NBA MVP Watch: Fear the Beard

After yet another week of great performances, can James Harden overtake Anthony Davis for the number one spot?

The best of the best continue to do their thing in the NBA.

With one more week of NBA games under our belts, it appears that the usual MVP suspects are okay with preserving the status quo. That is, Anthony Davis rules the top spot while the other returning candidates take their place behind him once again, as a new fifth candidate sneaks into the back end of our rankings. Despite all of this, things aren't really what they seem.

The status quo has taken a couple of hits this week. Anthony Davis has suffered a chink in his armor, in the form of a chest contusion. Chris Paul had a not-so-Chris-Paul week. Dwight Howard made his return to the Rockets on Saturday. Speaking of returns, Derrick Rose seems to be returning to his old form. But on the other hand, the Warriors keep winning. But how does all this affect this week's MVP Watch?

That's what I'm here to tell you.

I'm going to do that by breaking 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.

So, let's check it out.

5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week: #2

Overall, it hasn't been too bad of a week for Chris Paul. Over his last four games, he's averaged 16.5 points and 9.5 assists per game. Now these numbers aren't far off his great start to the season, but the problem has been shooting and turnovers.

Over his last four, Paul has turned the ball over nearly five times per game while shooting 40% from the field and 11% from three. And in his last two, he's averaged 6 turnovers to go along with 41% shooting and 12% from three. That's not Chris Paul. That sounds more like Cliff Paul. But even with his recent struggles, alter ego or not, CP is still fourth in nERD (15.7) and second to only J.J. Barea in assist to turnover ratio (4.69). Oh, and his Clippers are still fifth in our power rankings at 16-7. I'd look for him to get back on track this week climb back up the rankings.

This week's matchups: Pistons (Tonight), Pacers, Nuggets, Bucks

4. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Last week: Unranked

Jimmy Butler is this week's new face -- you're welcome, status quo. But his ability to play like an MVP is not breaking news. The unappreciated Bull has been putting up career numbers this year, with and without his running partner D-Rose.

Butler is fifth in nERD with a rating of 14.2 while tallying 23% of his team's total nERD, even with the likes of D-Rose, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah. How is that? Jimmy Buckets has been getting buckets. He's averaging a career high 20.8 points per game on an outstanding 48% from the floor -- also a career high. But he's also posting career highs in assists (3.3) and rebounds (5.7) per game while playing the most minutes per game (39.7) of anyone in the NBA. He does it all for the Bulls, so keep an eye out for Butler to remain an MVP dark-horse throughout the year.

This week's matchups: Hawks (Tonight), Knicks, Grizzlies

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week: #4

Stephen Curry hasn't changed or faltered a bit this week. Or the entire year for that matter. On the year, he's averaging 23.7 points per game on 49% shooting from the field and a ridiculous 41% from three. But he's actually moved up a spot from a week ago because he just keeps doing what he does and more. In four games this week, Steph averaged 26 points per game on 49% from the floor and 39% from three. And he added his usual seven assists per contest to go with his elite scoring.

Most importantly, the Warriors won all four games, pushing their win streak to sixteen games. They hold the top spot down in our power rankings once again with a league-leading record of 21-2 and a league-leading nERD of 82.1. Steph comes in at number three among the five candidates, accounting for 24% of the Warriors' total nERD. But if you think the best player on the best team should be MVP, he could be your number one. It'll be interesting to see what he can do in a primetime matchup with Mike Conley and the Grizzlies tomorrow night.

This week's matchups: Grizzlies, Thunder

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: #3

Once again, James Harden and his world-class beard find their way into our top five. But, this time, he comes in at number two. And rightfully so. Harden is having a career year. With a nERD of 18.1 (third in the league), Harden accounts for 29% of the Rockets' total team nERD (63.3). No stunner there. Harden is averaging 26.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 37.5 minutes per game. He's been an absolute workhorse for Houston.

But with "Superman" out, Harden's had to be the guy, and he's more than fulfilled that role. Just one game prior to Howard's return, on Thursday against Sacramento, Harden perfectly summed up his 11-game stint without his fellow superstar. In an overtime win in Sacramento, Harden scored 44 points and had 8 assists while going 13-of-15 from the foul line in 47 minutes! Dwight's a very good player, but it's clear that James Harden is the Rockets' most valuable player and should be in the conversation for MVP.

This week's matchups: Nuggets, Pelicans, Hawks

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Last week: #1

Anthony Davis remains at number one. But, the gap is narrowing. Much of that might have to do with the fact that Brow showed his human side as he suffered a chest contusion the other night. But his league-leading nERD of 21.3 is only 3.2 better than Harden. And at 40%, his percentage of his team's NERD is first among our candidates, but by the slimmest margin (11%) thus far.

Like I said, the gap is narrowing. However, it's still a gap nonetheless. But I expect it to widen when Davis returns to the floor -- especially if, and when, the Pelicans string together a couple wins. If Brow can continue to put up the numbers he has on a winning team, there's no question he'll be at the top of the list for NBA MVP candidates. But he better watch out for Harden and Curry.

This week's matchups: Jazz, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Thunder