NBA MVP Odds 2014: Can LeBron James Capture His 5th?
A word to all of you NBA MVP hopefuls out there: Speak now or forever hold your peace.
And by "forever," I mean "until next year."
Any case in support of a candidate's pursuit of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy must be made by next week, if only because the 2013-14 regular season is set to go out with a bang on April 16. That doesn't leave voters much time to decide who, between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, should be this year's winner. Nor does it afford either of those superstars anything close to ample opportunity to assert themselves accordingly.
The same goes for the handful of worthy candidates who are essentially left to duke it out for third place in the MVP race, due to the dominance of James and Durant. Has Blake Griffin risen to the rank of runner-up-to-the-runner-up nod? Does Joakim Noah deserve that distinction for what he's done to solidify the Chicago Bulls sans Derrick Rose and Luol Deng? Is there someone else who's earned an edgewise word in this debate?
To clear up the picture as the playoffs draw near, let's sort through the rest of the MVP field—between those in the mix for third and those who simply deserve some dap—before getting down to the brass tacks of 'Bron vs. KD.
Note: All betting lines listed come from Oddschecker.com.
These guys have all had excellent seasons, though each one's MVP case has at least one major hole in it.
Chris Paul (Betting Odds: 47-1)
Paul remains the Los Angeles Clippers' unquestioned leader and is well on his way to both his third assist title and his sixth steals crown in the past seven seasons. But the five weeks that Paul missed with a separated shoulder have to be accounted for, even more so when considering the Clips' success in his absence and the player who drove the proverbial bus in CP3's stead.
James Harden (Betting Odds: 70-1)
If basketball were played on only one end of the court, Harden would have a shot at MVP. He's one of only three players in the NBA who's averaging at least 25 points, four rebounds and five assists this season. The other two are the leaders in the clubhouse for the league's most prestigious award.
But there's no ignoring Harden's hapless adventures on the defensive end. According to ESPN's new Real Plus-Minus rankings, Harden's Houston Rockets are 2.44 points per 100 possessions worse on defense when he plays—the 390th-best mark out of a possible 435.
Dwight Howard (Betting Odds: 89-1)
Howard is the front-runner among "Most Improved Team" MVP candidates. His Rockets have already won six more games this year than they did in 2012-13, when he was with the Los Angeles Lakers. But any vote that Howard draws at the ballot box would essentially be split with Harden, who's carried the team far more than Howard has at any given moment.
Kevin Love (Betting Odds: 51-1)
The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't in the best of shape with Love—at 38-38, their playoff drought has already been extended to a full decade—but can you imagine how much worse off they'd be without him? According to NBA.com, the T-Wolves are 5.5 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition when Love plays and a whopping 7.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he doesn't. For those keeping score at home, that's a 13-point swing!
The bottom line: Get the guy some help, or watch him walk away from Minny's money in 2015.
Carmelo Anthony (Betting Odds: 37-1)
Like Love, Anthony is all but disqualified from actual MVP consideration on account of his team's futility. Also like Love, Anthony can leave his current team via free agency, though 'Melo's day will come a year sooner.
'Melo's play would hardly suggest he wants to bolt. He's averaged 27.5 points and a career-high 8.2 rebounds while leading the league in minutes per game.
The Race for Bronze
Blake Griffin (Betting Odds: 24-1)
Remember those five weeks, between January and February, during which the Clippers went 12-6, despite the absence of Chris Paul? Griffin surely does. He averaged 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists in just under 36 minutes while CP3 sat out those games.
But the stats and their context constitute only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Blake's MVP case. In addition to his usual assortment of lobs and jams, Griffin has flashed a much more confident shooting stroke, both from the field (a respectable 37.3 percent between 10 and 19 feet) and from the free-throw line (71 percent). Throw in Griffin's ball-handling and passing abilities, and the high-flying 25-year-old looks like the MVP of L.A.'s present and future.
