NBA MVP Watch: LeBron James on the Rise
Despite recently coming off their worst loss of the season -- a 34-point beatdown at the hands of the defending champions -- the Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a sizzling start in 2016. Having won seven of their first eight games in the new year by an average margin of 15.1 points, the Cavs look to build on their conference-leading record behind the leadership of LeBron James.
With the Cavs' roster finally at full strength, James has the liberty to play more freely as opposed to dominating the ball. James has endured the team's early ups and downs to keep the Cavs atop the standings and is currently ranked fifth 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.
James enters the MVP Watch alongside the fantastic four from the West.
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
nERD Score: 12.6
Team Record: 29-11
The return of Kyrie Irving has benefitted James in several key areas of his game. James' Usage Rate has dropped from 33.8% to 28.2%, which has consequently dropped his average turnovers from 3.6 to 2.8. Also, his three-point percentage has dramatically improved from 25% to 43% as he has nearly doubled his three-pointers made per game. James will look to bolster his efficiency further, as he is getting help from three teammates who are averaging double figure points in the month of January: Irving (16.9), J.R. Smith (15.1), and Kevin Love (12.3).
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
nERD Score: 17.0
Team Record: 32-12
After hitting a snag with a rare scoreless outing due to ejection, Russell Westbrook has seen his scoring dip to 17 points over the past four games. However, Westbrook resumed his well-rounded ways with back-to-back triple-doubles since his return. He is currently riding a four-game streak of double-digit assists (averaging 13 per game) but remains one of the league leaders in turnovers per game with 4.3.
3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
nERD Score: 18.4
Team Record: 32-12
It's usually cold during January, but Kevin Durant is staying hot by averaging 26.7 points while shooting 49% from the field, 38% from the arc, and 89% from the free throw line -- no surprise there. What is eye-opening are the 9.1 rebounds Durant has averaged in the new year, including three double-doubles in his last four games. There's no wonder why he is the West's reigning player of the week and month.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
nERD Score: 21.0
Team Record: 36-6
Kawhi Leonard continues to excel under the radar, but he's seen his averages drop a bit in all major categories during the month of January. He recorded just his second single-digit point output a week ago but is still on pace to average a career-high in points with a current mark of 20.1 per game. In case you didn't know: Leonard ranks second in an obscure category, steals to turnovers ratio, at 1.39 only behind Tony Allen.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
nERD Score: 25.9
Team Record: 39-4
The Warriors have lost two of their last five games, but it's all good -- as long as Stephen Curry is playing, there's a high chance for fireworks. Over the past seven games, Curry has averaged 33 points with 6 three-pointers made on 51% shooting from the field. I repeat: 51% shooting, which is the same percentage he's averaged all season! It's as if Curry has a Game Genie plugged into him -- it's just totally unfair. His play has been, without exaggeration, mind-blowing.