NBA MVP Watch: The James Harden Show
The chase for the 2017-18 MVP has started to settle.
For the first time this season, our top five remains virtually unchanged with James Harden staying at the top of the pack. While LeBron James and his historic season is not far behind, The Beard and the Houston Rockets are putting their stamp on this season as they rack up the W's.
In this and all editions of our NBA MVP watch, we rank and examine the top five 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.
We already know the players, but let's find out what the contenders for NBA Most Valuable Player have been up to the last two weeks.
T-4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous rank: 3
With a bevy of MVP contenders breathing down his neck, this is likely the last time we see Stephen Curry in our top-five for a while, considering his recent inactivity.
Since we last updated our ranks, Curry has not appeared in a game as he continues to sit out with an ankle injury. His inactivity has dropped him a spot, but the fact he remains in the top 4 gives credit to the fantastic start of the season for the two-time MVP. Currently, Curry has resumed on-court shooting, and is expected to ramp up his activity this week before being re-evaluated next week, at which point a specific timetable for his return could be determined.
Unfortunately, that means he will miss the marquee matchup of Christmas Day against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and is not likely to make it back to a game before 2017 is over.
T-4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous rank: 5
Seemingly always nursing some sort of injury, Anthony Davis is remarkably fighting through the pain and posting his best season in nearly three years.
The New Orleans Pelicans big man has been known for his defensive game over the years, particularly his rim protection skills, and that still applies in 2017-18, as he ranks fourth in blocks and ninth in block percentage. The most significant improvement this season that is helping his MVP case has been on the offensive end. The presence of DeMarcus Cousins has allowed Davis to play off the ball more as Boogie (and his team-leading usage rate) dominates the touches for the Pels. Working somewhat as the secondary scorer has allowed The Brow to be more efficient with his production. He has scored at least 30 points 9 times this season, while averaging only 16.4 field goal attempts per game. Davis is shooting a career-high 57.6% from the floor including 34.8% from beyond the arc.
3. Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Previous rank: 4
Forgotten in Giannis Antetokounmpo's superb stat lines posted this season is his heavy workload for the Milwaukee Bucks. The versatile forward is playing a league-high 38.0 minutes per game while routinely eclipsing the 40-minute mark. He has done so 8 times while staying on the court for at least 39 minutes over 54% of the time.
All the extra work may catch up to the 23-year-old come playoff time, as Giannis has led the Bucks to the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference to this point in the season. For now, though, the minutes haven't affected the Greek Freak's performance, as he has shot 56.0 % from the floor (11.2-for-20.0 in his last 5 games) while logging over 40 minutes per game the previous 10 days. He is averaging 30.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.6 steals per game in the stretch.
His most impressive game of the past two weeks was his last one, as he outdueled LeBron James and the Cavs while nearly pulling off his first triple-double of the season. He dropped 27 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals in a 4-point win for the Bucks on Tuesday.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous rank: 2
Just last week, our pal Russell Peddle broke down what could perhaps be The King's best season of his career. The four-time MVP is making a significant case for number five, as he not only laps the 2017-18 field in some advanced metrics -- notably player efficiency rating (PER) -- but is putting together one of the all-time best seasons in NBA history. We can go on and on about how he is sinking shots at the highest rate of his career (57.2%) or how he leads the NBA in offensive win shares, box plus/minus, and VORP, but we will focus on the ridiculousness that has been his last two weeks.
In his last eight games, James has racked up four triple-doubles as he willed the Cavs, nearly single-handedly, to a 6-2 record. He only had 2 trip-dubs in his first 24 games played this year. He is averaging 28.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game while sinking 54% of his shots during the 8 games. In Bron's last game, a 3-point loss to the Bucks, he posted his second-highest point total of the year (39) while raining 6 threes while shooting 63.6% from the floor overall.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous rank: 1
When discussing the brilliance that has been Harden's season thus far, the only place to start has to be the Rockets' fantastic run. They have won 14 straight and currently sit with a 25-4 record and the best record in the NBA. They are on pace to demolish the franchise record for wins, and could record only the third 70-win season in NBA history. While the rise of Clint Capela and the addition of Chris Paul do play a part in that, no one can deny that Harden is the heart and soul of this Houston team. Harden leads the team (and the NBA) in scoring and usage rate while posting the third-best assist percentage in the league (45.7%).
This past Saturday, Harden fought through an injury (bruised knee) when he could have easily taken a routine rest day, as many of his peers often do. Instead, he didn't just suit up, he played 39 minutes, dropping 31 points and 5 assists in a narrow 4-point win over the Giannis and the Bucks. During the win streak, Harden has stepped up his game, averaging 31.9 points and 4.2 threes per game as the Rockets won by an average of 16.3 points per game.