NBA MVP Rankings: Can Anybody Knock off Kobe Bryant?

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2012

NBA MVP Rankings: Can Anybody Knock off Kobe Bryant?

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    Kobe Bryant is on a mission for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, and he is looking to prove to those in and around the NBA that he's still a very viable candidate for the MVP award.

    We have seen some impressive play from key contributors around the league early this season, and the contenders will begin to separate themselves from the pretenders in the race as the year continues to move forward.

    It'll be very interesting to see if some of the players on this list can continue to keep the pace up for the entire campaign or whether some fizzle out after a piping hot start.

10. Rajon Rondo, PG Boston Celtics

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    Stats: 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 4.1 turnovers, 49.6 percent shooting

    Rondo is the engine that makes the Celtics go, and he's one of the few bright spots on a roster that is looking rather old at times on the court.

    He's clearly established himself as the most valuable player on the team, and it would be atrocious to watch Boston play without him in the starting lineup.

    His turnover rate is still far too high, and both his field-goal and free-throw percentages could use some more work.

9. Dwight Howard, C Orlando Magic

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    Stats: 19.4 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.3 blocks, 3.3 turnovers, 58.2 percent shooting

    The trade rumors surrounding Howard in the headlines are dwarfing his production on the court, and we should be talking about how well he's played thus far.

    We know he's an atrocious foul shooter (just 44.4 percent), but that really shouldn't come as a surprise.

    He's averaging a career-high in both rebounds and steals, and Howard is a force at both ends of the floor that the majority of teams simply don't have an answer for on a nightly basis.

8. Kyle Lowry, PG Houston Rockets

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    Stats: 17.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 3.3 turnovers, 42.8 percent shooting

    It's time more people start talking about what Lowry is doing for the Rockets, because it's fairly ridiculous that he isn't getting more attention in the public sphere.

    This isn't a new trend for Lowry, who has been playing extremely well since last season, and his aggressiveness on the court leads to a variety of opportunities for his teammates to find the bottom of the net.

    The low shooting percentage can be correlated to a need for him to score in order for the Rockets to compete, and Lowry's ability to stuff the stat sheet and impact the game are very apparent.

7. Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks

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    Stats: 26.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 3.3 turnovers, 42.7 percent shooting

    Anthony is putting up some solid numbers for Mike D'Antoni, but the ill-advised shots and the isolation strategy on offense are both issues that need to be corrected.

    With the Knicks really struggling to find an offensive identity, Anthony is being forced to assume a larger role and some of his numbers are impacted as a result.

    His field goal percentage is at its lowest mark since his rookie season, and it might be in his best interest to scale back on the three-point attempts considering he's averaging nearly five per game.

6. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Stats: 23.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, 3.0 turnovers, 53.4 percent shooting

    Griffin's struggles from the foul line are worth noting, but it should've been expected after he illustrated that element was not a strength in his game during his electric rookie season.

    He has improved in a myriad of other categories, and Griffin is actually shooting more efficiently this year than he did last season despite averaging more shot attempts per game.

    Chris Paul's arrival has allowed him to find opportunities on offense that were previously unavailable, and he's a walking double-double threat every time he takes the court.

5. Derrick Rose, PG Chicago Bulls

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    Stats: 20.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 3.2 turnovers, 43.9 percent shooting

    Rose is averaging a career-high in assists by a full assist per game, and he's continuing to make strides as a player at both ends of the court.

    Although he's struggling a bit with his shot, Rose can likely correct that issue by scaling back on the three-pointers attempted per game (a whopping 5.2 this season) and focus more on doing what he does best—attacking the rim.

    A lingering toe injury may be impacting his desire to push off and that could be an explanation for the increased jump shots, but it shouldn't be something we see from him all season.

4. Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Stats: 25.6 points, 14.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.1 turnovers, 44.1 percent shooting

    Some are quick to harp on Love's shortcomings at the defensive end, but the kid is just 23 years old and is rapidly improving every season he's been in the league.

    His efficiency from the floor is still something that he could definitely work on, and he's settling for far too many jump shots (especially from beyond the arc) rather than looking to get easy opportunities near the basket.

    Love's incredible 4.7 offensive rebounds per game speaks to how active he is on the court, and it's downright impressive to see his maturation as a player.

3. LeBron James, SF Miami Heat

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    Stats: 29.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.9 turnovers, 57.8 percent shooting

    James continues to impress with how well he's shot it from the floor this season, but he needs to ensure that his proclivity to settle for jumpers doesn't come back and turn into a pattern.

    After attempting just two three-point attempts all season through January 7, James has taken eight over his last three games (3-of-8) and isn't showing the same aggressiveness in the post that we saw from him to begin the campaign.

    His struggles from the free-throw line have been widely noted and criticized, and James has to do a better job of caring for the ball as well as involving himself at the defensive end in the same fashion he showed earlier in his career.

2. Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Stats: 26.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 3.4 turnovers, 50.2 percent shooting

    Durant might not fill up the stat sheet like some of the other players on this list, but his performance this season is nothing short of extremely impressive.

    He's shooting a career-high 50.2 percent from the floor and has looked like a much more comfortable passer in the half-court offense.

    He remains a scoring machine, but is looking to get his teammates more involved at times than he has in the past, and so far it's translated to a winning way of basketball for the Thunder.

1. Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers

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    Stats: 30.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, 3.9 turnovers, 45.6 percent shooting

    Bryant's averaging 24.9 shots per game through Los Angeles' first 15 games of the season, the second-highest mark of his career.

    It has led to a bit of inconsistency in his shooting (and a torn wrist ligament certainly doesn't help), but Bryant has remained productive in most of his games.

    He's quieting those who said he didn't have enough left in the tank to make a strong push, and the offseason surgery he had done on his knee is paying dividends in a big way.

    Finding a way to get his teammates involved and having led the Lakers to a 10-5 record through the first 15, it's really difficult to formulate an argument against him at the top right now.