NBA MVP Watch: Can Anthony Davis Stay on Top?
This past week hasn't been very eventful -- in the NBA MVP race, that is.
Yeah, we celebrated Thanksgiving, ate turkey and watched some football games, but the Association and its stars have been pretty consistent with expectations the past several days. Now we've seen the Nuggets get hot, Derrick Rose play more than one game and Russ and KD return from injuries, but nothing huge has really happened on the hardwood. Our MVP Watch this week speaks to that -- our top five is made up of four returning players and one newcomer. But was there any movement within the ranks?
Let's break down the top MVP candidates from five to one 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.
Let's dig into it.
5. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous ranking: Unranked
LeBron who? Just kidding, just kidding. But really, Kyrie Irving (14.0) has nearly double the nERD of King James (7.7). I'm sure a lot of that has to do with LeBron's presence, but Uncle Drew has been playing the best basketball of his career, and his 23.1% share of his team's total nERD shows it. The Cleveland point guard is averaging 22 points and nearly 5 assists in 38 minutes per game.
But, as his nERD suggests, Irving's been much more efficient than in years past. He's shooting 49% from the field on 15 shot attempts per game, including 42% from three on 5 three-point attempts per contest. Both those numbers are career highs. However, Kyrie has also improved immensely on the other side of the floor. He's currently posting a career high defensive rating of 107 while tallying 0.6 defensive win shares thus far. To put that into perspective, if he plays in all 82 games this year, Irving is on pace for a total of 2.7 defensive win shares, a career high. He may be in the shadow of LeBron in Cleveland, but Kyrie Irving sure is playing like an MVP.
This week's matchups: Nets (Tonight), Raptors, Thunder, Pelicans
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous ranking: #5
Unlike Irving, the rest of this list is comprised of returning MVP candidates. They're old news, but consistently proving to be the best players in the NBA thus far. Stephen Curry is one of those players.
He may be down near the bottom of this list at number four, but Steph could very well be the MVP front-runner right now. He's putting up an average of 23 points, 5 rebounds and nearly 8 assists every night he hits the floor. And if you're a person that likes to weigh wins heavily, Curry's Warriors have a lot of those. Golden State's our number-one ranked team with a record of 17-2 and a league-leading nERD of 81.9. Curry accounts for 23.3% of their total nERD. It's clear that the Warriors are clicking on all cylinders in large part because of their star point guard shooting and playing lights out.
This week's matchups: Timberwolves (Tonight), Rockets, Mavericks, Pelicans
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous ranking: #3
Harden again comes in at number three in our MVP watch. And why not? He's been putting up numbers night in and night out, no matter the team he's playing or who's playing along with him. With Dwight Howard and others out with injury, Harden has been putting the team on his back, averaging over 25 points per game. But he's also adding over six rebounds and six assists per game, and is even contributing defensively with nearly two steals and a block per game. And his overall game has translated to impressive wins for the Houston Rockets. It's no surprise that Harden's nERD of 16.1 makes up nearly 25% of his team's total nERD. He is the Houston Rockets.
This week's matchups: Warriors, Kings, Nuggets
2. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Last week: #2
Chris Paul is again the number-two candidate in our MVP watch. And if you've been watching him play or looking through his stat lines, that comes as no surprise. Just on Saturday night against the Pelicans, Paul tallied 18 points on 7-13 shooting (4-6 from three) and 16 assists. 16 of them. Paul has been on a tear, and so has his team. He's gotten the Clippers all the way to number three in our rankings with a total nERD of 73.1. CP3 accounts for over 27% of that total - second only to - you guessed it...
This week's matchups: Suns (Tonight), Pacers, Wizards, Bucks
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous ranking: #1
I'm not sure if "previous ranking" cuts it. Anthony Davis is our leading MVP candidate, and he has been every week thus far. He leads the league with a nERD of 22.6 and accounts for over 43% of his team's total nERD of 52.4. On his way to doing so, he's averaging over 25 points and nearly 11 rebounds per night. But, on the defensive end, he also adds nearly three blocks to go along with two steals per game. He's a force on both ends of the court, and I fully expect him to continue that trend. But can he be caught? He could. The Pelicans have been sputtering a bit as they sit at 9-10, and they're only our 14th-ranked team. Brow's MVP candidacy might only depend on one thing -- if New Orleans can manage to steal a playoff spot in the West. But for now, he's still playing like the most valuable player in the league.
This week's matchups: Knicks, Mavericks, Cavaliers, Warriors