Joakim Noah (Betting Odds: 113-1)
Noah, too, has had to handle the adversity that comes with high-profile absences, though those of his Chicago Bulls have been far more glaring. Derrick Rose played in just 10 games—to only marginal effect, at that—before succumbing to yet another knee injury. Luol Deng, the team's second-best perimeter player, was shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January.
And yet, here are the Bulls, at 45-32, tied for the third-best record in the East, thanks to a 36-16 stretch since mid-December. In that time, Noah's averaged 13.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, an astounding six assists and three combined blocks and steals in 36.3 minutes a night.
If the oddsmakers had paid any attention to the way in which Noah's anchored Chicago's efforts on both ends of the floor, they'd have him much closer to the head of the MVP race than 113-to-1.
Paul George (Betting Odds: 39-1)
Once upon a time, George was the trendy pick to challenge LeBron James and Kevin Durant for MVP supremacy.
That's no longer the case, to say the least. The light cast on the Indiana Pacers on account of their recent struggles has exposed George's role in his team's futility. His productivity has been on the decline from his early-season breakout levels since January. The difference, though, has been most dramatic over the last month, during which he's averaged 18.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting (31 percent from three) while turning the ball over 3.3 times per game.
On the flip side, George's slide only further illustrates just how valuable he is to the Pacers. They were well in command of the top spot in the Eastern Conference back when he was pouring in close to 23 points a night. Without the George of yestermonths, Indy looks as ripe for an upset as any of the East's top-four seeds.
Betting Odds: 7-2
LeBron James is still well within range of capturing his fifth MVP trophy in the last six years. His numbers (26.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 56.8 percent shooting from the field), while not quite the best of his career and a slight cut below last year's, are still spectacular in their own right.
Even more so when considering the 25 games missed by Dwyane Wade, who's looked more fragile than ever this season.
Despite all of that, James has his Miami Heat on track to capture their second consecutive No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. And, according to ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, James is still the most impactful player on a per-possession basis.
That being said, James has his work cut out for him if he's to make up the necessary ground on Kevin Durant between now and the end of the regular season. Five of Miami's remaining games will come against current playoff teams, including home dates against the Brooklyn Nets and the Pacers and trips to Memphis, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The quality of competition in those cases should draw plenty of eyeballs to see James in action.
If James' recent play (i.e. five 30-point games and a triple-double in his last eight) is any indication, he should be well prepared to capitalize on the few remaining opportunities he has to defend his MVP crown. "I have no choice," James told the Sun-Sentinel's Shandel Richardson of whether he'll rest down the stretch. "I don't plan on sitting out any of these games unless something happens. I'm going to be in the lineup."
Betting Odds: 1-33
If LeBron's year can be described as "LeBron-like" (i.e. so good that it's practically commonplace), then Durant's deserves distinction as "singularly transcendent." Here are some of the highlights that help to contextualize just how great KD has been, and why he currently deserves to take home the NBA's heftiest individual hardware:
- He's scored 25 or more points in 41 straight games, surpassing Michael Jordan's previous mark of 40 for the longest such streak the NBA has seen in the last half-century.
- His January was far and away the finest month any player put together this season. He averaged 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from three.
- That portion of the calendar also featured Durant score 30 or more in 12 consecutive games—the best such stretch in more than a decade. In the sixth game of that streak, Durant piled up a career-high 54 points on just 28 shots in a win over the Golden State Warriors.
- Durant's February (33.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists) wasn't too shabby, either. Neither was his March (34.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists).
- His scoring average (32.1 points per game) not only puts him a chasm-like 4.6 points ahead of Carmelo Anthony's in pursuit of what will be Durant's fourth scoring title in five years, but it's also the highest any player has logged since Kobe Bryant poured in 35.4 points per game in 2005-06.
- Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder have already won 55 games and could clinch their second straight 60-win season, despite extended absences from Russell Westbrook (34 games), Kendrick Perkins (20 games) and Thabo Sefolosha (21 games).
How does this year's NBA MVP race stack up in your mind? Let me know on Twitter!