Though statistically speaking, the NBA season is more than halfway over – in an 82-game season, most teams have already played about 50 or so games – the months following the All-Star break are often considered the “second half” of the season. The trade deadline ominously looms just two days away, and with only 30-someodd games left in the season, teams will be gearing up to the make their final playoff pushes.
So, with the “first half” of the season over with, the All-Star break slowly fading in the rearview mirror, here’s a look at the top five MVP candidates through the 2012-13 NBA season:
1.) LeBron James – 27.3 ppg, 56.5% FG, 8.2 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.7 spg, 31.4 PER
Team Record: 36-14
LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA for a number of years now; all other arguments were merely attempts to make a change in the scenery. James has been MVP three of the last four seasons, and now this is where it gets scary: This season, James is shooting the best FG% of his career on the fewest number of shot attempts in his career; he’s averaging a career-high in rebounding and rebound rate; his Usage Rate is the lowest since his second year in the league; his Player Efficiency Rating is at the second highest of his career; and he’s playing on the best team in the Eastern Conference. Astoundingly, James has taken his game to another level and it’s been through a more subtle, subdued approach. He’s cut down on his three-point attempts and long jumpers (he’s also hitting both at a better clip), instead focusing more on attacking the basket where he can’t be denied, and operating a large chunk of Miami’s offense from the post, where he abuses smaller players, and hits his teammates, most often, for passes at the rim or behind the arc. Simply said, nobody is playing at the level LeBron James is.
2.) Kevin Durant – 29.2 ppg, 51.9% FG, 7.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 1.2 bpg, 29.2 PER
Team Record: 39-14
If LeBron James is operating at the highest level in the NBA, Kevin Durant is operating on a close second, and likely by himself. It’s a shame that James’s greatness has largely overshadowed the fact that Durant, too, is having the best season of his career and becoming close to being unfairly good. Durant is on pace to become the first player since Larry Bird to lead the league in scoring while shooting 50-40-90 — 50% or over from the field, 40% or over from three-point range, and 90% or over from the free throw line. Durant’s having his best season shooting the ball from all three locations. At only 24 years old, he’s nearly impossible to guard, and it’s becoming even harder now that he has increased offensive versatility (a developed post game) and increased willingness to pass, as evidenced by his career highs in assists per game and assist percentage. If Durant completes the above accomplishment, and the Thunder finish with a better record than the Heat, it might be enough to move Durant into first place in the MVP race.
3.) Tony Parker – 20.8 ppg, 53.6% FG, 3 rpg, 7.6 apg, 24.5 PER
Team Record: 42-12
Unlike Durant and James, Tony Parker isn’t having his best season in quite so many statistical categories, but when evaluating the San Antonio Spurs, it’s pretty clear that the team’s success begins with Parker. Sure, Gregg Popovich may be the finest coach in the league, Tim Duncan has evaded Father Time, the Spurs’ effortlessly integrate new pieces into their system with nary a drop-off, but Parker’s brilliance is perhaps the biggest reason why the Spurs have the best record in the league for the third year in a row. Furthermore, Parker has had to carry the team with Duncan and Manu Ginobili missing a combined 23 games. His scoring and FG% are both near career highs, he’s shooting the three-ball better, getting to the free throw line and making his shots at a good rate, his assists per game are nearly at a career high, and his assist percentage is a borderline ludicrous 40%. Watch a Spurs game and Parker’s value jumps out more than his stats. On offense, Parker just prods and prods until he’s in the lane where he shoots a terrific percentage at the rim, or he can set up his roll-man or kick it out to any number of shooters the Spurs possess. On defense, Parker is still not (and won’t become) a great defender, but he’s capable and his effort is there pretty consistently. Though the Spurs’ greatness is affected by a number of things, one gets the feeling that Parker may now have the keys over Duncan as to how far he can carry the team.
4.) Chris Paul – 16.6 ppg, 48.2% FG, 3.4 rpg, 9.6 apg, 2.6 spg, 26.8 PER
Team Record: 39-17
By most statistics, it would appear that Chris Paul is having a down season. His minutes, scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, and 3FG% are all lower than his career averages. However, similar to Tony Parker, Paul’s worth goes beyond the stats. The Clippers have entered championship contender talk, and while an improved supporting cast certainly deserves mention, Paul may be the lone factor that decides whether the Clippers are actual contenders, or merely a good playoff team. In the nine games that Paul missed in late January and early February, the Clippers went just 3-6 (though some of those were without Blake Griffin). Paul is one of the few players with the ability to seemingly take over a game at any moment. Though he doesn’t look for his shot often, he can score at will, get anywhere on the court with a clever handle and surprising speed and strength, and his teammates greatly benefit from the attention Paul draws when he goes into attack mode. However, missed games, and occasional tendency to operate on cruise control may hurt Paul’s chances at winning MVP.
5.) Carmelo Anthony – 28.6 ppg, 44.7% FG, 6.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 23.8 PER
Team Record: 32-18
Perhaps it was the Olympic experience, perhaps it was his peer LeBron James winning his first NBA title, but whatever it was, Anthony stormed into the season with a new attitude. Anthony is scoring at a near career best level, shooting the three-pointer far better than at any other point, and defending like he never has before. If the players ranked above him weren’t playing at such a high level, Anthony could be ranked higher based on the immense weight of the Knicks that he carries on his shoulders. Though the Knicks, too, have improved through better coaching and a deeper supporting cast, it seems as though their ultimate fate rests on Anthony’s jumpshot. His scoring eruptions have almost become routine to the point that his five 40-point games this season hardly even stand out. Throw in a previously-unseen willingness to defend and pass (though stats don’t reflect it, the eye test does), and Anthony may be having the best season of his career. Unfortunately for he and the Knicks, it just hasn’t been better than the names listed above him.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Duncan, James Harden, Stephen Curry
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