NBA MVP Ladder: Is Anthony Davis On The Verge of Catching LeBron, Harden and Steph?
NBA MVP odds come courtesy of Bovada and are accurate as of Feb. 28. Definitely make sure you’re checking these lines before deciding on or placing a wager. This year’s race has been especially turbulent, so the numbers can and will change. You can check out last month’s MVP totem pole here.
6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (+2200)
Last Month’s Rank: Unranked
Players don’t normally budge their way into this conversation for the first time so far into the season. Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP, is making an exception for himself.
It’s not just that he’s flirting with averaging another triple-double, like last season. Well, okay, fine. That’s part of it. But he’s also, once more, the line standing between the Oklahoma City Thunder and general underwhelming returns.
When he’s on the floor, they’re outscoring opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions, which would rank fourth overall. When he steps off, their differential plummets to minus-5.3 points per 100 possessions, which is akin to a bottom-four net rating.
Some names on this list headline larger swings, but very few of them cover so much ground. The Thunder have two other stars in Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, but they aren’t equipped to carry the troops like Westbrook. What he does isn’t always pretty, but it works.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (+1400)
Last Month’s Rank: 5
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been good enough overall on an individual level to overshadow the Milwaukee Bucks’ middling record. And it only helps him that their defense has improved a great deal since the firing of head coach Jason Kidd.
But we’ve seen how detrimental his limitations can be in recent weeks. He still doesn’t have a dependable jumper, and his off-the-dribble moves are repetitive—and thus predictable. That makes the Bucks easier to defend, particularly down the stretch of close games.
Sticking him off the ball doesn’t work. He’s an okay cutter, but the Bucks don’t have the surrounding floor spacers to get him moving. During a recent overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, he went three consecutive possessions down the stretch without leaving a dent on the play. That he can, even occasionally, be removed from the game to that degree is incredibly concerning.
4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (+275)
Last Month’s Rank: 1
LeBron James continues to put up ridiculously gaudy numbers. He’s scoring more than he did last season despite getting to the free-throw line with less frequency, and he’s become a legitimate threat to swish pull-up jumpers from beyond the arc and in transition.
Still, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ crummy defense cannot be ignored in this discussion any longer. They’re 28th in points allowed per 100 possessions and post what would be a league-worst defensive rating whenever LeBron is on the floor.
None of which is meant to imply he’s singularly responsible for the Cavaliers devolving into an at times unwatchable sieve. Their defensive demise is a collective one. But he is complicit in these struggles, and it has to matter that they’re actually a net minus per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (+2500)
Last Month’s Rank: 6
DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury has acted as a buoy for Anthony Davis’ MVP case. He’s spent much of this year on the fringes, but he’s only recently put himself within earshot of actually winning the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
New Orleans’ most recent six-game winning streak has essentially changed everything. During this stretch, Davis is averaging a mind-melting 41.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 3.2 blocks while notching a ridiculous 62.8 true shooting percentage. The Pelicans have also outscored opponents by a total of 61 points over this span whenever he’s on the floor.
Similarly important, they’re now owners of the Western Conference’s No. 5 seed and only a half-game back of securing home-court advantage through the first round of the playoffs. If they end up finishing in third or fourth place, Davis’ burgeoning MVP argument will get exponentially stronger.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (+2000)
Last Month’s Rank: 2
Removing Stephen Curry from the MVP discussion is to try outsmarting yourself.
Yes, the Golden State Warriors are in cruise control. Sure, they have conceded the best record to the Houston Rockets…for now. And indeed, Curry has the luxury of playing beside multiple other superstars, most notably Kevin Durant, who many consider to be the better player.
But Curry is still the Warriors’ most indispensable talent. Not only is he posting a higher true shooting percentage than he did during any of his previous two MVP-winning crusades, but he holds the team’s largest net-rating differential by a landslide.
It doesn’t matter that they continue to outpace opponents by more than five points per 100 possessions without him. They are verging on unbeatable with him. He gives the Warriors their identity on offense just by being in the game. He doesn’t even need to shoot. He just has to be there.
Few, if any, other players can say the same.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets (-290)
Last Month’s Rank: 3
Basketball-Reference’s MVP probability index gives Harden nearly a 67 percent chance of nabbing MVP honors this season—more than eight times better than any of its other top-10 options.
To be clear, the MVP ladder has never once felt that one-sided. Curry, James, Antetokounmpo and even Davis could all theoretically seize the top spot from Harden by season’s end if the right stars align. But Harden deserves this first-place finish at the moment.
He leads the league in usage rate, points per game, player efficiency rating, box plus-minus and value over replacement player. He’s posting the highest true shooting percentage of his career despite his Association-leading usage. He’s second in the NBA in assists per game. He’s carried the Rockets through protracted stretches without Chris Paul—something Curry hasn’t needed to do for the Warriors with Durant.
If the Rockets end up beating out Golden State for the NBA’s top record, Harden is a shoo-in for this honor. Even if they don’t, he’s the most likely recipient. He’s finished second on the voting ballot in two of the past three years, and he’s working off a career-best showing in 2016-17.
And yet, somehow, right now, he’s still better and more valuable than he’s ever been.
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