The first half of the season is officially over for most teams in the NBA. Across the league, several players have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the crop by posting solid contributions statistically and leading their teams to respectable records.
This compilation of players is composed of those that have been able to play solid basketball and lead their team to wins throughout the season. Although other players might be posting record-breaking numbers, this list gives great consideration to team accomplishments as well.
Describing 20 potential candidates for the MVP award can be challenging and somewhat biased at times. After the first few candidates, which are the only ones likely to even receive a vote, it becomes a test of how the writer defines the value of the player statistically and personally.
Here is my version of the top 20 MVP candidates so far for the 2010-2011 NBA MVP award.
Statistics: 19.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.4 apg
Team record: 27-15
An elbow problem limited Joe Johnson at the start of the season. Eventually, the All-Star swingman opted for surgery to repair the ailing elbow and it seems to have been the best decision to make. In the month of January, Johnson is averaging 27.7 points per game and the Hawks are rolling.
The Hawks are on pace for another 50-plus-win season and Johnson is clearly leading the way. As his numbers keep climbing on the stat sheet, so will his consideration for MVP.
Statistics: 20.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
Team record: 21-20
Even with all the negative feelings around the Trail Blazers organization, there is one bright spot in LaMarcus Aldridge. Once a team that looked up to Brandon Roy as their leader and captain, they now look to Aldridge.
Aldridge has embraced his new role as the team’s best player and go-to force in games. He is having his best season this year and flat-out dominates on a nightly basis. While people might still wonder what would have been had Roy, Aldridge and Oden played together healthy for a longer period of time, the development of Aldridge will not go unnoticed.
Statistics: 21.9 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.4 apg
Team record: 15-25
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it's Blake Griffin! In every rankings article there is always a surprise. Welcome, Blake. Where to start with this young man? He is a rookie, he is only 22 years old, he has a 27 double-double streak alive, and he is SportsCenter’s most popular NBA athlete.
Griffin is not all flashy dunks. He is actually a very smart player with an underrated basketball IQ. Given that he is a rookie, his ability to read defenses and find the open man is impressive. That is evident with his 3.4 assists per game. He is incredibly efficient around the rim as well, both offensively and defensively. He is also a top-notch rebounder.
Okay, enough about how good this kid is. How about his Los Angeles Clippers? Well, not so good. But as of late, the Clippers have actually been one of the hottest teams in the league. They are coming off wins against the Lakers and the Heat and off a run where they have won nine out of their last 13 games.
Blake Griffin will climb up this list quickly as the season comes to an end. He might not make it to the top, but expect him to continue his climb next season.
Oh, and one more thing, he dropped 47 points today to go with 14 boards.
Statistics: 18.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 8.8 apg
Team record: 22-18
Raymond Felton was one of the Knicks' big acquisitions this offseason. All the hype in the Big Apple was centered on the arrival of Amar’e Stoudemire, and many forgot about the newly signed point guard. Halfway through the season, that has changed. Everyone knows the Knicks' starting point guard now.
Felton is having a career year. His is scoring a career high 18.0 points per game and dishing out a career high 8.8 assists per game. While Mike D’Antoni’s system certainly favors Felton's style of play, these numbers speak for themselves.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a big part of the New York Knicks' success this season, but Raymond Felton has been a big part as well.
Statistics: 17.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 6.9 apg
Team record: 35-6
The San Antonio Spurs are having an incredible year and that will certainly boost several Spurs players in the MVP rankings. Tony Parker is one of those players.
This year, Parker is averaging a career high 6.9 assists per game. He is thriving in the open court with the new, fast-paced Spurs. Overall, he is having a strong season in all statistical categories.
Similarly to some of the other Spurs All-Stars like Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, Parker has been able to do this in a relatively small amount of minutes: only 32 per game.
Statistics: 18.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.9 apg
Team record: 30-12
Pau Gasol started the season brilliantly. He was an early MVP candidate and was often considered to be the best player on the Lakers, better than Kobe Bryant. As the season progressed, he leveled off and became the same Pau Gasol he was last year. That is not a bad thing, though.
Gasol is one of the best forwards in the game, and replicating his production of last year is only positive news for the Lakers. As the Lakers keep winning, his considerations for the MVP award might grow stronger.
Statistics: 22.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 8.3 apg
Team record: 27-13
Kevin Durant is the Oklahoma City’s leader and franchise player. Russell Westbrook is the Robin to Kevin Durant’s Batman. That could change soon.
Westbrook is having his best season so far in his young career. He has clearly emerged as one of the top guards in the league. His scoring boost to 22.1 per game this year and his focus on the defensive end with 1.9 steals per game speaks volumes. Soon, there might be two Batmans in Oklahoma City.
As good as Westbrook has been, there are still signs of improvement. His shot selection can improve and so could his decision making skills. But that is the scary part, seeing how this kid can still become even better.
An MVP award is unrealistic at this point for Westbrook, but he has in fact been the best player on the floor more than just several times this year. Maybe with some more experience, that feat could become more likely to happen.
