Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
For a while now, I’ve been meaning to do another Top 5 countdown for the Friday Five, as well as share some thoughts on a topic that’s related to the real NBA. Therefore, this week I’m killing two birds with one stone. Since we’re at the halfway mark of the 2013/2014 NBA season and the topic came up during Episode #63 of the NLSC Podcast, I’ve decided to rank the Top 5 candidates for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award…at least so far.
The MVP award can be a controversial subject. After all, not everyone agrees on the criteria for selecting the winner, or even what the honour actually means. To me, it’s an award that gives recognition to a standout player for their performance during the season; a player who, one could argue, had the best overall season when factors such as individual brilliance, noteworthy games and their impact on their team’s success are all taken into account. I don’t think that many of these picks will shock anyone, but here is the MVP race as I see it, halfway through the 2014 campaign.
5. Stephen Curry
I had to make a tough choice between Stephen Curry and an honourable mention which I’ll get to after I wrap up my top five, but Curry gets the nod due to the Golden State Warriors’ record. He also leads the team in PER and Win Shares, ranking in the top ten and top twenty in the league in those categories respectively. With his play this season and Chris Paul’s unfortunate shoulder injury, it’s no surprise that he’s been selected to start in his first All-Star Game.
His numbers admittedly aren’t quite as gaudy as a couple of the players who just missed the cut, but they’re more than respectable in their own right. His shooting has dropped off a little recently but he’s scoring more than last season, while also racking up more assists. He’s not the only Warrior who’s playing well, but he’s been their MVP and I believe he’s at least a top ten candidate for MVP of the league as well. Despite some tough competition, right now I’m placing him in my top five.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge
In this week’s podcast, I had LaMarcus Aldridge at this spot in my top five, but while compiling this list I did go back and forth with his teammate, Damian Lillard. Lillard does lead the Portland Trail Blazers in Win Shares, but only by a slim margin. Aldridge’s PER is also better than Lillard’s and he’s basically having his finest season as a pro, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists despite playing slightly fewer minutes per game. His turnovers are also down, despite increased usage.
Lillard has certainly played a big role in the Blazers’ surprising success this season however and does deserve an honourable mention. He’s quickly entering the “Best Point Guard in the NBA” discussion and he’s had some clutch performances, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat on a couple of occasions. I will go with Aldridge though, all the while grumbling about how the Chicago Bulls traded him away on Draft Day 2006 for Tyrus Thomas. Ouch.
3. Paul George
Paul George is quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s brightest stars, putting up All-Star numbers, leading his team to the best record in the league and exciting fans with fast break slams that would be at home in the dunk contest. Unfortunately for him, there are a couple of other players who are playing some outstanding basketball right now. He’s in the discussion, but he’s not the frontrunner.
I don’t think that I can rank him lower than top three in my top five, however. He’s shooting the ball better across the board this year, his numbers are very good (raw and advanced), he leads the league in Defensive Win Shares and as I mentioned, he’s led the Indiana Pacers to the league’s best record through the first half of the season. A couple of players are having better individual seasons than him, but George absolutely deserves some recognition and hopefully, he’ll garner some MVP votes.
2. LeBron James
Being the best player in the world right now, it’s difficult not to place LeBron atop this list. I am giving someone else the nod – more on that in a moment – but with the season LeBron is having, there’s no way he can be ranked any lower than second in the MVP race. He’s connecting on his shots at a fantastic 58% clip (tops in the league in True Shooting Percentage at 66.1%), he’s putting up fine numbers across the board as always and the Heat are winning games. There’s no way he isn’t in the thick of the discussion.
However, some of his numbers are down a little this year, despite basically playing the same amount of minutes. His turnovers are actually slightly up, despite his usage being slightly down. The Heat are far from struggling, but their record is currently fourth best in the league and they have slumped a little recently. Even so, LeBron makes a very strong case for the MVP, stronger than basically anyone else in the league. Nevertheless, I feel that one player does currently edge him out.
1. Kevin Durant
Yes, I’m jumping on that bandwagon. As I said in this week’s podcast, one of the things that’s working against LeBron winning his third straight MVP is the media’s general reluctance to give the same player the nod year after year, particularly in three consecutive seasons. Michael Jordan should’ve won the award three years running at least once during his career and a few more times overall, so I can definitely see LeBron missing out on the MVP threepeat for the same reason: the media wants a new story and to recognise someone else for a change.
Having said that, I think that through the first half of the 2014 season, Durant has edged out LeBron as the frontrunner for the MVP by his own merits. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out and a player like LeBron will not be dethroned so easily, but so far, Durant’s had an MVP calibre year. As of writing, he’s a shade under 50-40-90 on the season (currently shooting 88.2% from the free throw line), a feat that he actually accomplished last year. He’s currently ahead of LeBron in PER – certainly no mean feat – and he’s also leading the league in Win Shares. He’s been on an absolute tear so far in January, as his Oklahoma City Thunder have just edged out the San Antonio Spurs for the top record in the conference despite Russell Westbrook being sidelined. In my book, right now he’s the MVP…but the race is close and far from over.
The toughest player to leave out of the Top 5 was Kevin Love, who’s third in the league in Win Shares and fifth in PER, while averaging 25, 13 and 4. The deciding factor for me was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ record, as they’re currently under .500. Chris Paul and James Harden also deserve a mention, though their teammates Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard are up there with them in PER and Win Shares. Kevin Love, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, James Harden and Dirk Nowitzki would probably round out my top ten.
That’s going to do it for this week. Who are your top five candidates for the Most Valuable Player award so far? What’s your criteria for selecting the MVP? Sound off in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.