NBA MVP Watch: How Important Are Wins?

As we quickly approach the All-Star break, how important are wins becoming for NBA MVP candidates?

At the start of this NBA season, nothing was for certain -- we could only guess which teams would be playoff competitors. Then, as games and weeks have gone by, we've started to notice some trends. Now, those trends give way to things we know: The Warriors are the best team in the league, the Hawks are the best team in the East, the Cavs are getting better, and the Knicks, Sixers and Lakers are all really bad.

The same can be said for players. We now know Damian Lillard is clutch, that Derrick Rose is getting back to his old form, and that Klay Thompson was worth the money (and not trading for Kevin Love).

And, of course, we know that Anthony Davis is a superstar.

In fact, Davis was the number-one candidate in this MVP piece up until its latest installment. And why not? He's been having a great season. But, now that the season's not so young, he's fallen from the top.

Who took his place?

Well, I'll tell you 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.

Without further ado, here's the top five candidates.

5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Previous ranking: #3

I know, I know -- Butler has been struggling as of late. In yesterday's game against the Heat, Butler managed just 5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. In fact, over his last 10 games, Butler is averaging just 14.8 points per game 38% shooting from the floor.

It seems that a lot of this could be due to the Bulls' struggles as a team and getting accustomed to playing with Rose. Nonetheless, Butler is having a career year. He's averaging over 20 points per game on 46% shooting in 39.5 minutes per game (the most in the league) and has a nERD of 14.1, accounting for nearly 24% of his team's total nERD.

Upcoming Matchups: Warriors, Lakers, Suns

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Previous ranking: Unranked

Chris Paul has been in and out of our NBA MVP Watch, and his ranking coincides with his Clippers' play as a team. His Clippers go as he goes. CP3 is fourth in the league in nERD (15.8), averaging 17.5 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the floor, 40.2% from three and 89.3% from the free throw line.

Not only is Paul scoring so efficiently, but he's also dishing out 9.8 assists and grabbing 4.7 rebounds per game. He's the leader of the Los Angeles Clippers and has led them to the second-best nERD in the league -- behind only the Warriors -- with a nERD of 72.8.

Upcoming Matchups: Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans

3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Previous ranking: #2

As I mentioned above, earlier this year, Anthony Davis was a mainstay at the number-one spot in this article. He consistently possessed the league's best nERD and accounted for over 40% of his team's total nERD. But now, Davis has fallen a spot each of the last two rankings. He's had a run in with injury as of late, but the real problem is the West.

The Pelicans are 23-21 -- ninth in the West. They'll have to fight the likes of the Suns and Thunder to earn a spot in this year's playoffs, and our numbers don't see them winning that fight -- they only have a 26.7% chance of making the playoffs. Both the Suns (45.7%) and Thunder (42.2%) are more likely to find a way into the back end of the loaded West. Without a playoff berth, I fear that the Brow couldn't win the MVP.

Upcoming Matchups: 76ers, Nuggets, Clippers

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Previous ranking: #5

Stephen Curry has made a huge jump in our rankings from just a fortnight ago. Curry's nERD (18.4) is still 3.2 points behind Anthony Davis's 21.6. However, it's hard to overcome such a gap when you're part of the best backcourt and best team in the league. Klay Thompson has a nERD of 12.0 himself, while the Warriors nERD of 85.0 is by far the best in the league.

This hasn't helped Curry's candidacy on paper. Over his last 10 games, Steph has played under 30 minutes three times. That's because the Warriors won those three games by an average of 26 points with 121 points per contest. But Curry has still scored nearly 23 points (on 49% shooting) and over 8 assists per game.

Upcoming Matchups: Bulls, Jazz, Suns

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Previous ranking: #1

James Harden repeats, for the first time, as our number-one MVP candidate. Why in the world wouldn't he? The Beard has been on a tear all season long, but he's been even better recently. On the season, Harden is averaging 27.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 45.5% from the floor. However, in his last 10, Harden's shooting 53.7% from the floor, scoring 30.2 points, handing out 7.2 helpers and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game.

No wonder Harden leads the league in nERD (22.5). Not only does he lead the league in scoring, but Harden has been doing just about anything and everything for the Rockets. He accounts for 37.6% of his team's total nERD (59.8) and has really shouldered the load with a hampered, struggling Dwight Howard. He's the fuel that makes the Rockets go.

Upcoming Matchups: Mavericks, Celtics, Pistons