Top 10 NBA MVP Candidates at the All-Star Break
NBA MVP voting is more a popularity contest than an evaluation of one's "value" to their team.
Voters get bored with the same names, so instead of Michael Jordan winning the award in 1993 and 1997, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone got the nod. In 2010 Derrick Rose wasn't statistically better than LeBron James, but the same name creates staleness, and nobody likes staleness.
Having won the award the past two seasons, and four times overall, James is likely to be a victim of his own success again this season. Especially as a worthy contender has emerged, with many prognosticating his potential dethroning of the incumbent "King."
These are the top 10 candidates for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy come season's end.
Honorable Mentions: Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving
Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC
21.3 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 7.0 APG; 1.8 SPG; BPG 0.1; FG% .424
Playing with Kevin Durant can't be the easiest of tasks for a scoring point guard the likes of Russell Westbrook. With his superstar teammate dropping 30 points a night, Westbrook continued to maintain his scoring edge coming off the knee injury he suffered last postseason.
The fiery point guard is in the honorable mentions because of the number of games he's played. Having only appeared in 25 games out of a possible 49, Westbrook hasn't proven himself as frequently as the other contenders have.
With a return to fitness in the offing, Westbrook will certainly shoot up the list, as well as dent Durant's hopes a bit.
Kyrie Irving, PG, CLE
21.5 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 6.2 APG; 1.3 SPG; BPG 0.3; FG% .457
Appearances aren't a problem for Cleveland's former No. 1 overall pick. Kyrie Irving has played in all but three of the Cavaliers' 47 games; but the Duke product hasn't been winning as much as his stats may indicate.
Basketball's a team game, so the blame isn't squarely on Irving's shoulders. But with the Cavs' record of 16-31, his claim for MVP takes a dramatic hit.
In a porous Eastern Conference, Cleveland is only four games out of a playoff spot, so things aren't too bad. But to be the NBA's MVP, Irving would have to be otherworldly or earning his team more wins—and neither is applicable at the moment.
10. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin, PF, LAC
23.0 PPG; 9.7 RPG; 3.1 APG; 1.3 SPG; 0.3 BPG; FG% .529
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Blake Griffin has been absolutely stellar this season. KIA adverts and highlight reel dunks are what the fifth-year player is known for, but the presence of Doc Rivers was exactly what Griffin needed to expand his game.
While he's not leaps and bounds better than in previous season with regards to rebounds and field-goal percentage, it's the small details that prove telling.
In Griffin's first three years of action, he shot 60 percent from the free-throw line. This season he's attempting three more free throws than last season (5.3 in 2012-13 to 8.1 in 2013-14) and is shooting at 70 percent. His newfound stroke has enabled him to be more confident driving to the basket—which is when we get to witness Mozgovs and Gasols.
9. John Wall
John Wall, PG, WSH
19.8 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 8.6 APG; 2.0 SPG; 0.4 BPG; FG% .442
Quiet as it's kept, the Washington Wizards are a .500 basketball team, and in the East—that's considered terrific. The catalyst for their form thus far has been point guard John Wall.
If the Wizards hope to fend off the chasing pack behind them, Wall must keep his play at the level he's shown. Currently averaging career highs in points, assists, steals, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage, he's got a large task at hand.
That being said, Saturday night against Oklahoma City, the former Kentucky man had 17 points and 15 assists in a victory, which for Wizards fans is hopefully a sign of better things to come in the nation's capital.
8. Kevin Love
Kevin Love, PF, MIN
25.5 PPG; 13.1 RPG; 4.0 APG; 0.8 SPG; 0.4 BPG; FG% .460
Twenty points and 10 rebounds—only three players in the league can boast that claim at the moment. Kevin Love is the most prolific of the trio (LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins being the other two).
Were the Minnesota Timberwolves not 23-24, Love would be higher in the list no doubt, but MVPs normally go to the best player who isn't mired in mediocrity.
Rumors of Love returning home to So-Cal are rife. They're compounded by the Lakers apparently shopping Pau Gasol to Phoenix, which would clear extra cap space for a max player. With LA's bank account, you'd think if Love could give those numbers to a team with championship aspirations (rather than playoff ones), his MVP clout would do nothing but grow.
7. James Harden
James Harden, SG/SF, HOU
23.8 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 5.5 APG; 1.3 SPG; 0.5 BPG; FG% .448
James Harden's presence in Houston has been a revelation. While the third-wheel in Oklahoma City, the Arizona State alum has claimed top spot in the Rockets' hierarchy.
Harden's game deserves to be recognised as elite, and a possible first or second All-NBA team is in his future, but as for being the "Most Valuable," there are better candidates at the moment.
While seventh place could be deemed as "low," Houston has the seventh best winning percentage in the NBA, so it only seems logical.
6. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry, G, GS
24.5 PPG; 4.5 RPG; 9.0 APG; 1.8 SPG; 0.2 BPG; FG% .453
Kevin Durant's "best shooter to ever play," Stephen Curry checks in at No. 6 in the midpoint MVP race.
The lethal marksman, on par with James Bond, is having the best season of his five-year NBA career. Currently logging career highs in points and assists, the Golden State point guard has shown his 2009-NBA-Draft-doubters were anything but right.
