Although, it is still early to determine who will take the NBA MVP award, there are some very evident candidates. By the end of the NBA preseason, the front runners had already established themselves. There is a solid group of 20 players who are definite contenders. As the season gets deeper, some of these players will phase out, while others will institute themselves as distinct and deserving of the honour.
Kevin Durant's injury threw a wild card into the MVP race. Likewise, LeBron James has started the season off with hints of a struggle. For the last several years, it has been the same old Lebron vs. Durant story. The 2014-15 season is already looking considerably different.
The FIBA championships took place this year, and aside from Paul George, every participant for Team USA seemed to benefit. Under coach K's regimented training camps, players like DeMarus Cousins came back from the tournament in Spain looking like completely different players. Cousins, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry Anthony Davis, James Harden and Derrick Rose have been playing for over a month now. They will enter into midseason form sooner than the rest of the league.
Another important note is that MVP's rarely come from teams who aren't near the top of the standings in their conference or division, unless their truly dominant like one player on the list. So sadly, players like Carmelo Anthony miss out on the list, even though they may have elite skills.
With this new class of dominant and elite players, here are the top 20 NBA MVP candidates.
20 Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh is now the Miami Heat's number one guy.
Bosh has recently revealed to the media that playing with LeBron James is frustrating and difficult. Bosh says he felt hungry while playing with James, which is perfectly reasonable and understandable. Now, with James gone, Bosh has to show that he was actually under-eating for all those years.
Bosh's early stats demonstrate that he was indeed on a diet during James' tenure. He's averaging 11 rebounds and 24 points per game while shooting 85.7% at the line, far better than his career averages.
If Bosh keeps it up, and keeps Miami near the top of the East, he's a definite MVP contender.
19 John Wall
Last season, Wall was projected as the 14th-most likely MVP candidate, behind Damian Lillard but ahead of Kyle Lowry.
His biggest shortcoming was his team's low winning percentage, which sat at .537. This will likely again be a huge issue for Wall. The Washington Wizards play Eastern Conference's teams the majority of the season. And the East added a lot of pieces during the offseason, only making winning a lot more difficult. Furthermore, a lot of players have come into their own since last season, making the league more competitive. At the same time, there's still a great deal of uncertainty in the East, so the Wizards, who shocked us all last postseason, can maybe a run to the top of the standings. If they do, Wall will no doubt be a huge piece of the puzzle.
John Wall is proving to be the Wizards' anchor, putting up very odd but impressive numbers for a guard. He averages 2.8 steals and 4.2 rebounds per game on top of 10 assists and 21.4 points.
Wall trained with Gary “The Glove” Payton this offseason, which is sure to add new elements to his game, especially on defense. Not that defense is really a weak area, Wall chase down blocks like a 7-foot running center.
18 Kevin Love
Last year, there were periods during the season, like in the beginning of last November to mid-December, when Kevin Love looked like the league MVP. He's had inconsistent periods, but for the most part they have been due to circumstances outside of his control.
Fast forward almost a year later and Kevin Love is fighting with the possibility of becoming more of a role player as opposed to the center piece.
It seems he has shifted from a pure power forward, equipped with a highly effective shooting skill set, to more of a center, increasing his rebounding and paying a deeper consideration to defense. Love has already shown potential as a great passer to new teammate, LeBron James. The two have good chemistry on offence and seem to be committed to a complementary relationship as opposed to a teammate rivalry.
Love has always been one of the top players in the league, however, he is grossly underrated due to the fact he played for a largely invisible team and suffered from injuries. Last season, his player efficiency rating was 26.97, third in the league, behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. It seems unlikely that anyone on the Cavs not named LeBron would win MVP, but Love definitely has the skills to push them if he were James were to go down.
17 Marc Gasol
The Memphis Grizzlies' Marc Gasol posted a double-double Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans, which is not an easy feat against Anthony Davis.
The Grizzlies are currently undefeated, and this is mostly due to Gasol's reemergence. He's shown he can make space, rebound on defense and that he is never an issue at the line, making the old Hack-A-Shaq technique obsolete.
Gasol was largely forgotten on basically every preseason rating list. However, in just five games, he's proven that he can always create something when given the ball and unquestionably cemented himself as a top player.
16 LaMarcus Aldridge
Even though it is only November, teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly already planning to court LaMarcus Aldridge with maximum contract pitches. However, Aldridge has been open with his desire to return to the Portland Trail Blazers and cement himself as the greatest Blazer of all time. It's very clear that Aldridge has made the transition from one of the premier power forwards to one of the preeminent players in the league.
