7 NBA Players Who Deserve More 2015 MVP Consideration

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2015

7 NBA Players Who Deserve More 2015 MVP Consideration

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    What's in an NBA MVP candidate?

    All sorts of things.

    Big names. Bigger wins. Provocative stat lines. Transcendent consistency. Profound impacts—those which go beyond the box score. You name it, it's relevant.

    An unavoidable flaw of MVP candidacy, though, is this variety of criteria. There is no structure to the honor. Eligibility is mostly up for interpretation, which doesn't create the air of diversity it should. Voters are often pigeonholed to a restricted set of names.

    And that's fine. Superstars such as Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Marc Gasol, among others, deserved to be mentioned again and again this season. But there are still worthy candidates who don't generate as much chatter.

    These are players who have been great yet for one reason or another aren't in the same class of MVP candidacy. It could be they've missed time, their team is struggling or some combination of both. Whatever the reason, this list is for them and comprised of them.

    Everyday principles will apply here. Our "forgotten" candidates are not Average Andrews or Normal Nancies. They are all indispensable stars with gaudy stat lines and of unparalleled—yet subjective—importance. And, in this case, they also share another quality: Their MVP meters need a merited boost.

Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Two should-be MVP candidates are wearing Chicago Bulls jerseys. Not one of them goes by the name Derrick Rose.

    Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler have easily been Chicago's top-two performers this season. The Bulls have navigated their share of struggles—injuries, chemistry, etc.—but both Butler and Gasol have provided steadying hands, keeping the team in pursuit of a top-two playoff seed.

    Butler, the restricted-free-agent-to-be is having a career season. He ranks sixth in win shares and is the league's only player averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals per game. Two players registered such benchmarks in 2013-14: Paul George and LeBron James.

    Signed as a consolation prize after the Bulls whiffed on Carmelo Anthony, Gasol is having his best season since 2010...at the age of 34. He's notching 18.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a career-high 2.2 blocks per contest. If those marks hold, he'll become the oldest player in NBA history to maintain said statistical touchstones for an entire season.

    This, in addition to becoming the ninth player since 1963 to score 46 points in a single game after his 34th birthday.

    Think about where the Bulls would be without either of these players. The team's net rating is better with both off the floor, but these are two workhorses battling rival starters. With Joakim Noah fighting injuries and Rose occasionally sitting out, Butler and Gasol have proved indispensable.

    MVP ballot-bound, even.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    A world without John Wall would be an incredibly bleak one for the Washington Wizards.

    In an Eastern Conference where contenders are scant, the Bulls are roller-coastering and the Milwaukee Bucks are faring better than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards have kinda, sorta underachieved.

    Fourth place—up from fifth last season—isn't ideal given the current climate (a likely first-round date with Cavaliers), and the team's offense, despite all its firepower, remains well outside the top 10.

    None of that is on Wall, who after making the jump from burgeoning star to superstar last season is now a full-fledged megastar. Though his scoring is down, he's averaging a league-leading 10.2 dimes per game and assisting on a career-best 46.3 percent of Washington's buckets when on the floor.

    Oh, and then there's this:

    Wizards...Off. Rtg.RankDef. Rtg.RankNet RtgRank
    With Wall105.3997.427.92
    Without Wall99.923110.530-10.628

    Basically, when Wall leaves the floor, the Wizards go from the net rating equivalent of the Dallas Mavericks to the five-win New York Knicks.

    If that kind of impact doesn't tether him to the Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook conversation—and therefore the MVP discussion—then nothing will.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    DeMarcus Cousins has picked up right where he left off before missing 10 games with viral meningitis. He's playing so well, in fact, one has to wonder: Had he never sat down, would Mike Malone still be coaching the Sacramento Kings?

    The 24-year-old is averaging 23.9 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, all of which are career highs. His 26.7 player efficiency rating (also a career high) ranks fifth among all qualified players as well. 

    When he's on the floor, Sacramento is a different team. The Kings are a plus-eight points per 100 possessions with him compared to a minus-10.6 without him. That's the difference between the second-best and third-worst net rating.

    Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal has also authored a metric called FATS (factor adjusted team similarities) that uses historical comparisons to generate predicted win-loss records for a team with and without any given player. The Kings, by this measurement, are 35.9 wins better with Cousins on the floor. For context on that front, the New Orleans Pelicans are a plus-26.9 with Davis.

    Tacit stereotypes placed upon MVP voting guarantee Cousins won't earn the honor. The Kings are lottery-bound, and the award isn't handed to players on lottery teams—a caveat that, in this case, is both bitter and sweet. As Bleacher Report's Sim Risso underscored:

    Of course, that ship set sail long ago. With it went any realistic shot of Cousins actually earning serious consideration for MVP. But that's largely a factor of the way the award is voted on and not how well he's playing or how valuable he is to the Kings. 

    And in a world where the Most Valuable Player is awarded to the player who's just the most valuable to his team—DeMarcus Cousins should be in the MVP conversation.