Statistics: 19.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.4 apg
Team record: 30-9
Paul Pierce is having a great season for the Boston Celtics once again. He is having an overall efficient season so far. His efficiency shows in his career high 51.1 percent shooting from the field and his rare low turnover rate at 1.9 per game.
Pierce has been consistent all season and has already single-handedly won a few games for Boston. Even though the arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett as well as the emergence of Rajon Rondo took a lot of the spotlight away from Pierce, he is still the face of the Celtics.
Like other players on this list, the overall efficient style of basketball the Celtics play takes away from the individual efforts Pierce makes night in and night out. Regardless, his contributions are clear and so is his consideration for the MVP award.
Statistics: 16.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 9.6 apg
Team record: 26-16
It has been an up-and-down season for the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul. Paul is averaging only 16.5 points per game and his numbers are also down across the board. On the other hand, the Hornets have actually mustered 26 wins already.
Although he is not producing at the rate he did just a few seasons ago, his talent is still undeniable and his ability to direct the offense and make defensive plays consistently makes him a deserving candidate for the MVP award.
There have been many negatives in the Hornets' season including trade speculations, ownership problems, as well as relocation talks. Paul has been able to have a productive season and lead the Hornets to a respectable record. That counts.
Statistics: 10.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 13.4 apg
Team record: 30-9
So much for the big three in Boston. It is now a unanimous decision that it is the big four. Rondo is not only having his best year, but is also having one of the best years any point guard is having this season. Although injuries have slowed him down, he has been sharp throughout the season, leading the league in assists per game since day one.
Although he has been brilliant dictating the offense, he is still a liability shooting the ball and from the free throw line. Perhaps Rondo could better his percentages if he was to imagine a teammate right at the rim every time he shoots? Maybe not, but it is worth a try.
Boston is off to a good start and Rondo was a big part of the beginning of their season. Now back healthy, Rondo will continue to take defenses apart and rack up assists and wins for Boston.
Statistics: 22.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 9.4 apg
Team record: 27-14
Nobody expected the Utah Jazz to have such a good start to the season as they have. At least I didn’t.
The team lost All-Star forward Carlos Boozer to free agency and center Mehmet Okur to serious injury. They also lost sharpshooters Kyle Korver and Wesley Mathews and defensive specialist Ronnie Brewer. Now that’s some serious roster tweaking.
But one thing remained constant, the leadership and talent of Deron Williams.
Williams is averaging a career high 22.0 points per game and making over 1.8 three pointers per contest. He is the clear leader on the floor for Utah at all times and has been able to bring guys like CJ Miles and Ronnie Price to play at the highest level they ever have. Also, he has made Al Jefferson a top forward in the game once again.
Not enough can be said about the level of play of Deron Williams. In my eyes, he took the close gap for best point guard in the league from Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo and separated himself just a little more. As the top point guard in the league, Deron Williams definitely deserves MVP consideration.
Statistics: 25.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.2 apg
Team record: 30-12
Dwyane Wade plays with LeBron James, as everyone knows. That does not mean he has no shot at the MVP award. Well, at least it does not ban him from this list, anyways. Even though his teammate is having a better season and is a bigger part of the team, Wade is still having an amazing year as well.
For a shooting guard, Wade is rebounding the ball with ferocity. At 6.5 rebounds per game, Wade is both establishing a career high as well as becoming one of the top rebounding guards in the league. Coach Spoelstra indicated the team was working on a reward system based on rebounds and turnovers and it seems to have Wade very involved at both ends of the court.
While LeBron’s presence makes Wade an unlikely candidate for the MVP award, his level of play and his intensity at the glass make him a clear candidate for the NBA MVP award.
Statistics: 28.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.0 apg
Team record: 27-13
The Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to be one of the top teams in the West after their surprising run last season. They were starting to be looked at as one of the only teams that could present a real challenge to the Lakers.
So far, so good.
Taking the above argument, it could be assumed that if that is true, Kevin Durant would be at the top of the MVP rankings at this point. Not so fast. Although Durant is having another solid season, he has not shown an improvement in any area of his game so far this season. Not that there is much to improve anyway, but you know what I mean.
The Thunder have really come together collectively and if there is something to be excited about this year, it is the play of Russell Westbrook, not Kevin Durant.
Statistics: 18.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
Team Record: 35-6
It has been said over and over that the MVP award most of the time goes to the best player on the best team. The problem with that argument this year is that the Spurs play so well together it is hard to find an individual that jumps out as the clear catalyst of the team. Regardless, here is some love to Manu Ginobili, the best player on the best team.
For the season, Ginobili is scoring 18.9 points per game, something he failed to do in the last three years. He is scoring with the best of them from three-point land as well, making 2.3 per game.
Ginobili is showing what he can do when healthy, and brings extreme intensity on both ends of the court every minute he plays. Oh, and about those minutes? He only plays 31 of them per game. Now those statistics look a bit better, don’t they?
