NBA MVP Watch: Kawhi Leonard Deserves Consideration
In the current NBA, where the superstars reign, great -- but quiet -- players can sometimes go overlooked.
He is already a recipient of the NBA Finals MVP (in 2013-14), but Leonard is now making a case to receive the regular season version as well. He has climbed into the MVP discussion thanks in large part to the Spurs' early-success and is currently ranked fourth in nERD.
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.
All five players in this installment represent the Western Conference, including a pair of electrifying teammates.
5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
nERD Score: 13.4
Team Record: 7-5
As basketball fans, let's all hope that Kevin Durant returns from his latest hiccup in tip-top shape. Before injuring his hamstring, Durant was averaging 30.1 points and 2.7 three-pointers made while shooting 50% from the field. In other words, Durant was playing slightly better than what we're accustomed to seeing from him, which is remarkable considering the frustrating season he had to endure a year ago. As long as Durant can stay healthy for most of the season, we should expect to see his name here in the MVP Watch more often than not.
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
nERD Score: 13.8
Team Record: 9-2
You can't score unless you shoot the ball, and Kawhi Leonard is letting it fly this season. Even with the prized addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, Leonard is attempting a career-high 16.9 field goal attempts, which has translated to a career-high of 21.6 points per game. Now entering his fifth season, Leonard has increased his scoring production year after year and is not slowing down. If he can keep up his current pace, Leonard will set career bests on offense across the board.
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
nERD Score: 14.9
Team Record: 6-4
During the offseason, the Clippers wooed DeAndre Jordan to re-sign after acknowledging his desire to be more involved in the team offense. Unfortunately for Jordan, his offensive role thus far has actually diminished; instead it is Blake Griffin whose role on offense has gotten larger. Griffin is averaging career-highs in points (26.6), field goal percentage (56%), and free throw percentage (76%). Griffin is already known for being one of the best inside finishers, but it's his improved jumper beyond 10 feet (which has accounted for 48.4% of his total shot attempts) that has really helped boost his offense this year.
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
nERD Score: 16.1
Team Record: 7-5
We've seen this script before: Kevin Durant goes down with an injury, Russell Westbrook nonchalantly steps up and bam! -- he obliterates the stat sheet. After kicking off his solo mission with a triple-double of 21 points, 17 rebounds, and 11 assists, Westbrook has gone on to average 32.8 points (including back-to-back 40-plus point games), 8.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 2.5 steals in four games without Durant. Although he's recording a career-high of 5.1 turnovers a game, Westbrook's stat-stuffing tendencies in other categories allows it to be a permissible trade-off.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
nERD Score: 29.9
Team Record: 12-0
Still undefeated and still ranked number one -- that's Stephen Curry for ya. Not since Kobe Bryant in 2005-06 has any player scored more than 400-plus points in the first 12 games of a season. Curry is dropping threes (and jaws) at a feverish rate: his average of 5.2 three pointers made per game would shatter the current record of 3.6 held by, oh, himself from last season. As amazing as Curry's individual stats are, it's the talk of the elusive single-season team wins record that is beginning to gain more traction.