Last season, Aldridge finished 10th in MVP voting. If he had participated in the Team USA basketball experience, it is likely he would have developed and realized new elements of his game as so many other players did.
Degraders of Aldridge has been accused him of following the "age old formula used by players like Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony," which is to be the top scorer on a team of underrated players. With Gordon Hayward and Damian Lillard developing into truly premier players, the foolishness of these allegations will soon be exposed. Aldridge is dominant and if he can guide the Blazers to new heights, he can find himself finishing higher than 10th in MVP voting.
15 Kyrie Irving
How Kyrie Irving will react to Kevin Love and LeBron James coming in and taking over his team, and destroying his stat sheet, hasn't yet been fully explored.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost 3 out of their 4 games and this might not have happened last year.
Head coach David Blatt reportedly wants to establish a food chain. According to Slam, "Blatt essentially told the players that LeBron James and Kevin Love eat first and that it’s Kyrie Irving’s job as point guard to feed them. Irving can then find his own rhythm after the first two guys get going."
Recently, sources told ESPN that James has already had a discussion with Irving about Cleveland's offensive direction and structure. On Tuesday night, James and Irving exchanged words in the Cavaliers' locker room following the team's 19-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It led to Irving leaving quickly without attending post game interviews. Although having James back is beneficial, it is also forces Irving to sacrifice and shift into the role of a play-making, ball distributing guard. James has reportedly challenged Irving to be a better play-marker.
Irving was named MVP at the World Cup this summer. True, James and Durant were both absent. However, Irving also picked up the MVP at last year's All-Star game, where both Durant and James were present. It's not ridiculous to consider that Irving might be able to add both a MVP and a championship ring to that collection by season's end, if he can find a way to grow into a well rounded all-around game.
14 Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors were established 20 seasons ago, and not since Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter have they had a player like Kyle Lowry. Not that they've deserved them. Well the passionate fans did, but not management. Drake's more dedicated to scouting than the Raptors front office ever has been.
He's proven to be incredibly loyal to his team, electing to stay with the Raptors despite being courted by several other NBA teams. Trusting in this franchise, who have historically been extremely cheap and shady when it comes to talent, while grossly inflating their ticket prices as soon as there are hints of success, is a difficult thing to do.
On Wednesday, when the Raptors played the Boston Celtics, Lowry was 12 of 17 from the floor and ended the game with 35 points. He was 90% from the free throw line, and polished off his stat sheet with four assists, and four rebounds.
Lowry carried the Raptors back to victory against the Celtics. His stats are highlighted by his ability to carry this young team on his back. If he can lead the Raptors to the top of an uncertain Eastern Conference, he might be able to sneak into MVP talks.
13 DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins has completely taken every negative aspect of his play and turned it around. Recently, Mike Malone revealed that, "I went to put DeMarcus back in the game at one point, and he said, 'Coach, give 'em another minute. Let them play another minute to build up that trust.' We have a lot of guys that believe in each other, and we're really coming together as a team right now." Even last late year, this would have been the complete and total opposite of what Cousins would have done in this situation.
He's even sharing bromance moments with his teammates. Cousins and Omri Casspi shared an adorable no-look fist bump. It looked like the trust thing is working and also seems like something out of a Al Pacino motivational speech. Imagine someone touching Cousins' head even a year ago...
Cousins is a center with a 77.6% free throw average and 24.0 points per game.
This is even more impressive given the reality that Cousins is only averaging 29 minutes per game. Early in the fourth quarter of the Sacramento Kings game against the Denver Nuggets, Cousins got into foul trouble, before fouling out. This seems to be the final bad habit he still carries from last year. If Cousins had not fouled out, he would have likely finished the game with 40 points that night.
12 Kevin Durant
Before we say anything else, we're fully aware that he's hurt.
That being said, Kevin Durant is in the best years of his career. He's James' only true rival in the sport of basketball. Durant is coming fresh off of his MVP win and is definitely looking to add another MVP trophy to his collection.
Unfortunately, Durant suffered a heartbreaking injury in the preseason, with a small fracture in his right foot that required surgery. He's come so close to the NBA championship that it's difficult to watch him undergo such a setback.
Durant's still reportedly very optimistic and looks at his injury as a chance to help his teammates develop, while concentrating on growing his leadership skills.
Although, Durant will be out for at least two months, there is no rule that says his MVP chances are now dead. If the Thunder can come together and recover from their horrid start, there is a great chance Durant can, at the very least, be a candidate. It's not like Durant is sidelined while James is dominating the league. At least, he isn't yet.
11 Kobe Bryant
One thing every MVP candidate has is a strong and, often times, very unselfish team around them. At least he has the unselfish part right now. If the Los Angeles Lakers bring in another piece for their franchise this season, Kobe Bryant might have another shot at the MVP title. And, probably his last shot. Bryant's in his final act. The curtains will soon close.
