NBA MVP Watch: Stephen Curry Doesn't Quit
Welcome to the first installment of this season's NBA MVP Watch, an ongoing series which will track the top contenders vying to receive the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. As you follow along during the 2015-16 season, check here to see who sits in the top five.
So how will I be ranking players? The main criteria will be based on nERD score, but I will also factor in other variables such as injuries, trends, and -- eventually -- playoff picture.
For those unfamiliar, nERD is our in-house metric that measures a player's contributions throughout the course of a season based on their efficiency. 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. The rating will represent a player's total contribution over an 82-game season, not just the games played so far this year.
Because the season is barely underway, let's begin the series by showing some love to last season's top vote-getters.
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets
nERD Score: -11
Team Record: 1-3
Losing your first three games by 20 points apiece is not the ideal way to start a season. James Harden and the Houston Rockets were the laughing stock of the league up until their latest game, a victory over the then-undefeated Oklahoma City Thunder. Before the win versus the Thunder, Harden was shooting 22% from the field which included a paltry 3 three-pointers made out of 32 attempts (9%). Though Harden still managed to average 6.3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals during those first three games, his scoring dipped down to 18 per game which was a big reason why the Rockets were being pummeled so badly.
The good news for Harden is the aforementioned game versus the Thunder, in which he produced an all-around stat line of 37 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Whether he had extra motivation playing against his old team or he just finally found his groove, Harden poured in buckets -- 12 field goals (including 4 three-pointers) and 9 "gimmes" from the charity stripe. Defeating an elite team such as the Thunder is an encouraging sign as Harden and company look to dig themselves out of an early hole.
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
nERD Score: -9
Team Record: 0-4
The New Orleans Pelicans have got to be disgruntled with the league's new schedule maker as they had to face the Golden State Warriors for two of their first three games. Like last year's playoffs versus the Warriors, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were swept again in disheartening fashion as they lost by an average of 15 points over those two games. Davis has had an underachieving start to the season, and the fact that his team is 0-4 doesn't help matters.
Davis has somewhat kept up his statistical averages from last year's stellar campaign. There is a slight dip in Davis' average points, steals, and free throw percentage. The biggest deficiency thus far is his field goal percentage, as it currently registers at 38%. A possible explanation for the falloff could be the new facet in Davis' offensive game -- the three-point shot. Davis has already converted more three-pointers through the first four games (4) than he has in his previous three seasons combined (3). By extending his shooting range, Davis is consequently strengthening his driving ability which will only help the Pelicans as they search for their first win of the season.
3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
nERD Score: 11.7
Team Record: 3-1
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost a thriller to the Chicago Bulls in their first game of the season, but they have bounced back and are riding a three-game win streak. Their latest victory occurred in Philadelphia where LeBron James produced a near triple-double and made history along the way. In the absence of Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have done a great job of spreading the offense and averaging 102.5 points a game, and James is responsible for averaging only 22 of them.
If the current pace of playing time persists, James will end up recording a career-low in minutes per game. Regardless, he has busted out of the gates to start the season by averaging 22 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. James has shown no signs of slowing down over the years and this season is no exception.
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
nERD Score: 18.5
Team Record: 3-1
The Oklahoma City Thunder feel complete once again, and no one is happier than Russell Westbrook. After beginning the season with a clutch performance versus the Spurs and then following that up with a magical shot in Orlando, Westbrook and the Thunder are a force to be reckoned with as they currently rank second in Offensive Rating.
The return of Kevin Durant made many people wonder if Westbrook could continue his stat-stuffing barrage. Through four games, Westbrook has shown that he can indeed keep up his bonkers stat lines playing alongside Durant. Reminiscent of "The Big O", Westbrook is averaging 30.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 9.3 assists, and 2 steals per game. On top of that, he is shooting a sweet 52% from the field and 84% from the free throw line. Having Durant back in the lineup has thus far behooved Westbrook for both his scoring and assisting opportunities.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
nERD Score: 49.2
Team Record: 4-0