NBA MVP Watch: An Unfamilar Face Near the Top

Chris Paul has taken over in Los Angeles, and he moved into the top five. But how far did he climb?

With one more week of games under our belts, the potential MVP candidates are starting to become more clear. Some have faded out of the picture as the weeks have gone on while others have been in and out of our discussion. Yet others still have really been mainstays in this article.

Here, I'm breaking down the top candidates from 5 to 1 based on our metrics. 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. The league average is 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.

So, after four weeks of NBA thrills, let's take a look at the MVP race.

T5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week: #2

Stephen Curry has been a consistent name in our discussion. However, this week he finds himself near the bottom of our list. He is tied for the lowest nERD (15.1) of our candidates. But Curry has fallen victim to two poor games in the last few days. Against the Jazz on Friday night, Steph only managed 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting with 4 turnovers. And last night against the Thunder, the Splash Brother in Curry was nowhere to be found. He finished with 15 points but did so on 5-of-15 shooting with only 6 assists. However, games like this are far and few between for the Warrior point guard.

Curry is still averaging 22.6 points, 7.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game on the season. He has accounted for 19.9% of his team's total nERD of 76.0 - which is third best in the league. So, though he's been struggling recently, Steph is always poised for a bounce back game, if not many of them. I'd look for him to climb back into the top three next week with some favorable point guard matchups this week.

This week's matchups: Heat, Magic, Hornets, Pistons

T5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Last week: T-#4

Damian Lillard makes his second straight appearance in our MVP Watch - and rightfully so. Lillard has been playing great basketball as of late. It may have took a couple injuries to Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge to help get him in a groove, but Lillard has been playing at a high level. His nERD of 15.1 is tied with Curry's for fifth in the league and accounts for 20.5% of his team's total nERD (73.6). That number would be higher if not for Aldridge's own nERD of 10.0.

Nonetheless, Lillard has helped the Blazers to a 10-3 start and to the number four spot in our power rankings. In fact, due to their hot start, we give the Blazers a 92% chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 47-35. His Blazers also boast a deadly combination: they are the fourth-ranked team in offensive efficiency (110.8) and sixth-ranked team in defensive efficiency (101.1). The defensive improvement continues this year, and it could help the Blazers into the playoffs behind their leader, Damian Lillard.

This week's matchups: Sixers, Hornets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves

4. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Last week: Unranked

Mr. Lowry is making his second appearance in our NBA MVP Watch. After starting out the season at number four, Lowry was overcome by fellow standout guards, James Harden and Damian Lillard. But the Raptor point guard is back with the third-best nERD (17.3) among all players. His nERD accounts for 22.5% of his team's total nERD. Oh, and his team's not doing too bad.

The Raptors are, by the numbers, the best team in the Eastern Conference, and there is no argument against it. Lowry has led his team to an Eastern Conference-best nERD of 76.9 and an 11-2 start. They are almost a shoo-in for the playoffs at an incredible 99.1%. That's why, just as my fellow contributor - Russell Peddle - pointed out, Lowry is playing like an MVP candidate.

This week's matchups: Suns, Hawks, Mavericks, Lakers

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: #3

Yet AGAIN, Harden and his beard find their way into our MVP Watch. And again he is number three. Talk about consistency. He has the fourth highest nERD of all players (16.6) and accounts for 23.6% of his team's nERD of 70.4. He has maintained his value without the help of an injured Dwight Howard. However, his team has fallen from number one in our power rankings to number six. But the Rockets still sit at 10-3.

With Howard out indefinitely, the Rockets might lose a game or two through his absence, and their overall nERD may drop. But one thing is certain. Harden's going to post MVP numbers. He is posting over 24 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds in 37 minutes per night. I'd look for him to improve upon those numbers with Howard out, as he's going to have to shoulder the scoring load for the time being. But, that shouldn't be a problem for him - as long as he doesn't let his other responsibilities get in the way.

This week's matchups: Knicks, Kings, Clippers, Bucks

2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week: Unranked

CP3 is the only unfamiliar face among our top 5 MVP candidates. He's really been playing well as of late even if the Clippers aren't having the best of starts at 7-5. His nERD of 15.4 is good enough for fifth in the league and makes up 27.3% of his team's total nERD (56.4). It seems as though he can sense Blake Griffin's struggles (-2.5 nERD) and has decided to take it upon himself to score more.

Paul is averaging 18.3 points, 9.5 helpers, and 4.5 boards per game on the season. But in his last five games, Paul has scored at least 22 points three times. Even more impressive though is Paul's efficiency in those three games. He shot 64% from the field, 69% from three, and 91% from the free throw line. His shot is on fire, and if that continues I'd look for CP to add to his nERD and his team's win total. He's one candidate to keep an eye on this week.

This week's matchups: Hornets, Pistons, Rockets, Jazz

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Last week: #1

Surprise, surprise. Anthony Davis is our leading MVP candidate, and he has been every week thus far. His nERD (25.0) and nERD share (39.2%) have done nothing but increase from a week ago. There is more than a seven-point gap between Brow's nERD score and the next closest score. And he accounts for about 12% more of his team's total nERD than the next closest candidate - Chris Paul. You'd think the Pelicans were just mediocre though. They're not.

From last week to this week, the Pelicans' nERD has increased from 58.7 to 63.8 - good enough for eighth in the league and sixth in the powerful Western Conference. Accordingly, the Pelicans are 7-5 and rank third in offensive efficiency (111.5). They've had a few tough losses, but they've also had some good wins. This past week, Davis helped lead New Orleans to a 106-100 victory over the Kings in Sacramento. Even without starting center, Omer Asik, Brow out-dueled DeMarcus Cousins with 28 points, on 11-of-19 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what the superstar can do this week.

This week's matchups: Kings, Hawks, Wizards