league for the seventh straight season, per Hollinger's NBA Player Statistics.
At this point, the only argument you could make for why James shouldn't be MVP is Miami's record; the Heat are in second place in the Eastern Conference.
This could be where the Heat end up, because their top concern is health, not locking up the East's top seed. Because of this, James will sit more than usual, especially at the end of the regular season, in order to be ready for the playoffs.
If the Pacers run away with the No. 1 seed, it could cost him a fifth MVP, but the more relaxed regular season may set James up to win a third NBA title.
Perhaps the time has finally come for fresh hands to hoist the MVP trophy at the end of the season, but for now, King James remains the ruler of the NBA's most coveted award.