NBA MVP Watch: Anthony Davis Makes His Move
Ever since James Harden led the Houston Rockets to a one-point victory over the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors on Opening Night, it's seemed the Most Valuable Player award was his to lose. While that is still the case, Anthony Davis is building some buzz in the MVP conversation with the way he's been playing since DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles.
Thanks to a six-game winning streak, the New Orleans Pelicans have gone from battling for a spot in the postseason to being just 1.5 games out of home-court advantage in the first round and the 4 seed. The big man has also been posting some stat lines never seen before in the Association, like the unreal 53-point, 18-rebound, 5-block performance he posted on Monday, becoming the first NBA player ever to pull off the feat (Or at least since blocks first started being recorded in 1973-74).
His dominant play hasn't gone unnoticed in our MVP rankings, as he has narrowed the gap with Harden and sits in runner-up status, for now.
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.
The names haven't changed but the order has, so let's find out what the contenders for NBA Most Valuable Player have been up to the last few weeks.
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous rank: 5
Arguably the best shooter in the NBA, Stephen Curry has been incredible in his three games played since the All-Star break.
Starting with a 44-point explosion versus the Los Angeles Clippers -- where he was 14-for-19 from the field and 8-for-11 from deep for a fantastic 97.7% true shooting percentage -- Curry has sunk over 53% of his 32 three-point attempts the last three games. He has increased his lead over the rest of the NBA in true shooting percentage, a category dominated by big men, not jump shooters. Kyle Korver is the only other guard in the top 10 this season.
Curry leads the Dubs in usage rate (30.7%) and scoring (26.7), which is not an easy feat to pull off with former scoring champ Kevin Durant in the lineup.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Previous rank: 2
Even as the Milwaukee Bucks have had their ups and downs, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been their rock. He has helped the Bucks maintain a spot in the playoffs (currently sixth in the East) despite being one of three teams to fire their head coach mid-season.
He leads not just his team, but the entire NBA in minutes played (37.5 per game), a likely exhausting feat as he is Milwaukee's best player on both ends of the floor. He is one of only three players (and the only non-Pelican) to average at least 25.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game this season.
Even as the Bucks have dropped three of their last four games, Antetokounmpo has done all he can to bring home a W. He has three double-doubles and one triple-double all while averaging 8.3 assists and 2.5 blocks in over 40 minutes per game. The Freak also recorded one of the most impressive lines of the year on Tuesday with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 6 blocks in another loss, this time to the Wizards. In the last 30-plus seasons, only four other players have had a similar line.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous rank: 3
If anyone doubts Karl-Anthony Towns' worthiness of being included on this list, just check out his line over his last six games: 23.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.0 blocks with a 66.6% true shooting percentage. Only three players have ever averaged a line like that for the season, with the last coming from Minnesota Timberwolves legend Kevin Garnett 14 years ago.
The big man has exhibited unparalleled offensive efficiency as the only player this year -- and just the fourth in the last 10 seasons -- to average more than 20 points while taking fewer than 14 shots from the floor per game.
With Jimmy Butler out of action the next six weeks, Towns' remarkable season will receive more attention as the playoff fate of the T-Wolves lies in his hands. Currently the 3 seed, Minnesota is only four games above the ninth-place Clippers. Luckily for the T-Wolves, the third-year center has rediscovered his dominant ways, averaging 24.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks in the last two games since the Butler injury. He owns a 25.7% usage rate in those contests, a boost over his season-long rate of 22.3%.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous rank: 4
In 12 games played since Cousins' injury, check out this line for Davis: 33.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and 2.6 blocks. That includes draining 1.3 three-pointers per game at a 35% clip. He has seven games with at least 38 points including five games with at least 40.
It hasn't been all counting stats, either -- Brow's advanced metrics are just as jaw-dropping. In the last month, Davis' usage rate naturally rose (up to 34.6%), but his turnover percentage has remarkably stayed flat (8.4%). Only a trio of players have ever done that for a whole season, and they all are Hall of Famers (Jordan, McGrady, Gervin).
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous rank: 1
The Rockets are one of this season's most pleasant surprises. Not that they were not supposed to good or even a contender, but not many saw this kind of performance coming. They currently own the NBA's best record, are on pace for a franchise-record 66 wins, and are in the midst of their second double-digit (currently 13) winning streak. Their offense ranks second behind the Warriors in points per game and offensive rating, two categories the Dubs have dominated for years. While Golden State had four All-Stars this season, the Rockets only had one in James Harden.
The Beard is leading the NBA in scoring and is third in assists while posting a league-high usage rate (36.1%). His ability to get to the free-throw line has been awe-inspiring -- despite missing seven games, his 536 attempts from the charity stripe are most in the league. Harden also leads the league in made free throws (463) with over 80 more than Antetokounmpo.
Versus the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, Harden was able to salt the game away, sinking 13-of-16 free throw attempts, the eighth time this season he has had at least 16 tries. He has attempted double-digit free throws in eight if his last nine games and is averaging 11 attempts a night during Houston's current winning streak.