NBA MVP Watch: The Rise of Anthony Davis
While it seems like the NBA season started just days ago, we are already three-plus weeks deep with every team but one having played at least 10 games. (Only 73 more to go Bulls fans!)
Every two weeks, we rank and examine the top-5 players based on our in-house nERD metric. For those of you unfamiliar with nERD, it's a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season based on their efficiency. An average NBA player would earn a 0. Comparable to win shares, this ranking gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with that player as one of their starters.
Who are the contenders to be the league's most valuable player? Let's dig in and find out.
5. Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Previous rank: 1
After a red-hot start to the season -- four consecutive games with at least 32 points for an average of 36.8 points per game to start the season -- Giannis Antetokounmpo has fallen back to Earth a bit, culminating in a dismal 5-for-16, 14-point performance in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on November 1. In the three Milwaukee Bucks' losses last week, the Freak averaged "only" 23.7 points per game. Maybe the fast start wore the 23-year-old down because in those three games, he played less than 33 minutes and took just 19 shots per game, a drop off from the 39 minutes and 21.7 shots he took in the first six games.
On Tuesday, Antetokounmpo was back to his usual dominant self, dropping 40 points on 76.2% shooting, but the Bucks lost for the fifth time in their last six games. It didn't help the Freak committed a career-high 8 turnovers while fouling out.
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous Rank: NR
The offseason addition of Chris Paul was expected to -- and still could -- suppress James Harden's offensive stats, but with CP3 playing just one game thus far, Harden has taken his MVP-caliber play up a notch. The Beard is averaging career-highs in points and three-pointers thanks to an impressive .464/.404/.805 shooting performance through 11 games. Harden's usage rate is at a career-high, and he's scaled back the turnovers, posting a 1.9 percentage point drop in his turnover percentage (17.6%) from last year (19.5%).
In his last game, the Houston Rockets' superstar set a new career-best in points as he dropped 56 against the usually stifling defense of the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Harden was 19-for-25 from the floor, 7-for-8 from three, and 11-of-12 from the line for a ridiculous 92.5% true shooting percentage. If not for a 30-point lead over the Jazz after three quarters, Harden might have surpassed 60 points.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous rank: 3
What with the bevy of young superstars in the NBA, we sometimes forget about LeBron James. In his 15th season, the soon-to-be 33-year-old is off to perhaps the best offensive start in his career. He's delivering his highest points-per-game average since 2010 thanks to career-best shooting percentages of 59.8% from the field and 83.9% from the line. James has also taken over the role of distributor in the Cleveland Cavaliers' offense, dishing out 9.1 assists per game with a 45.8% assist percentage, also career-highs. Those numbers have pushed James to the top of the leaderboards in offensive win shares (2.2) and offensive box plus/minus (9.8).
Cleveland has noticeably faltered the last couple of weeks -- they're 2-5 in their last 7 games -- but don't go blaming James. In his previous four games, the King is averaging 36.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 2.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. He has three games with 30 or more points in November including an historic 57-point beasting against the Washington Wizards, tying the Cavs' franchise single-game scoring record.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous Rank: 2
Monday's 5-for-19, 16-point performance against the Miami Heat aside, Stephen Curry has regained his stroke over the last two weeks. From October 25 to November 5, he made 44.6% of his three-point shots and 51.5% of his field goal attempts overall for 25.2 points and 4.2 three-pointers per game. That's only a 68.5% true shooting percentage. For the season, the Golden State Warriors guard is scoring more points on less shots per game than his "down" 2016-17 campaign.
For the year, Curry is first or second in a number of advanced stats: offensive rating, offensive win shares (2.0), win shares per 48 minutes (.307), and most importantly nERD. Helping him return to potential MVP status is his career-low turnover percentage of 11.2%. While some of that can be explained by his usage rate dropping from 30.0 to 28.8%, Curry has simply been more careful with the basketball. He is turning it over just 2.5 times per game, his lowest average since the 2011-12 season, when he played just 26 games.
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous Rank: NR
Ever since injuring his knee and subsequently missing a game two weeks ago, Anthony Davis has been on fire. The Brow has dropped 30 or more points in 4-of-6 games, and has logged six straight double-doubles with at least 1 block. In his most recent effort, Davis joined Kevin Durant as the only players to post at least 37 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks in a single game in the last 10 seasons. The New Orleans Pelicans big man wasn't done there.
In 2015, Davis was determined to add a three-point shot to his repertoire. For the following two seasons, stretching the floor did not have the desired effect, as his shooting percentage and offensive efficiency nosedived, with the big man shooting 31.0% on 1.8 tries per game. Through 10 games this season, it has all clicked -- Davis is sinking 1.2 threes per game at a 41.4% clip. The newfound success from deep has Davis posting career-highs in true shooting percentage while leading the league in win shares (2.4), win shares per 48 minutes (.308), and, of course nERD.