Which NBA Player Really Has the Best Chance to Win the MVP Award?

Recent history suggests that the usual suspects have the advantage. Can anyone else really compete for the MVP?

LeBron James is attempting to lead his Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship repeat. Russell Westbrook is a man on a mission. James Harden now has complete control over the Houston Rockets. Even Kawhi Leonard has been given the reigns to the San Antonio Spurs.

NBA MVP talk is everywhere. Unexpectedly, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr got in on the action this past week, saying that Damian Lillard could win the coveted award this season.

To be honest, it's great to hear so many options being thrown out there. Last year, all the talk was about Stephen Curry and how he could easily repeat as MVP -- and he did unanimously.

With so many players with their own individual storylines, how could we possibly have an idea of who to peg our MVP stake to? I've found a way to do just that and measure the seriousness of each candidate's bid for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Over the past five years, we'd have to admit that a new standard has been set for MVP Award winners. Of course, there's LeBron's great seasons with the Miami Heat. Then, there was Kevin Durant's outstanding 2013-14 campaign. And, as I mentioned, over the last two seasons we've gotten alien-type things from Steph.

What type of standards have these three set?

Season Wins Winner nERD WS/48 USG% FG% Pts/36 Ast/36 Reb/36 3PM
2015-16 73 Stephen Curry 26.2 .318 32.60 50.4 31.7 7.0 5.7 402
2014-15 67 Stephen Curry 20.5 .288 28.90 48.7 26.2 8.5 4.7 286
2013-14 59 Kevin Durant 27.0 .295 33.00 50.3 29.9 5.1 6.9 192
2012-13 66 LeBron James 27.3 .322 30.20 56.5 25.5 6.9 7.6 103
2011-12 46 LeBron James 23.7 .298 32.00 53.1 26.0 6.0 7.6 54
Avg. 62.2 24.9 .304 31.34 51.8 27.9 6.7 6.5 207
Min. 46 20.5 .288 28.90 48.7 25.5 5.1 4.7 54

As you can see above, I included each player's team wins for their MVP season as well as their win shares per 48 minutes, usage rate, field goal percentage and per-36-minute numbers. I also looked at their total three-point makes because, as we all know, the NBA has transitioned to a perimeter-oriented league.

As for nERD, that is our very own efficiency ranking that measures a player's total contribution over the course of a season. The ranking provides an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would be with that player as one of their starters.

To decide which players to examine, I took the top candidates with money lines of +1000 or better, according to Bovada's future odds. Those seven candidates are (in order of odds): Westbrook, Curry, James, Durant, Leonard, Harden, and Anthony Davis.

Unlike the majority of the stats, we cannot project or expect a certain nERD score, so for that, we'll have to wait and see what mark this year's MVP reaches. As for the others, here are the number of the above standards that each of the top candidates would fulfill based on a combination of our own projections, those from, and recent usage.

Vegas OddsCandidateCategories Met
+450Stephen Curry7
+450LeBron James6
+200Russell Westbrook5
+1000Kevin Durant5
+1000James Harden5
+1000Kawhi Leonard4
+1000Anthony Davis3

If math and expectations hold true, Westbrook isn't the most likely winner of the MVP award. Why? Well, to begin with, we only project the Oklahoma City Thunder for 44 wins. It's a little bit of splitting hairs, but 46 wins is the bare minimum over the past five seasons. The average is insanely higher, so the Thunder would have to exceed expectations for Russ to compete for the hardware.

On the contrary, the numbers love Steph and LeBron. What a surprise! The two will be indirectly duking it out for top dog supremacy and a return to the NBA Finals this season. LeBron, while he meets six of the eight thresholds, comes up short in projected win shares per 48 and points per 36 minutes.

As for Steph, the only category he's unlikely to fulfill is usage rate, which (as expected) declined in the preseason.

The first two -- Durant and Harden -- of the four at +1000 odds are on par with Westbrook in that they meet five standards.

In line with Curry, Durant's usage will suffer alongside and Klay Thompson. He's also likely to see a decline in win shares per 48 and assists per 36 minutes. Harden, while he is projected as equal or better than all but win shares per 48 and field goal percentage, is unlikely to reach the wins plateau for a Rockets team we project to have just over 40 wins, at 40.4.

Leonard and Davis are considerably less likely to reach the lofty standards set by the aforementioned trio. Leonard, despite the fact that he brings extra to the table defensively, is doubtful to obtain the usage, win shares per 48, points or assists per 36 to stand out among his peers.

Then there's Davis, who possesses about as much talent as anyone in the NBA but is often hurt. It doesn't help that the New Orleans Pelicans aren't likely to get much more than 33 wins or that Davis hasn't perfected his outside jumper quite yet.

Once again, Curry and James should be the frontrunners for the award. After all, over the past five years, the two have combined for four of the awe-inspiring MVP seasons. They set the bar, and they aren't going to fall short of it this year.