MVP Watch: Week 5
For the first time in the (very short) history of these rankings, we have a new leader! The King has been unseated from his thrown by the continued all-round brilliance of Kevin Durant, who is posting obscene numbers across the board. Since LeBron hasn’t been playing at maximum level so far, it doesn’t fear right to hold the Durantula back anymore. Arise, Sir Kevin!
Here’s a strange fact: In last week’s rankings, only three players (LeBron, Rajon Rondo and Carmelo Anthony) were representative of the Eastern Conference. This week, one of those players falls off and is replaced by a certain indomitable Center in line to make his first All-Star appearance. How have the playoff teams in each conference fared so far? East playoff teams have a combined 77-46 record, while the West are at 86-48, by virtue of having played more games. It’s not a yawning gap, though the top-heavy West has easily produced the best and most compelling basketball of this young season. A big reason for this East-West divide (apart from quality of opponents) is that the East have relatively fewer teams that are functioning on superstar power. Brooklyn, Atlanta, Philadelphia (Jrue Holiday only makes our honorable mentions), Chicago and Milwaukee don’t have players who are performing at a level high enough for top-10 MVP consideration.
1) Kevin Durant (Last week – 2) Team record: 14-4 – 26.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.6 bpg, 1.6 spg, 51% FG, 44% 3-pt FG
He leads the league in minutes played and field goals attempted. He’s second (to Kobe) in scoring per game, and (to Bron) in PER. He’s 15th in the league in blocks per game, is 17th in rebounds, and 20th in steals. Last week, he posted two monster 37 point games against Houston and Philly and is shooting incredibly efficiently from 3-pt land and long range.
I love Kevin Durant. So should you.
2) LeBron James (Last week – 1) Team record: 12-3 – 24.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg, 53% FG, 43% 3-pt FG
LeBron is still the best player in the game and the frontrunner for the league MVP because he’s still the best perimeter defender in the NBA. That said, the Heat (and by implication Bron) have been playing down to opponents recently and consequently Bron’s numbers have been down the past week (including a 7 TO, 5 assist game against Cleveland). The Heat need another top-flight Western Conference team to hand it a drubbing to shake it out of its complacency.
3) Carmelo Anthony (Last week – 4) Team record: 11-4 – 26.1 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 46% FG, 44% 3-pt FG
Melo had two 35+ point games last week, attempting 24 or more FGs in both games. Those were the only two Knicks losses (one a blowout at Houston). There may or may not be a correlation between the two, but there is a correlation between Knicks success and Melo’s ability to find the open man in a double/triple team situation. IsoMelo is the Knicks stock play, but there’s a fine line between the efficient use of it this season and say, first round playoffs last season. Occasionally, Melo crosses that line, perhaps in nostalgic longing. It doesn’t end well for the Knicks.
4) Chis Paul (Last week – 3) Team record: 10-6 – 16.4 ppg, 9.3 apg, 3.7 rpg, 2.7 spg, 48% FG
The Clips had their first three game losing streak of the season last week, though due to no fault of Paul’s (it’s because Crawford has finally cooled and Del Negro doesn’t undertsand exactly how good Eric Bledsoe is). Continuing his stellar play from the season’s start, Paul had a 23/11 game in a win against the Twolves and a 19 point, 7 assist, 7 steal game in a loss at Atlanta. He continues to have the league’s 4th best PER (Player Efficiency Rating)
5) Kobe Bryant (Last week – 6) Team record: 8-8 – 26.9 ppg, 5.1 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, 4.1 TOpg, 49% FG 40% 3-pt FG
The Black Mamba continues to be this season’s enigma. No team with three active All-Star caliber players, regardless of bench quality, should be struggling at .500 after 16 games. Kobe’s actually become more of a ball hog this season, though he’s scoring it efficiently for the most part. Kobe’s high usage means that the Lakers big men don’t get involved in the offense early and often; so when Kobe runs out of steam, the team appears disjointed. Nevertheless, he’s filling up the scoring column (three 30+ point games last week) and that lands him in our top-5.
6) James Harden (Last week – NR) Team record: 8-8 – 24.1 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 spg, 4.1 TOpg, 42% FG
The Beard is back and is leading the surging Rockets who would now make the 8th seed out West if the playoffs started today. The Rockets have won four of their last five, and Harden – aided by inspired play by Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and a resurgent Jeremy Lin – has put up big numbers, including a 24 point-12 assist performance against the Raptors and a 33 point – 9 assist game in the blowout of the Knicks.
7) Tim Duncan (Last week – 5) Team record: 14-4 – 18.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.4 bpg, 54% FG
So what came off a night’s rest? A 27 point, 15 rebound performance in an OT win over the league-best Memphis Grizzlies. Duncan takes a dive in the rankings for a couple of low-minute games (blowouts of Orlando and Washington) though he is still clearly the best player on the 2012-13 Spurs. He’s also posting the third best PER in the league, at the age of 36. Yeesh.
8) Anderson Varejao (Last week – NR) Team record: 4-13 – 15.1 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 54% FG
Varejao is having an All-Star caliber season. The Cavs sans Kyrie have no business to be winning in Atlanta and pushing Portland to the brink, but Varejao’s relentless motor, rebounding and defense are the only things keeping the Cavs from abject despair. When Kyrie returns and the schedule gets more favourable, expect to see these Cavs go on a few minor streaks. Varejao’s not a legitimate MVP candidate because of the Cavs’ record, but that doesn’t stop us from showing him some love.
9) Marc Gasol (Last week – 10) Team record: 12-3 – 15.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.4 bpg, 50% FG, 90% FT
With many apologies to Z-BO, Marc Gasol has been the outstanding big man of the week for the formidable Grizzlies. Marc is third in the league in Offensive Rating (at 126.8) and it’s not a fluke. Memphis is heaps better on offense when it runs through Marc, allowing him to create. His excellent shooting %s and strong defense make him the best Gasol on the planet in basketball terms, by far.
10) Russell Westbrook (Last week – NR) Team record: 14-4 – 20.8 ppg, 8.6 apg, 5.1 rpg, 2 spg, 41% FG
Westbrook is averaging a career high in assists and already has 8 double-doubles for the season, occasionally flirting with a triple-double as well. He is alsso shooting a career low from the field and is still prone to taking bone-headed shots early in the clock, especially in the 4th quarter. But with the OKC Thunder surging, it’s tough to find fault with the young point guard, especially when he puts up gaudy stat lines like the other night against Utah (23 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 steals).
Close, but no cigar: Jrue Holiday (PHI), Rajon Rondo (BOS), Zach Randolph (MEM)