    All things being equal, Cousins has been good enough to garner MVP consideration. And, had he never missed time, he might have also been good enough to save Malone's job, philosophical differences be damned.

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

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    Bart Young/Getty Images

    Contract year Kyle Lowry is good. The year-after-contract-year Kyle Lowry is even better.

    One season after leading the Toronto Raptors to a surprise playoff berth, Lowry has further elevated his game, steering the Raptors toward a second-place finish in the East, even though DeMar DeRozan hasn't played since Nov. 28.

    Per-game averages of 20.7, 4.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.6 steals once again have Lowry contending for "best point guard in the East" honors; Curry is the only other player posting said benchmarks. Lowry's PER (23.9) also ranks 10th among qualifying players, and he's seventh in win shares.

    Consider his performance in December without DeRozan as well. At a time when the Raptors could have watched their contender status go up in flames, they went 11-4. Lowry himself delivered, going for 22.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 8.9 assists while shooting 40.5 percent from deep.

    Even with him on the floor, the Raptors' defensive and rebounding stands are messy. They can be undersized, slow to react off the dribble and terrible at keeping pace with multiple floor-spacing wings.

    But the Raptors offense is a full-bodied go-getter with him manning point. It pumps in 112 points per 100 possessions when he's in the game, which would rank first overall. He is, as the team's performance without DeRozan proves, the lone player Toronto cannot afford to lose.

    "I hope our fans get out and vote and don't put it in the hands of the coaches," coach Dwane Casey said of All-Star voting, per The Sports Network's Josh Lewenberg. "And if the coaches don't do it, I'm probably going to get in a physical fight with those guys."

    Nabbing an All-Star selection would be nice; Lowry was snubbed last season and deserves to be in New York for the festivities this time around. But he's also earned the rights to some MVP chatter, even if said talk is more symbolic than substantive.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Mr. Clutch himself is (understatedly) vying for rights to Mr. MVP.

    Damian Lillard has, without question, been the Portland Trail Blazers' best player this season. He leads the team in PER (23.2) and joins Harden, Curry and James as the only players posting at least 20 points, four rebounds, six assists and one steal per game while putting in 36 percent or more of their treys.

    There's also something immeasurably incredible about his big-moment gene, if such a thing actually exists. Sure, he's shooting 60 percent during the final 10 seconds of contests in which the Blazers are behind by no more than five points. But you cannot quantify his late-game composure and aplomb.

    "Lillard's clutch work at crunch time continues to amaze," explained NBA.com's Sekou Smith. "He is a fearless shot taker (and maker) with the game on the line, a quality you enter the NBA with and develop (as opposed to one that is learned)."

    Thanks to that inherent coolness, Lillard's continued rise through the superstar ranks is moving at a brisk pace. He ranks fifth in win shares, behind only Harden, Davis, Paul and Curry, and he's improved his defense for the NBA's third-best defensive team—not to mention the second-best squad (by record) overall. 

    "He's fun to watch," Aldridge said of Lillard following Portland's Sunday night win, per NBC Sports' Shahan Ahmed. "I wanted to get some popcorn and just have a seat."

    If that's not a feeling shared by all, something's wrong. And if Lillard doesn't start engendering more MVP dap soon, that's even wronger.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This isn't a typo. For the first time in years—if not his career—James' MVP case is being (gulp) understated.

    Although his name will still crop up on the MVP ladder, it's nowhere near the top. Yet, if the intent is to actually find the NBA's most valuable player, he needs to be there. His career-high nine absences have, if nothing else, proved just this.

    The collapsing Cavaliers are an unsightly 1-8 without James in the lineup this season. During his most recent eight-game stay on the sidelines, he's watched the team fall to sixth in the Eastern Conference, behind the rebuilding Bucks. His on-off splits have become a work of art and point of panic as a result:

    Cavaliers...Off. Rtg.RankDef. Rtg.RankNet Rtg.Rank
    With James 108.5 5103.8 18 4.7  7
    Without James 99.225109.2 29 -10.0  27

    "LeBron's old Cleveland teams transformed into garbage heaps anytime he stepped off the floor, but his main sidekicks in those days were the likes of Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson," wrote DeadSpin's Tom Ley. "A starring lineup with Love, Irving, and three broken-down air conditioning units should still be bludgeoning its fair share of opponents, not losing by 19 to the Sacramento Kings. Things just aren't working out."

    No, they aren't. The Cavaliers were supposed to run away with one of the East's top-two slots, not labor through a season rife with losing and he-said, you-said, they-said drivel.

    Now the only thing standing between them and complete failure is James, who is nearing return, per USA Today's Sam Amick. The Cavaliers have toed the line of demonstrative disappointment without him, but they bear resemblance, however slight, to an actual contender with him.

    And, under the cruddy circumstances Cleveland is trudging through now, that's enough to put him at or near the top of your ballot.

    *Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited and are accurate as of games played Jan. 11.


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