NBA MVP Watch: The Impact of Injuries
Our last MVP update was exactly one month ago. What's happened since then?
But, what changed in the MVP race? Not much.
Well, on top of the fact that he has missed 14 games this year due to injury, he just hasn't been efficient all year. He's shooting under 45% from the field and 30% from the three point line. Davis, as a power forward, is the only one of our top five who shoots under 30% from beyond the arc while no one shoots under 45%.
If you're new to this piece, I'll be 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.
Let's look at the top five MVP candidates and how injuries could affect the race going forward.
5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Previous ranking: #5
Butler has been one of the most consistent players in the league this season -- and as a result, he finds himself in the fifth spot once again. He's still leading the league in minutes per game (39.2) and is averaging 20.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 46% from the field, 35.6% from three, and 84.1% from the free throw line. He's tied for fourth with a nERD of 14.5 and tied for 20th with a PER of 21.2. After seeing all those great numbers, it's not hard to see how valuable a guy like Butler is to a team.
He's the most valuable player on the Bulls and will need to prove it once again in the coming weeks and months, now that Derrick Rose is out yet again with a serious knee injury. On the season, in 11 games without Rose, the Bulls are 7-4 and Butler has a usage rate of 24.9% -- up from 21.6% with Rose -- while three of their top four lineups (in terms of Net Rating) include Butler and exclude Rose.
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Previous ranking: #4
CP3 comes in at the number four spot in our MVP rankings -- the same spot he held down just a month ago. His nERD may have fallen since our last update, but he has seen an increase in points per game (17.9) and field goal percentage (47.4%). Paul is also third in the league in assists per game (9.8), seventh in steals per game (1.9) and third in assist percentage (44.9%) while earning the sixth-best PER in the league (24.5).
However, Paul has been getting the job done especially as of late. In the last six games, with Blake Griffin out as a result of a staph infection in his right elbow, Chris Paul has helped fill void. In 36.8 minutes a night, he has averaged 19.5 points and 5.0 rebounds and has a 3.7 to 1.0 assist to turnover ratio while dishing out 12.2 helpers per game. Even with a rise in usage, Paul has been very efficient, shooting 50.0% from the floor and 91.3% from the free throw line and has led his team to a 4-2 record against Oklahoma City, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Memphis in consecutive games.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Previous ranking: #3
In the early stages of this season, Anthony Davis was consistently the number-one man in our MVP Watch. His nERD was the best in the league week in and week out, but things have changed. Much like last time we checked in on the MVP race, Davis is again second in our player rankings. With a nERD of 19.2, the Brow has fallen behind the Beard by a considerable margin. But he's still putting up 24 points, 10 rebounds, and nearly 3 blocks per game while earning the single best PER in the league (31.2).
As good a season as Davis is having, luck might be the only thing keeping him from winning the MVP -- in two ways. For starters, Davis is still on a team, who at 29-27, unlikely to make the playoffs in the West. In fact, our numbers give the Pelicans just a 12.9% chance to make the playoffs. Another blow to Brow's candidacy is injuries. He has missed 10 games on the year and is now out for one to two weeks after re-injuring his shoulder Saturday against the Heat.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Previous ranking: #2
Steph Curry may be the only player in our top five totally unencumbered by injuries. He hasn't been absent a superstar for points of time this season, nor has he missed numerous games due to his own injuries. As a result, Curry has been fantastic all year. His nERD of 19.1 is third in the entire league and is a mere 0.1 points behind Anthony Davis at this point. He's been the best, most efficient player on the best, most efficient team in the Association.
Steph is third in the league in PER (28.0) and eighth in the league in scoring, at 23.8 points per game. But some nights he suffers from blowouts -- so, by looking at his league-leading Win Shares per 48 minutes (.291), we see just how good Curry has been. His play has translated directly to his team's play. The Warriors are 44-10, first in the league with a nERD of 81.8, and are the most likely team to win the NBA Championship with odds at 33.4%.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Previous ranking: #1
It's been hard for a lot of people to decide between Curry and Harden in this type of discussion. Admittedly, the Rockets are seven games back of the Warriors and more than 20 nERD points behind in our rankings. But James Harden holds down the number one spot because he is truly the most valuable player to his Houston Rockets team -- and he's efficient doing so. The Beard leads the league with a nERD of 20.9 and is the only player above the 20.0 mark.
With Dwight Howard out for an extended period of time, Harden has done everything for the Rockets. He's leading the league in scoring with 27.3 points per game and scores from everywhere on the court. He is first in the league in field goals, fifth in the league in three-point makes, and first in made free throws by a wide margin (143). And if that wasn't enough, in his quasi point guard capacity, Harden leads the Rockets with 6.8 assists per game. No wonder Harden leads the NBA in Win Shares (11.8) and VORP (5.7). He's truly irreplaceable for the Rockets.