At the same time, Bryant is currently leading the NBA in scoring.
Bryant is 36-years-old. He is coming off a year long injury, but has proven time and time again that he's adjusted his game, much like Michael Jordan did at the end of his career. Bryant's found a way to survive during the league's changes, as running centers and point guards who play like power forwards were much rarer 15 years ago. When Bryant came into the league, a player like Anthony Davis was unheard of. He's adapted to the evolution.
If Carlos Boozer gets into his rhythm, especially on defense, and the Lakers bring in another piece before February's trade deadline, the team might be positioned for a bit of a comeback story. The team is currently winless, but we're only 5 games in and maybe they can recover. Just maybe.
It is hard to look at Bryant's accomplishments and not see a player who deserves more than one MVP award. Karl Malone, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash have each won the award twice. It's hard to justify why Bryant doesn't deserve a shot within that category. He will, in all probability, pass Michael Jordan for third on the all-time point scoring list by Christmas.
Magic Johnson recently commented that Kobe should be in the early MVP talks along with LeBron, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Derrick Rose. That's a good endorsement to have.
10 Chris Paul
Chris Paul is a very, very good ball player, and already nabbed his first triple-double of the season. But, his skills have not translate into aiding the Los Angeles Clippers winning any significant games. Since Paul landed in Los Angeles, they've kind of hit a plateau.
Paul has adapted his game to meet the needs of his Clippers team, but is still willing to take over the game, if necessary. He mostly prefers to distribute the ball, although he is still one of his team's strongest shooters.
ESPN's NBA player rankings placed him in a very impressive seed, noting that with Durant's injury, he is the second best player in the league. Debatable, but not outrageous. In fact the Clippers have two of ESPN's top five. However, if LeBron James' teams had "done nothing," in the capacity of championships or at least NBA Finals, there would be a significant amount of criticism for the ranking he received.
With the exception of power forward, Blake Griffin, the Clippers are not necessarily getting better but are certainly not getting worse. The Clippers will face some steep competition in their division for the first time in three years by way of significant improvements occurring in Sacramento and with Golden State. If Paul is going to be an MVP and among the league's top three, they need to make a deep playoff run.
9 James Harden
By the season's end, James Harden could be considered one of the best guards in the league. The competition for the Western Conference's starting All-Star guard spots will be fierce, but Harden, along with Stephen Curry, are both truly taking the position to new heights.
Harden's ball handing skills have become so elite that he can navigate his way through defenders with ease. He's not afraid to bump around in the paint.
It's easy to remember Harden as the Oklahoma City Thunder's sixth man and categorize him as such. However, it's come to the point where Harden has rid himself of the shells of his former self. His mentality has completely changed. Harden is a ball dominant guard, while a player like Chris Paul is an assist-heavy one spot player. However, Harden still averages 7.4 assists to Paul's 10.4.
Overall, Harden's stats are arguably superior to those of Paul and Derrick Rose. Furthermore, on the court, Harden has found the methods to ensure his team wins and are in contention to be a major player in the Western Conference.
8 Klay Thompson
Klay Thomspon is another player who greatly benefited from his FIBA experience. Over the summer, the Golden State Warriors absolutely recognized that Thompson was about to have a breakout season and that shows with their refusal to trade him for Kevin Love. The risk ended up being worth it and then some. By the time team USA played for gold, it was obvious that the Warriors had kept a truly outstanding player.
Thompson wasn't a first overall pick and he isn't a product of an outstanding collegiate basketball program, having attended Washington State. He was far from a certainty.
On Halloween, Thompson signed a four-year contract extension to stay with the Warriors. The next day, he scored a career high 41 points in the Warriors' 127-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Averaging 27 PPG so far, maybe MVP candidacy is a real possibility for Thompson this year, and for many more.
7 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard has recently anointed the Houston Rockets "swag champs" but he has yet to prove himself as a championship or MVP worthy player. In fact, due to the fuss he's caused over the years, Howard looks like more of a problem than an asset. His glory days in Orlando havw been overshadowed by injury ridden performances on the court and indecision and drama off it. Regardless, he is worthy and capable of being in the MVP conversation this season. Howard has shown he is capable of being the best center since Shaquille O'Neal.
Howard is positioned perfectly to have an MVP caliber season. He's exactly where he wants to be, in Houston. He is healthy and he has a very good team around him to assist and compliment his preeminence.
So far this season, Howard's been playing very hard. This is something that has been absent and inconsistent since he put on a Magic jersey. With five double-doubles in six games, Howard has proven that he's gearing up to reclaim his reputation.
