Updated NBA MVP Odds at Unofficial Midseason Point

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2013

Updated NBA MVP Odds at Unofficial Midseason Point

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    With just over half the 2012-13 NBA season in the books, the 2013 NBA MVP race is boiling down to a two-man contest.

    Injuries proved detrimental to the MVP race in January. Two of the top MVP contenders, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan, suffered injuries that caused them to plummet down this list of favorites.

    Meanwhile, a torn ACL on Jan. 25 ended the season for Boston's Rajon Rondo, who frequently earned an honorable mention nod here in the first half of the season.

    As a result, a handful of forwards lead the MVP race as we head into February. To be a top MVP candidate, a player must either be on a championship-contending team, the clear bona fide star on their roster and/or one of the league leaders in a major statistical category.

    Previous MVP rankings here.

Honorable Mention

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    In alphabetical order:

    Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks

    Tyson Chandler tied a New York Knicks franchise record with three straight 20-rebound games in the team's first three games of February.

    On the season, Chandler is averaging 11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and a block per game while shooting an NBA-best 67.3 percent from the field. He's also just about the only thing giving the Knicks anything near a league-average defense, which will only help come playoff time.

    Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

    The most criminal All-Star snub of 2013 belongs to Stephen Curry, who missed a nod despite averaging 21.1 points, 6.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game for a 30-17 Golden State team.

    A sprained right ankle sidelined Curry for the Warriors' last two games in January, but he returned against Phoenix on Feb. 2 with 29 points, eight dimes and two steals. As long as he stays healthy, he's got the best chance of any of the honorable mentions to break into the Top 10.

    Paul George, Indiana Pacers

    The secret's out on Paul George now that he's earned his first All-Star berth. He's a budding star in the making for the Indiana Pacers.

    George averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals for the Pacers in December, then averaged 19.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals in January. George's step forward has made Indiana a team that no opponent will enjoy in the playoffs, especially once Danny Granger returns.

    Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

    Blake Griffin's averages of 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game might not scream "MVP candidate," but they're more impressive when considering he's only playing 32.7 minutes per game.

    Griffin's defensive efficiency in 2012-13 earns him this honorable mention spot, however. Through 336 attempts, he's only allowing opponents to score 0.75 points per possession, good for 32nd in the league, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

    Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lilllard gets the nod over Jrue Holiday here because of their teams' respective records. Portland sits only a game out of eighth place in the hyper-competitive Western Conference, while Philadelphia trails the Boston Celtics by 3.5 games in the lackluster East.

    Lillard has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for the first three months of the season, and it's not difficult to see why. His per-game averages of 18.4 points, 6.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 three-point field goals have Portland more competitive than the team ever was expected to be in 2012-13.

    Just missed the cut: Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers; LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers 

    Dropped from rankings: Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

10. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    Previous ranking: 7

    Tim Duncan has enjoyed nothing short of a transcendent season in 2012-13, but the injury bug finally caught up with the 36-year-old in January.

    A sore left knee sidelined Duncan for the San Antonio Spurs' final four games in January (all relatively easy wins). When he returned on Feb. 2 against the Washington Wizards, he sprained his right ankle and left knee in a collision with Washington's Martell Webster.

    Considering that Duncan had to be helped off the court, it's hard to picture Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rushing his star back to action. San Antonio holds the best record in the league at 38-11 and is riding a 10-game win streak, giving Pop a comfortable cushion if Duncan's injury turns out to be serious.

    Through 43 games, Duncan is averaging 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in only 29.8 minutes per game. He's shooting a career-high 82.8 percent from the free-throw line, and he's averaging a career-high 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.

    Out of players who've played at least 20 minutes per game, Duncan ranks fifth in the league in PER (24.9). When the 36-year-old returns to the Spurs, he'll likely rise up these rankings once more. 

9. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Previous ranking: 10

    It's too soon to say whether Kobe Bryant's new Magic Johnson-esque persona is here to stay, but he's gotten the Los Angeles Lakers humming since late January.

