Dan Favale | Wed 11/01/2017 - 11:03 EST

NBA MVP Award Favorites

NBA MVP Award Favorites
Is James Harden still leading the NBA's MVP pack? Can Russell Westbrook steal the top spot? Can LeBron James receive his due recognition? Have any newcomers entered the conversation? Find out here, as we cycle through the top-five MVP candidates for this season thus far, with odds courtesy of Bovada.

NBA MVP Monthly Ladder

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (+900)

Last Month: 4

kawhi

The more things change for the San Antonio Spurs, the more they stay the same.

By net rating, the Spurs have been the best team in the NBA since November 24—more than of the season. Kawhi Leonard is a big a part of that; he’s their No. 1 option and the heart and soul of their defensive schemes, even if the on-off numbers don’t always show it.

But the Spurs’ depth betrays Leonard here. Their surrounding talent is so good, Leonard doesn’t come off as indispensable as some of his peers. 

This is rubbish, of course. But perception matters. And when you bake in the fact that San Antonio is once again flying on the radar, despite posting the second-best record in the league, it’s unlikely Leonard cracks the top three of MVP voting.

4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (+1100)

Last Month: 3

durant

Kevin Durant is having one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history. Forget how many superstars you call teammates: That’s freaking impressive.

Most voters won’t feel the same way. Durant shares the floor with Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry for long stretches. He is not the slightest bit indispensable; if he goes down, the Golden State Warriors have three other superstars to pick up the slack.

Still, while the Warriors can function without him, he’s emerged as their most valuable player, above even Curry—in large part because his defense has been so damn good.  

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (+550)

Last Month: 3

lebron

Take one look at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ on-off splits, and you’ll realize that LeBron James deserves to be here, if not higher.

When he’s on the floor, the Cavaliers play like the best team in the league. When he steps off, they don’t even post the net rating of a playoff team.

This is incredible—and, to be honest, slightly alarming in the grand scheme of things—knowing that James plays beside two other superstar in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. You’d think this would be similar to the situation with Durant and the Warriors: KD is insanely valuable, but the Warriors can survive without him.

The Cavaliers, however, don’t have that luxury. They need James to be great.

And whether or not that leaves you doubting their title defense, you need to appreciate just how freaking good the best player in the world continues to be on a regular basis.

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets (+160)

Last Month: 1

James Harden, for the record, could just as easily still be slotted at No. 1. His production is out of this world; he flirts with triple-doubles nightly and leads the league in assists per game.

The Houston Rockets are better than anyone expected mostly because of him. They have the third-best record in the league and look like they could, quite possibly, be the Warriors’ biggest threat in the Western Conference.

The problem? Patrick Beverley.

To be sure, Beverley isn’t really a problem. But his return has helped give the Rockets an identity outside Harden, thereby making him less valuable.

Where Houston played like the worst team in the Association when Harden took a breather before Beverley returned from injury, it’s been statistically better without Harden in the game since Beverley’s recovery.

There’s a lot of noise in these numbers. Take Harden off the Rockets, and they’ll probably suck. But the developing depth in Houston is nevertheless working against Harden the way it works against Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio.

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (Even)

Last Month: 2

westbrook

Sportsbooks have listed Russell Westbrook as the MVP favorite all season, and he’s finally living up to that billing.

Or rather, the Oklahoma City Thunder are finally helping him live up to that billing.

Nothing has really changed about Westbrook on an individual level since we last met. He is still averaging a triple-double, and the Thunder are still a wreck when he leaves the floor. 

The difference is that Oklahoma City finds itself a heartbeat away from a top-four playoff seed. The team is seventh in the West at this writing, but only two games separate it from the fourth-place Los Angeles Clippers.

MVP winners typically come from top-three teams, and the knock against Westbrook was that the Thunder wouldn’t be good enough for him to reinvent the criteria. But that’s all changed for the time being.

The Thunder have a chance to flirt with 50 wins, and that’s enough to stick Westbrook here, in the No. 1 spot—regardless of their playoff positioning.

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