Last week, I broke down past NBA champions (since the 1999-2000 season) and analyzed their best player. The data was very interesting - every champion, other than the odd Pistons year, had their best player post both at least a 12.0 nERD and a 22.0 PER. This gives us a floor in which we can gauge current players and how they're leading their team this year.
Here is the current table of guys who are having a "championship caliber season", and you can see that it's quite a bit smaller than last week's.
Players that made the cut last week but have since dropped off include Kevin Martin, Markieff Morris, Carlos Boozer, Eric Bledsoe, and Paul Millsap. Sadly, the Suns schedule has gotten a bit tougher and Markieff has cooled from his crazy hot start. There were several players that have either a nERD of 12.0 or a PER of 22.0, but don't have both, which is the criteria for a "championship caliber season."
Players To Watch
As I mentioned last week, there were only four players who finished last season hitting our mark: LBJ, Kevin Durant, CP3, and James Harden. Harden currently has a nERD of 7.6—not awful—but certainly not at the elite level he was last year. A big reason for this has been his atrocious defense so far this year. He has a DRtg of 100.7, and it rises to a terrible 108.4 on the road.
Overall, the Houston defense isn't that bad and it will definitely take a while for this crew to get used to Dwight Howard in the middle. But Harden doesn't seem to even try on some plays, and prefers to conserve his energy for the high-paced Houston offense that he leads. If the Rockets want to contend for the title this year (and they do), their perimeter D is going to have to improve. And that starts with Harden.
Kevin Love is on fire and making up for the lost time that he missed due to a frustrating, injury-riddled year last season. His 24.0 nERD, though most likely unsustainable, is very impressive for four weeks in, and the T-Wolves look really good. Glancing at our table of past champions from last week, only LeBron put up a higher nERD during a championship season than Love is currently doing (a ridiculous 27.3 last year, if you were wondering).
More importantly to the Wolves, he's doing it on both ends of the court. As John Schuhmann points out, only the Wolves and Warriors are top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. If this team can stay healthy (a big if), the Wolves have proven that they are legit title contenders, despite the depth of the Western Conference.
Klay Thompson / Andre Iguodala
A 2-for-1 special here. Both Thompson and Iggy have stout nERD's, 17.1 and 16.5 respectively, but don't hit the PER requirement. They're both playing very well defensively, and the Iggy signing is shaping up to be the best free agent signing this offseason (though Kevin Martin might have something to say about that). Their PER numbers being down might be due to the fact that the Warriors have blown out so many opponents and just haven't needed to play with the same efficiency at the ends of games.
The Dubs title hopes are there because of their stellar backcourt, but they will need some help and good health from their big guys, David Lee and Andrew Bogut, to make them reality. So far this year they have put up a team DRtg of 95.4 (good for fourth in the NBA), which is drastically better than last season's 102.6 mark. Like the T-Wolves, these guys have proven to be somewhat injury prone through their careers. If they can keep up the intensity on both ends, and along with a little luck, we very well could be watching the Warriors come June.