    After managing at least 20 field-goal attempts in all but two January games through Jan. 23, Bryant went the next five games without cracking 17 attempts.

    In those five games, he dished out 14, 14, 11, nine and eight assists, respectively.

    The Lakers still face an uphill battle (22-26) to even qualify for the playoffs, much less contend for an NBA championship this season. Bryant's MVP candidacy is limited by the Lakers' subpar record, especially when compared to the preseason expectations surrounding this team.

    If the Lakers can maintain a prolonged winning streak and get back in the thick of the playoff race, though, Bryant still has a chance to rocket up these MVP rankings in the coming weeks.

8. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Previous ranking: 9

    Kevin Durant may be the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but having Russell Westbrook as a teammate only makes life easier for the reigning three-time scoring champion.

    Only three players in the league are averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in 2012-13, and Westbrook is one of them. (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the other two).

    His per-game averages in assists (8.2) and rebounds (5.3) are both career highs, and he's tying his career high in steals (1.9) through 48 games. He ranks 10th in the league in win shares (6.5) and 10th in PER (23.0) for players who average at least 20 minutes per game, according to Basketball-Reference.

    For those who claim Westbrook is an inefficient chucker who should rein in his shot selection, however, his 2012-13 season only provides more ammunition. He's shooting only 42.1 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from three-point range, yet he's attempting four three-pointers per game.

    With Westbrook, you have to take the bad with the good. He's going to attempt a few questionable shots per game and may throw in a few head-scratching turnovers for good measure, but he's also one of the most deadly offensive players in the league at the age of 24.

7. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    Previous ranking: 6

    The Houston Rockets remain one of the 2012-13 season's most pleasant surprises, and it's largely due to James Harden.

    In his first season as a team's true No. 1 option, James Harden has thrived for Houston. He's setting career highs in points per game (25.8), assists per game (5.5), rebounds per game (4.5), steals per game (1.8), free-throw percentage (.859) and PER (22.6).

    Harden also ranks fifth in the NBA in terms of win shares (7.3), according to Basketball-Reference.

    The Rockets hit a rough patch in the middle of January and dropped seven straight games, but they've since won five of their past seven. Harden capped off that 5-2 run with his first career triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) against Charlotte on Feb. 2.

    Harden has occasionally struggled with his shot (44 percent from the field, 32.8 percent from three-point range) in his first season with Houston, but that's not entirely unexpected. He's making up for his relative inefficiency by leading the league in free-throw attempts per game (10.1), according to ESPN.com.

6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Previous ranking: 3

    Chris Paul's plunge in these rankings is due to one thing and one thing only: a bruised kneecap that's kept him sidelined for all but two games since Jan. 14.

    When healthy, Paul has been a top-three MVP candidate in 2012-13. He's second in the league in assists per game (9.7) to Boston's Rajon Rondo and leads the league in steals per game (2.6), according to ESPN.com.

    With Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers looked to be one of the most serious championship contenders in the stacked Western Conference. Without him, the team has limped to a 2-5 record since he re-injured the knee on Jan. 21 against Golden State.

    If Paul can return healthy before the All-Star break, this may all be much ado about nothing. He'd move right back into the top five of this MVP list, if so.

    If his knee continues to stay problematic through February, however, it'll undo what otherwise appeared to be his best-ever shot of winning the MVP award. 

5. David Lee, Golden State Warriors

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    Previous ranking: 5

    David Lee has been the most consistent contributor for a surprising Golden State team that's a half-game away from a top-four record in the Western Conference (30-17).

    He leads the league with 31 double-doubles in 46 games, according to ESPN.com. He's also one of only five players in the NBA averaging at least 18 points and eight rebounds per game, according to Basketball-Reference.

    His per-game stats (19.4 points and 11.1 rebounds) don't look radically different than they did during his time in New York, so what makes this season different? The way Golden State keeps on winning, even in the absence of Andrew Bogut.

