Early Season MVP Candidates

 

Stephen Curry

Curry has been a showman this season and he has not only leads the Dubs as the most exciting show in basketball[1], but also as the best team in the league. The Warriors’ current 19-2 record combined with a 14-game win streak and a point differential of +11.2 PPG are staggering, especially in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference. Curry is averaging 23 PPG, 49 FG%, 7.7 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG and a PER of 26.9. Curry’s trademark and most valuable skill remains his deadly off-the-dribble 3-point shooting as he ranks third in the league with 8.3 PPG off pull-ups shots per NBA.com, but he has become more efficient scoring on drives to the basket this season. Curry is averaging five PPG on drives this season, but is shooting 57.5% on those shots, the highest of any player in the league who is currently averaging over five PPG on drives. His creativity finishing at the rim combined with his lethal outside shooting makes him one of the most efficient shooters in the league. His effective field goal percentage which considers the value of 3-point shooting is 58% which ranks third (K. Martin, W. Matthews) among the league’s top 50 scorers.

curry drive

Also Curry has made noticeable strides defensively as he taking on the assignment of guarding the opposing point guard no matter the matchup. Last season, Klay Thompson often guarded top point guards that exposed Curry’s below average defense. At this point in the season, Curry is probably the leading MVP[2] candidate as his play has sparked the Warriors’ hot start.

LeBron James

The Cavaliers have finally begun to find their offensive rhythm and they have reeled off eight straight victories including two recent victories over East-leading Toronto. LeBron has been the offensive catalyst and has taken on the team’s facilitator role averaging 8.6 APG in his last 10 games. LeBron’s numbers have been spectacular all season by normal standards, but his struggles with consistency and efficiency have been noticeable as he adjusts to a new situation. There was speculation that LeBron’s weight loss this offseason had sapped some of his explosiveness and finishing ability, however, such talk was mostly an overreaction to the Cavs’ early-season struggles. LeBron’s stat line of 24.8 PPG, 47.5 FG%, 5.5 RPG, 7.7 APG and a 24.6 PER are impressive, but James has sent a new precedent for himself.

lebron

In addition to his early-season offensive struggles, James’ defense has been Hardenesque at times this season, falling asleep as his man slips backdoor and not putting forth necessary effort on defensive rotations. LeBron has yet to play at his peak performance, but with the Cavs beginning to solve their ball and player movement issues, LeBron’s focus may transition solely to court performance invoking an MVP surge.

James Harden

Harden does so much for the Rockets offense, he certainly warrants MVP consideration given Houston’s early standing in the tough Western Conference combined with the array of injuries that have plagued the team thus far. Harden has carried Houston to a 7-3 record in the team’s past 10 games without Dwight Howard, in which their second offensive option has been Donatas “Donuts” Motiejunas. Harden is averaging a league-leading 25.2 PPG, which may be more or less impressive when considering his less-than-stellar 41.1% clip.

harden

Harden’s ability to get to the line has saved the Rockets’ offense thus far this season, as he leads the NBA in FTA and FTM per game. Harden averages nearly two more FTM per game than anyone else in the league[3]! Harden also leads all shooting guards with 6.6 APG and is one of just three players (LeBron, Rondo[4]) to average over 6.5 APG and 6 RPG. Harden’s MVP case begins to falter, however, when his defense is taken into account. While Harden’s defense has improved[5], he is still far from being an adequate defender and remains a liability.

Anthony Davis

Davis has been a mesmerizing NBA highlight reel so far this season as he has grown into his body while also developing his understanding of the game as well as his skillset. Davis’ superior athleticism and length combined with his excellent coordination and soft jumper make him a menacing pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop player, while his quickness and ability to contort his body gives him the ability to take advantage as a low post scorer. Its worth noting here, Monty Williams finally realized he should feature Davis more in the team’s offense this year, although the more the better in this case[6].

AD

Defensively, Davis does not hold back in going after blocks, but he is also able to recover quite effectively and snare defensive rebounds due to his reach. Davis has been a statistical marvel this season averaging 25.2 PPG on 58% shooting, 10.7 RPG, 2.9 BPG, and 2.1 SPG with a staggering PER of 33.3. However for Davis to have a legitimate MVP case at season’s end, he will likely have to lead the Pelicans to the postseason in the uber-competitive Western conference[7].

Kyle Lowry

Lowry deserves to be in the MVP discussion. While his chances of winning the MVP are slim to none due to name recognition alone, he has led Toronto to the top of the East and continues to push his name into the top echelon of point guards with the likes of Paul, Westbrook, Curry and Parker. Lowry’s strength and creative body positioning combined with his use of hesitation moves gives him the ability to get to the rim and finish through contact efficiently. Lowry also picks his spots well in regards to when to act as a facilitator and when to assert himself as a scorer.

lowry

Unlike many other stars in the league and competing MVP candidates Lowry’s defensive impact is a valuable component of his game as he uses his strength and leverage to derail his man’s path to the rim. Lowry is averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category thus far this season, but his uptick in scoring and free throws displays his improved scoring efficiency.

Marc Gasol

Is there any player in the league that means more to both his team’s offense and defense than Marc Gasol? Gasol’s stats will never do him justice in regards to his value to the Grizzlies although he is averaging 19.5, 50.4 FG%, 8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.5 BPG with a 23.5 PER. His ability to work as facilitator from the elbow the Memphis offense is invaluable as he provides the Grizzlies just enough spacing to form an effective combo with Zach Randolph. Gasol is a wizard in the high post with his use of handoffs, low-post entry passes and mid-range jumper that isn’t actually a jumper. Consider that Gasol’s 3.8 APG is second among centers (Noah) and has actually been used as the ball handler in a pick-and-roll situations on rare occasions as pointed out by Grantland’s Zach Lowe (check out his work).

gasol

Defensively, Gasol’s impact is incredible considering his lack of shot blocking and athleticism as a rim protector and pick-and-roll defender, but he is the centerpiece of the league’s stingiest defense with the Grizzlies allowing just 94 PPG. He does possess sneaky foot speed, but his greatest asset is his awareness and discipline in his defensive rotations. Gasol may just be the MVP if the award was actually given to the player that is most valuable to their respective team.

[1] Steve Kerr’s offensive creativity with sets, player movement and assortment of different lineups also deserves a ton of credit.

[2] Think about this: At this point wouldn’t the Warriors claim all the major individual awards. Curry-MVP, Kerr-Coach of the Year, Bogut-Defensive Player of the Year and Draymond Green/Thompson-Most Improved.

[3] Westbrook had not qualified at the time of publication.

[4] Rondo’s interest in statistics have been well-documented.

[5] Harden is actually putting forth effort on the defensive end every now and then this season.

[6] Don’t tell Scott Brooks that a coach can actually adjust their team’s offense.

[7] Aside from the difficulty of the West, Tyreke Evans being the team’s primary offensive creator may be an issue.

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