We all knew the Davidson product could shoot the basketball; the questions surrounding him were:
Can he get his shot off in the NBA? He has a quicker trigger than what you'll find in Clint Eastwood movies.
Is he capable of running the point in an NBA sense? With nine assists a night, it would seem so.
Will he ever last 82 games? Curry played in 78 regular-season games last year and has played in 45 of 48 matches this season.
Currently on a five-game winning streak, and taking eight wins from their last 10, Golden State is poised to make a run for home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series. If it's to happen, Curry's play will be the determining factor.
5. Chris Paul
Chris Paul, PG, LAC
19.6 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 11.2 APG; 2.4 SPG; 0.1 BPG; FG% .464
The Los Angeles Clippers move as Chris Paul moves. The best example of a floor-general the NBA has, Paul's putting in another season of brilliant work.
The only current point guard averaging double-digit assists, Paul has positioned his team superbly come the second half of the season. Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan are having career years, due in no small part to the leadership of Paul.
The Wake Forest alum would be higher on the list, but he hasn't played as of late. After the All-Star break when his shoulder injury has cleared up, it's going to be difficult leaving him out of the top three should he his form remain consistent.
4. Paul George
Paul George, SF, IND
22.9 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 3.5 APG; 1.8 SPG; 0.3 BPG; FG% .448
It's hard to place Paul George. You're not sure if he powers the Pacers or if the Pacers power him. It's a sign of a great team and a great player that this conundrum exists, but it makes positioning George in the MVP discussion a difficult task.
Lance Stephenson's emergence has helped Indiana immensely. The bruisers named Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola have added to the squad's success, yet without George, you feel the team would lack a killer scorer. Danny Granger is still feeling his way back into regular minutes, and his presence will be felt more off the bench in the playoffs than anywhere else.
George has taken the Eastern Conference hostage. Were it not for LeBron James, he'd be the best player east of the Mississippi River, no doubt. But the team around him is so good, it makes George's life that little bit easier—something the top three players on the list don't enjoy as often.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR
24.4 PPG; 11.6 RPG; 2.8 APG; 0.9 SPG; 1.0 BPG; FG% .469
Subpar Portland teams and consistent injuries have kept LaMarcus Aldridge from being on lists like these in the past. By regaining his health and receiving support from Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, the Trail Blazers' power forward is finally proving his worth.
Currently third in the West behind Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Portland's 34-13 record is amazing. Considering the team missed last year's playoffs by 12 games, it's more of a shock.
Getting 24 points and 11 rebounds from your power forward, combined with Lilliard (last season's Rookie of the Year), is sure to produce a better product, but even Portland diehards have to be pleasantly surprised at their team's rapid growth.
Portland's performance thus far makes the best player on their team a candidate for MVP plaudits, and Aldridge has surely done enough to have his hat thrown in the proverbial ring.
2. LeBron James
LeBron James, F, MIA
26.3 PPG; 6.8 RPG; 6.4 APG; 1.4 SPG; 0.3 BPG; FG% .580
This season has been an exercise in patience for LeBron James. Having played the last three NBA Finals, with the 2012 London Olympics added in, "The King" has to be gassed. Not that the Heat don't play to win, because their 33-13 record would suggest otherwise, but they pick their moments to turn up.
That's a dangerous game to play when the likes of Oklahoma City and Indiana are gunning for your crown.
The on/off syndrome is possibly a symptom of regular-season boredom. If James plays a high-energy game, so will his teammates. If James plays passively, more times than not, his teammates will follow suit.
The MVP is James' to lose. He has the ability to register a triple-double every night. But with the Pacers locking up the East's No. 1 seed in November it seemed like, and Miami comfortably in second, one wonders if James will have the desire to push through or just coast.
1. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant, F, OKC
31.1 PPG; 7.6 RPG; 5.3 APG; 1.5 SPG; 0.8 BPG; FG% .512
The Durantula, Iceberg Slim, the Slim Reaper or KD, whatever your preferred nickname—Kevin Durant has been nothing short of ethereal 49 games into the season.
With his All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook sidelined due to injuries, Durant's taken the bulk of the scoring load, and at a clip of 51.2 percent, the former Longhorn has taken the NBA by storm.
Rattling off 12 straight 30-point games, and missing out on No. 13 because Scott Brooks called the dogs off, Durant's been on a torrid pace. As no player has averaged over 30 PPG during the course of a season since KD in 2009-10, the forward looks primed to repeat the feat.
The only question is: Will the return of Westbrook throw a wrench in the system?
If Westbrook wants to take the James Harden route and leave OKC, then he should say so; but if not, his time on the bench should have taught him: "Get Kevin the ball." If the duo's relationship is sorted, with Durant the "Batman" and Westbrook the "Robin," OKC will be a force come this postseason.
With LeBron James as Durant's main MVP competition, Durant edges James on points, boards, steals and blocks, not to mention having beaten the Heat in Miami last Wednesday 112-95.
For now, Durant has one hand on the NBA's MVP trophy; at the end of the regular season, we'll see if he can get two.
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