NBA MVP Watch: Whose Stock Is Rising?
We're still only three weeks into the NBA season. But, it's been another very important week for NBA teams and stars. While some stars have fallen out of our top 5 MVP candidates, others have really taken advantage of the opportunity - so much so that it has catapulted them into the early MVP discussion.
Here I'm breaking down the top candidates from 5 to 1 based on our metrics. For those of you unfamiliar with nERD, it's a player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on their efficiency. The league average is 0. 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.
With that, let's take a look at the current MVP front-runners.
T4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks Last week: Unranked
He may be 36 years old, but Dirk Nowitzki is still playing at an extremely high level. Not only is Dirk averaging over 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, but also he's also doing so with great efficiency. With a nERD of 16.5, the future Hall of Famer comes in at number five in our player power rankings. He's got the Mavs to first in our offensive efficiency rating (116.9) and to fourth in overall team nERD (70.6). Dirk has contributed 23.4% of his team's total nERD of 70.6, and most importantly, he's led the Mavs to a record of 7-3 through 10 games.
On Tuesday against the Kings, in maybe his most impressive performance of this season, Dirk led his Mavs to a great comeback win on the back of his 23 points and 7 rebounds. The way he did it though was even more impressive. Dirk scored his 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting, 2 of 3 from three, and 7 of 8 from the free throw line. He was extremely efficient as he led his team to victory - something I'm sure we'll be repeating as the year goes on.
This week's matchups: Hornets, Wizards, Lakers, Rockets
T4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: Unranked
Like Dirk, Damian Lillard is also a newcomer to our MVP Watch. He wasn't on the radar after the first couple of weeks, but mostly due to injuries to teammates Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard has rocketed up our rankings to number four. His nERD sits at 16.7, but his per-game averages are getting ridiculous. Lillard's now averaging over 20 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. He's flat out stuffing the stat sheet. In his last game out against Brooklyn, Lillard dropped 28 points on 8-14 shooting with 10 assists and 5 rebounds.
But more importantly, he has led the Blazers to a 7-3 start and to the number four spot in our power rankings. His Blazers rank 5th in offensive efficiency (112.2) and 10th in defensive efficiency (103.2), where they've significantly improved since a year ago. He, like Dirk, possesses 23.4% of his team's overall nERD. Clearly, Lillard is blossoming into the leader of his team, and I look for his big year to continue.
This week's matchups: Pelicans, Bulls, Celtics
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: #5
Again, James Harden and his beard find their way into our MVP Watch. But, this time Harden has jumped from number five just a week ago to number three. Again, if you told me you thought Harden was the frontrunner for MVP I couldn't argue with you there. He has the second highest nERD (22.1) of all NBA players, and his team has the highest nERD (83.7) of all NBA teams by a sizable margin of 10.7. Oh, and he's also posting MVP numbers - over 25 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds per night.
Like I mentioned last week, the only thing that seems to be holding Harden back from the number one spot is his teammates (in a very positive way). Between Dwight Howard and Trevor Arizia, the two combine for a nERD of 20.8. And that's with Howard's missing a game. So, it's hard to say that Harden is a Most "Valuable" Player when guys are putting up numbers like that around him. That's why Harden is third among our top five players in nERD share (26.4%). But there's no question that the beard will be in contention for the MVP for months to come.
This week's matchups: Grizzlies, Lakers, Mavericks
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors Last week: #2
Stephen Curry again finds himself at number two in our MVP Watch. And like Harden it's hard to counter any argument for Curry being number one. He is number three in our NBA player power rankings with a nERD of 20.3, and his team is number two with a nERD of 73.0. At 7-2, Steph has his Warriors clicking on all cylinders. And from watching last night's beatdown of the Lakers, Golden State might possess the best chemistry of any team in the league. As their floor general, Curry has a lot to do with that.
Steph is scoring nearly 25 points per game while also dishing out nearly 8 assists and grabbing more than 5 boards per contest. He's been a jack of all trades for his Warrior team. He continues to shoot lights out from everywhere on the floor, but it's his playmaking ability that has stuck out in the early part of this season. Just last night, Curry had 15 assists to go along with his 30 points. So it's no surprise that Curry has nearly 28% of his team's total nERD. If he can continue to improve upon his assist numbers with nights like that, he may never leave his number two spot here - or he could even find himself at number one.
This week's matchups: Jazz, Thunder
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: #1
Though there's always a possibility that Curry, or someone like Harden, can come up and take over the number one spot, it's hard to see anyone overthrowing the incumbent Anthony Davis. This week, I expected the numbers to get tighter between Davis and the rest of the candidates at least. But, I was wrong. Brow still possesses the highest nERD of any player (22.3) and has contributed 38% of his team's total nERD of 58.7 over the first three weeks of the season. That's over 10% more than the next closest candidate, Stephen Curry.
That would be surprising if you didn't see his line from this past week's matchup with the Cavs. In a narrow loss in Cleveland, Davis scored 27 points on 12 of 21 shooting while leading his team with 14 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. He was a force on both ends of the floor. And I don't see that changing in the near future. As long as he's healthy, and the Pelicans keep winning (5-2), Brow is going to be a mainstay in the NBA MVP conversation.