6 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook had the top player efficiency rating in the league at 35.31 after two games this year, before he was injured. This stat is typically one of the lesser important stats, however, Kevin Durant and LeBron James both finished the 2013-14 season with the 1st and 2nd place PER, at 29.90 and 29.40 respectively.
Westbrook will be out for at least a month, after undergoing surgery on a fractured hand. However, this is by no means the end of the race for him.
Much of the Oklahoma City Thunder's roster is currently suffering from injuries. This could be more of a benefit than a curse, as players who typically don't see much court-time are now of fundamental importance. They are becoming better and more experienced players, which will only be an advantage for the Thunder later on, assuming they can stay in the playoff race.
If Westbrook can come back from injury and play like he did in the first game of the season, he'll continue to be an MVP candidate. Especially if he can get the Thunder into playoff contention before the return of KD.
5 Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin improved immensely over the summer offseason. He's gearing up to be the best shooting power forward since Dirk Nowitzki.
Griffin's points and performance so far make him an obvious candidate for the MVP award. Griffin, Klay Thompson and Anthony Davis are the early standouts for the honor.
However, Griffin's not really been tested this season. He's only met one big forward who could guard him and bully him around. The only time he did was versus the Golden State Warriors and Andrew Bogut, who were able to shut him down with relative ease. When Griffin's Clippers meet Davis' Pelicans and Howard's Rockets, it will relaly determine how great his improvement was.
Griffin's fame card is influential on his MVP ambitions. He's definitely one of the most visible players in the league, with only an Entourage cameo missing from his sports-celebrity to-do list.
4 Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose has proven he is an MVP worthy player. However, the past couple of seasons have soured his legacy a little. Last season, Rose's Chicago Bulls teammate Joakim Noah didn't like receiving MVP chants from Bulls fans, telling the media it's, "Because our MVP is not playing. We have one MVP, and that's Derrick Rose. And it’s not about MVPs, it’s about rings, and one day I hope that we can get one here."
Now that Rose has returned, he's already tweaked his ankle after returning from a two-game absence. Granted, that is unrelated to anything he's previously experienced.
Rose is facilitating more, as he has not completely regained his aggression. He's become more team conscious, as he's not completely ready to play a contact heavy games. This has translated into him providing more for his team, which is not a bad thing.
When things come together for Rose, it's magical. When Rose is healthy, he should be involved in all MVP talks.
3 Anthony Davis
This is what a super-human looks like.
Anthony Davis is only 21-years-old and is entering his third season in the NBA. Davis could still be a student at the University of Kentucky, if he had elected to see what senior year was all about.
He's currently third in player efficiency rating at 34.40. It's hard to watch Davis and not see that his defensive skills are unmatched. He's arguably the best blocker and rebounder in the league.
What Davis will become is both exciting and scary.
Davis biggest obstacle is that he plays for a second tier team and most of his competition for the MVP award don't. Although, it's far from Davis' fault that the New Orleans Pelicans are awful, the MVP award rarely goes to a player on a losing team.
2 Stephen Curry
The Golden State Warriors are currently sitting at 4-0 to start the season, a feat that can largely be attributed to Stephen Curry.
Five points in five seconds is only the latest notable Curry stat.
The Warriors are probably the most complete team in the NBA. The fact that Curry has a team full of players who are very good at creating their own shots, and that do not rely on him to create spots has allowed him to further demonstrate his shooting capacities.
Nobody is dependent on Curry for anything, so he flourishes. Curry has recently began to realize a new element of his game on defense, as he’s tied with the Memphis Grizzles' Tony Allen for the league leading defensive rating at 83.9.
It's time for Curry to be included in the discussion about who is the league's top player.
1 LeBron James
LeBron James' trophy case currently holds four MVP trophies. Although, he's still the front runner, there are more contenders to dethrone the King than he's previously encountered.
James has been open with the notion that failing to add another championship ring was enough to cause him to re-structure his circumstances in the league. Now, he's in an absolutely ideal situation to receive his fifth trophy but he's frankly just not playing well...yet.
When James re-joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, it meant that he would be limiting his own points, rebounds and assists in order to play with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, both guys who like the ball. They are scorers. That's fundamental to their game.
However, even when James joined the Miami Heat, there was a transition where Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had to learn how to, and accept, a supplementary role.
Even though James started the season off with one of the worst games of his career, he's obviously still the league's top guy, but he might not be the top guy statistically at the end of the year. Sure, there are some analysts and broadcasters who might recognize this when they cast their vote, but many others won't, and will vote on the basis of the most impressive stat sheet.