NBA MVP Watch: Karl-Anthony Towns Joins the Mix
For the first time in months, we have a newcomer to our MVP ranks. Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns makes his inaugural appearance in our top five, bumping the king, LeBron James, out. The third-year big man has made tremendous strides in his all-around game this season, and with his club owning a top-five record (and the third seed in the West) there was no better time than now for KAT to make an appearance.
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.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous rank: 4
The only thing slowing Stephen Curry down from being higher here has been injuries. The two-time MVP has missed nearly as many games this season (15) due to ankle and knee injuries, than he did in the last five years combined (16). When he has been on the court, though, the Chef has been cooking up a storm.
Curry is close to becoming only the second player -- Steve Nash the other -- to post his second 50/40/90 club performance. The Golden State Warriors' point guard is shooting 48.8% from the field, 42.0% from three, 91.3% from the line. His 66.9% true shooting percentage leads all NBA players.
His scoring average (27.6) is the second-highest mark of his career, made all the more impressive by the fact that he's taking 17.7 shots per game, his lowest number of attempts in three seasons. Curry is supplementing his red-hot long distance shooting by getting to the line a career-high 6.6 times per game. That minor addition to his offensive repertoire has allowed him to post an offensive rating (121.9) that's on pace to be a career high.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous rank: NR
The 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year has been a force in the Association since day one, but it took until his third season to finally put it all together. While his scoring total has naturally taken a hit with another scorer, Jimmy Butler, on the T-Wolves' roster, Towns has tightened his game this season, as he is posting the most efficient and dynamic campaign of his young career, especially on the offensive end.
Towns is posting a 113.8 offensive rating, second to only James Harden for players averaging at least 35 minutes per game, per NBA.com. While he may not be there yet on the free-throw percentage, the center is close to joining the exclusive 50/40/90 club as he is shooting 53.7% from the field, 41.2% from three, and 83.9% from the line. His long-distance shooting has been remarkable considering he attempted only eight three-pointers in college and just 1.2 per game his rookie season.
Overall, the big man is one of only two players -- DeMarcus Cousins the other -- to average 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. The difference between Towns and Boogie is that the New Orleans Pelicans' star is committing 5.0 turnovers per game while shooting under 47% from the field while Towns is averaging just 2.0 mistakes per game while posting a top-seven true shooting percentage.
His impressive season is also being recognized around the league -- the big man was named to the first of likely many All-Star teams Tuesday.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Previous rank: 2
Giannis Antetokounmpo has had an eventful past few weeks.
On January 15th, the Milwaukee Bucks' forward recorded the first 20-20 game of his career as he scored 27 points with a career-high 20 rebounds against the Washington Wizards. As you would expect, he was an absolute beast on the glass, grabbing over 20% of the offensive and 40% of the defensive rebounds that were available.
The league leader in minutes played, (37.4 per game), Antetokounmpo unsurprisingly is dealing with injury issues. The forward has sat out the past two games with right knee soreness, an ailment that also caused him to miss a pair of games earlier in the season. Maybe it's the injury or just the heavy minutes played, but Giannis has slowed down overall from his hot start, as he is averaging "just" 25.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in his last 10 games played.
Finally, Antetokounmpo has been making headlines as the Bucks fired head coach Jason Kidd and it appears the young superstar was willing to do whatever it takes for the organization to change their mind.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous rank: 5
It has been a roller coaster ride for Anthony Davis the last two weeks. The Pels' big man missed his sixth game of the year on January 10th due to injury, something that has haunted him throughout his career. He came back with a vengeance, though, scoring at least 34 points in four of his next six games, including a pair of monster performances.
He dropped at least 45 points and 15 rebounds in consecutive nights, becoming the only player since 1983-84 to pull off the feat twice in his career. He was already one of only seven players to have done it even once. The big man has now six such games in his career, leaving him one behind Shaquille O'Neal for the most since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976-77.
How did Davis follow up the historic feat? By posting the fewest points he has ever scored in a game that he has played at least 20 minutes in since January of 2015. Davis went 2-for-8 for just 8 points in nearly 38 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks. In his latest effort, Davis was back to his dominant self with 34 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists against the Chicago Bulls but fouled out for the first time in nearly four seasons.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous rank: 1
In the three games Harden has played since returning from a nearly three-week absence, the Beard hasn't produced eye-popping numbers but has proven his value with the second-best team in the NBA.
Averaging 20.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks while shooting 36.8% from the floor doesn't scream MVP-caliber, but the Houston Rockets are 3-0 during the span against some of the toughest competition the league has to offer. The Warriors, Timberwolves, and Miami Heat are a combined 96-48 and Houston beat the trio by an average of nearly 12 points per game while posting a 112.9 offensive rating with Harden in tow. That's a sharp contrast from the previous seven games, where the Rockets went 4-3 with a 108.9 offensive rating.
Even after missing seven games, Harden remains firmly at the top of our rankings and continues to lead the league in scoring (31.4), free throws made (326), usage (35.8%), win shares (8.1), PER (29.5), and box plus/minus (9.6).