We won’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but a month into the NBA season it’s worth at least acknowledging the players that have kicked off the awards races. My preview for Most Valuable Player included four players other than the obvious two of reigning MVP Kevin Durant and LeBron James that I thought might put up some competition this season.
Not one of the four players from my preseason preview are in my early considerations for Most Valuable Player. As of right now, these are the guys playing at the highest level while leading their teams to the strongest starts to the season, thus making them eligible for the earliest possible Most Valuable Player conversation.
1.) Stephen Curry
The Golden State Warriors are on an eight-game winning streak at 12-2 and just behind Memphis atop the Western Conference, largely due to the play of Stephen Curry at the helm of new head coach Steve Kerr’s system. Curry is combining his prolific scoring ability with more productive decision-making and command of the game. He’s averaging 24.3 points on 49 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game, along with 2 steals per game, which also speaks to the more adamant effort we’re seeing from Curry on the defensive end. The more healthy and confident Stephen Curry is, and the more this team develops, the better Curry’s chances of legitimately being in the running for the MVP all season long.
2.) Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies are, as of today, the Western Conference elite. Their typical gritty, low-scoring style of play hasn’t favored the likes of the conference in recent years, but a combination of new additions and Gasol’s stellar play has Memphis averaging just over 100 points per game and atop the conference at 14-2. Gasol leads Memphis in scoring with a steady 20 points (fifth in the league in scoring) and 8 rebounds so far this season, serving as the offensive and defensive anchor of this team. Health and sustainability will be factors for Memphis during this next stretch of the season, but they will continue to go as Gasol goes, and as Gasol goes, the more his name will be in the MVP conversation.
3.) James Harden
Even without Dwight Howard for a portion of this first part of the season, James Harden has led the Houston Rockets to a 13-4 start for third place in the conference. His offensive aggression is as dangerous as ever, averaging a stocky 25 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game. Harden is second in the league in scoring (25.2) behind Kobe Bryant (26.4). More impressive even is Harden’s response from being heavily criticized for his lack of effort on the defensive end last season. Today, Harden leads the league in defensive win shares, and his general efforts have visibly improved. We’ll see if Dwight Howard takes some of Harden’s thunder when he returns, but Harden is the one playing MVP basketball for Houston to start the season.
4.) Anthony Davis
The NBA world is rightly prepared for Anthony Davis as the next upcoming superstar in the league. Davis translated his dominant play with Team USA at the World Championships this summer directly to his third NBA season. He’s averaging 24.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3 blocks to start the season for the Pelicans. The only downfall for Davis’ ongoing stock for MVP is New Orleans’ success. Davis’ squad is still only off to a 7-8 start, and we know this award is only credited to a player on one of the most successful regular season teams. But there’s plenty of time for the Pelicans to improve and Davis to make his case. If they could manage to squirm their way into an eighth seed, Davis’ case becomes that much stronger.
5.) Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are off to a franchise-best 13-3 start to the season, and the two-headed monster in the backcourt is led by Kyle Lowry. Although DeRozan, who the Raptors just lost to a groin injury, leads Toronto in scoring (19.4) it’s Lowry’s leadership and initial command that fortifies this team. Lowry is averaging 18.6 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists per game at point guard, setting the tone and pace for an exciting young Raptors team that has only improved from their top-three standing going into last postseason. Especially with DeRozan now out, look for Lowry to elevate his individual play, which could give him more momentum going into the next MVP update.