Statistics: 21.7 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 1.2 apg
Team record: 26-14
Once again, Dwight Howard is the best center in the league. He is averaging over 21 points per game and is second in rebounding at 13.3 behind rebounding monster Kevin Love. He is also fifth in the league in blocks per game. If he could only improve in sharing the ball, he could make MVP voters take a better look at him.
The problem is that Howard is really not different from what he has been for the past two seasons. Neither are the Magic. The reality of things is that if Dwight did not win the MVP award, or came really close to doing so, in the last two seasons, he will not be winning it this season, either.
That does not mean he does not deserve a top spot in the MVP rankings, though. Here’s some love, Dwight. Now smile and stop barking at referees and collecting technical fouls.
Statistics: 26.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.7 apg
Team record: 22-18
Amar’e Stoudemire was at the top of the NBA MVP rankings for a while just a few weeks ago. Then he, and the Knicks, came back down to Earth. Now, he sits among the top candidates but without a clear advantage among the players above and below him.
There are a few noticeable things about the All-Star power forward that are worth mentioning. First of all, he is averaging 26.0 points per game. Without his dream point guard Steve Nash, many did not expect him to average more than 20.
Secondly, for a big man that was known to catch the ball and throw it down, he has demonstrated his underrated ability to share the ball by averaging a career high 2.7 assists per game.
Last but not least, he is third in the NBA with 2.4 blocks per game. And no, that’s not a typo.
The Knicks have slowed down as of late but are still a team playing solid basketball, and have their minds set for a higher playoff seed this year. That by itself will keep Amar’e in the MVP race all season.
Statistics: 25.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.5 apg
Team record: 30-12
Kobe Bryant is once again close to the top of the NBA scoring ranks this season and also among the top MVP candidates as well. Also, he is playing a career low 33 minutes per game.
The Lakers seem to have found their rhythm again in the last few games, save the game against the Clippers. This happened after a period were the Lakers lost three straight games and had the NBA community talking about whether Bryant was helping or sinking the Lakers late in games.
Those conversations are not gone, but have definitely died out significantly.
The Lakers face a much tougher second half of the season that will require the core of the team to play better down the stretch. Given the level of talent they will be facing, their performance will be the sole determinant of Bryant’s chance at another MVP trophy this year.
Statistics: 25.4v ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.2 apg
Notable: Heat lost two without him, numbers down across the board
Team record: 30-12
Although it is easy to dislike LeBron James for his career and personal decisions in the past year, it is very hard to dislike his basketball abilities. He is the only player in the league to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists, let alone seven rebounds and seven assists. The Heat started the year slow, but have caught fire as of late and hold one of the best records in the league.
The last two games for the Heat have been a different story. They are on a two-game losing stream that coincides with the injury to LeBron James that kept him out of those two games. Two games don’t mean much, but they are an clear indication that without James, the Heat are really just not even half of the team they are with him.
Just looking at his numbers night in and night out will keep James at the top of this list throughout the remainder of the season. With another winning streak like the one they had at the end of 2010, LeBron might even sneak up a few spots and three-peat as league MVP.
Statistics: 23.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Team record: 26-14
Let’s start this particular discussion with the fact that the Mavericks only won two of the nine games they played without their franchise player, Dirk Nowitzki. Yes, the team also missed Caron Butler due to a season-ending injury, but it is clear it's Nowitzki who is missed the most.
What about the other 21 games they have played with him in the lineup? The Mavericks have won 24 out of those 31 games.
The superstar forward is averaging over 23.6 points per game at a career high 54.1 percent clip. Not bad for a big man that lives off off-balanced fadeaway jumpers. As for the rest of Dirk’s numbers, he has been as consistent as he has been for the past ten years.
The place of Dirk Nowitzki on an MVP candidate list might fluctuate due to a writer’s perspective, but at this point, it is hard to slip a guy a few spots because he got hurt and demonstrated how valuable he is to the team while doing so.
The Mavericks have Dirk back and should get close to their level of play they were at before their injuries, and then Nowitzki will once again prove his value and his spot on this list. This time though, it will be with Mavericks wins.
Statistics: 24.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.0 apg
Team record: 28-13
When Derrick Rose was drafted first overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2008, he was considered to be the new franchise player. Although the weight of such responsibility might sometimes be too much for a young player, Rose embraced the challenge. Almost three years later, Rose has become exactly that.
Rose is scoring a career high 24.5 points and 1.6 three-pointers per game, leading the Bulls to the best start since Michael Jordan left the franchise. The Bulls are at top of the Central Division and hold an outstanding 11-game lead over the second-place Indiana Pacers.
Something very noticeable about Rose is that he led the Bulls through the first 15 games without the Bulls second-best player in Carlos Boozer. Also, once Boozer returns, the team lost center Joakim Noah. No problem, Rose made both losses seem easy to handle.
So far this season, it is clear that Derrick Rose has been the catalyst to the success of one of the best teams in the league and is also having an incredible individual year.