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Ranking The NBA's MVPs

Ryan Bouziane |
December 1, 2014 | 6:22 p.m. PST


With LeBron James and the Cavs sputtering to an 8-7 start and reigning winner Kevin Durant still sidelined with a foot injury, the MVP race is wide open through the first month of the NBA season. We ranked the top three candidates to take home basketball's biggest hardware.

#3 – Marc Gasol (20.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 3.5 APG)

More than six years ago, the Lakers pulled off a trade that led to two championships and countless pronouncements of the greatest thievery in NBA history. They acquired Pau Gasol for what was at the time seen as no more than a bag of beans and Kwame Brown’s plaster hands. However, looking back on that trade today, the Lakers may have wound up on the losing side. One of the overlooked pieces to the deal was the inclusion of a teenage Spaniard with a familiar last name -- Pau's younger brother Marc was part of the package traded to Memphis. He has since become the best center in basketball.

Gasol’s array of skills makes him one of the most valuable and unique players in the world. It is extremely rare for a seven-footer to display his combination of defensive prowess and offensive versatility. He is a wonderful passer and is able to score with a variety of post moves, all while remaining a threat from mid-range with a consistent jump shot. The Grizzlies are 15-2 and currently occupy first place in the West, a position that will be difficult to maintain. But, if Memphis can keep up their offensive efficiency and continue to contend for the top seed, Gasol will have a shot to remain in MVP contention all year.

The biggest change in Gasol’s game this year stems from his increased aggressiveness on offense. He has always been known as one of the most skilled scorers in the post, but, for whatever reason, Gasol has often been hesitant to assert himself, even when the Grizzlies have struggled to put up points in recent years. This season, he has become much more willing to shoot, increasing his field goal attempts from 10 per game (his career average) to 14 this year, adding six points per game to his stat line in the process.

He’s also become quicker and more responsive on defense. This, he said, is due to his offseason dieting which helped him lose a bunch of weight. As the quarterback of Memphis’ consistently stalwart defense and their most reliable contributor on offense, Gasol deserves much of the praise for the team's hot start.

#2 – Anthony Davis (24.9 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)

The ‘Brow has the best numbers in the league through the first month of the season. Along with the insane stats listed above, he is averaging three blocks per contest and another 2.1 steals, good for first and sixth in the league respectively. His 11.3 rebounds per game are also sixth in the NBA, and he currently leads the league in PER, which measures a player’s efficiency on both sides of the court in an attempt to gauge their overall impact. Simply put, Davis has become a beast.

He has improved dramatically every year to the next, and now, in his third season, Davis has taken the leap from fringe All-Star to legitimate MVP candidate. The only thing holding him back in the race for the NBA’s most coveted award is his teammates in New Orleans. The Pelicans are 7-8 so far, and unless they are able to go on a tear this winter and supplant themselves as a lock for the playoffs, it is unlikely that Davis will be able to maintain his position as an MVP favorite, as voters typically weigh contenders’ teams’ wins and losses pretty equally with their overall stats. If it was purely an assessment of numbers, it would be cut and dry – Davis has been easily the most valuable asset on the court this season, dominating with his athleticism on both offense and defense. But that aside, winning is hugely important and, as it stands, the Pelicans haven’t been able to give him the support to make him the No. 1 contender through the first month of the season.

Regardless, Davis has established himself as the best young player in the game. If you were to survey a group of NBA executives and ask them to pick one player to build their team around for the next 15 years, I suspect every single one would choose Davis. He has the potential to be a dominant rim protector and a relentless force on offense for the next decade. At only 21 years old, he is on an incredible trajectory, and it’s safe to say he’s going to win one of these eventually.

#1 – Stephen Curry (24.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 7.6 APG)

He has established himself as the most fun player to watch in the world. There is nothing more exciting right now than getting a text that reads only “Steph’s hot” and tuning in to the Warriors, watching in awe as Curry drains silky-smooth 30-footers and make defenders look silly with his unguardable crossovers and one-handed dimes.

The Warriors, currently 12-2 and in second place in the West, have gone to another level offensively with the hiring of Steve Kerr, who has figured out how to balance Curry’s playmaking abilities with his innate ability to rise up for a 3-pointer at any time. Former coach Mark Jackson wasn’t able to figure out this crucial balance, overly relying on his star point guard to do everything for the Warriors on offense. This year, with the emergence of fellow ‘splash brother’ Klay Thompson’s ability to put the ball on the floor and create opportunities, Curry has been able to drift more on offense and pick his spots, lulling defenses to sleep with his playmaking and becoming an assassin when he sees the chance. He did just that the other night against Miami, putting up 40 points on 12-19 shooting, including 8-11 from beyond the arc. When he’s feeling it like that, he becomes impossible to stop. He demands a double team off the pick-and-roll and is more than willing to find the open man, whether it be Thompson, Draymond Green or any number of Warriors’ contributors having career years.

The most important aspect to Curry’s MVP candidacy will be the Warriors’ ability to continue pulling out wins. They have clearly established themselves as a true championship contender, ranking second in the league in defensive efficiency and demonstrating that they have the offensive firepower to match up with anyone. Winning is an absolutely crucial component to any MVP campaign – every MVP in the last 20 years has played for a team that finished as one of the top two seeds in their conference that season. With the way Curry is playing, the Warriors have the potential to maintain their incredible start to the year and finish with one of those top two seeds in the crowded West. As it stands, only San Antonio and Cleveland currently have better odds of winning the 2015 title.

You can reach Ryan Bouziane here.



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