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If the MVP race is down to two legitimate contenders, who should be next in line? In other words, which star would've been the MVP in the hypothetical world in which LeBron James and Kevin Durant don't exist?
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.