    Lee held down the fort defensively for Golden State while Bogut missed 38 games to rehabilitate an ankle injury. He's not nearly the same shot-blocking threat as Bogut, but Lee only allowed opponents to score 0.8 points per possession in 424 attempts, good for 81st in the league, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

    Lee also ranks second in the league in terms of defending the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, according to Synergy, having allowed only 0.52 points per possession in 63 attempts.

    Suffice it to say, there's a reason Lee earned Golden State's first All-Star selection in over a decade this season.

4. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Previous ranking: 8

    After a slow start to the season, Tony Parker began erupting for San Antonio in December and only continued through January.

    Over those two months, the Spurs lost seven games. Total.

    They also won 24.

    Tim Duncan began missing some time in mid-to-late January, but Parker was the steadying force for San Antonio. Of players averaging at least 15 minutes per game, Parker's PER of 23.4 ranks eighth in the league, and his 7.1 win shares rank sixth in the league, according to Basketball-Reference.

    If Duncan misses extended time from the knee injury he suffered on Feb. 2 against the Washington Wizards, Parker will be the player who the Spurs count on to keep the engine churning forward.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Previous ranking: 4

    Carmelo Anthony may be an inefficient scorer, but he's also the unquestioned leader of a New York Knicks team a half-game out of first place in the Eastern Conference.

    He's unquestionably played better than ever in 2012-13, ranking second in the league with 28.4 points per game behind only Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant.

    After never posting a PER above 22.2 before this season, he's currently boasting a PER nearly two points higher (24.1), according to Basketball-Reference. His true shooting percentage (.567) and effective field-goal percentage (.512) are the highest he's posted since his 2007-08 season in Denver.

    What's perhaps most impressive: He leads the league in usage rate (34.1) but is setting a career low in turnover percentage. He's only turning the ball over 9.4 times per 100 plays, according to Basketball-Reference.

    He could stand to improve his field-goal percentage (.450) as usual, but he's making up for it by shooting a career-high 41.2 percent from three-point range.

    Given the Knicks' proximity to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference standings, Anthony remains one of the truest challengers to the final two players on this list.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Previous ranking: 2

    It's not difficult to construct an MVP case for LeBron James in 2012-13.

    His permanent move to the 4 has only made him more efficient than ever. James is shooting 55.5 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three-point range for Miami, both career highs.

    He also leads the league in PER (30.5) for players averaging at least 20 minutes per night, according to Basketball-Reference. James ranks second in win shares (10.6) behind only Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, according to Basketball-Reference.

    Throw in James' ability to defend virtually any player and position in the league, and it's almost difficult to imagine a scenario where James isn't the MVP favorite.

    However, we've seen this level of transcendent play from James before. In fact, he was even more impressive in the 2012 playoffs as he stormed his way to his first NBA championship.

    It may not be fair to hold him to a higher standard because of that 2012 playoff run, but that's what James gets for "spoiling a lot of people" with his play. Unless James and the Heat stop largely coasting through the regular season, he's leaving the door wide open for this next player to steal the MVP award from him.

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Previous ranking: 1

    Fun fact: No player in NBA history has ever finished a season with the league lead in scoring and having shot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.

    Fun fact No. 2: Kevin Durant is doing exactly that this season.

    Durant's performance in 2012-13 might not qualify as the greatest shooting season in NBA history, but it's also not that far off. He's averaging 29.4 points per game while shooting 51.6 from the field, 41.9 percent from three-point range and 90.3 percent from the charity stripe.

    Plain and simple, if he maintains the league lead in scoring and his place in the 50-40-90 Club, Durant deserves to win the MVP award.

    It's nothing against LeBron James, who's also having an admittedly transcendent season of his own. It's more a recognition of Durant's unparalleled dominance offensively.

    The fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder (36-12) sit 1.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs (38-11) for the league's best record only further bolsters Durant's MVP case.