The NBA season is entering the home stretch with teams preparing for playoff pushes (and tank plunges). Players such as Pelicans' forward Anthony Davis and Trail Blazers' guard Damian Lillard have been making strong arguments for their MVP cases, but how do they stack up against the rest of the league's top stars?
5) G - Russell Westbrook (OKC)
While Russ isn't averaging a triple-double like he was last year, he's pretty darn close. With 25.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 10.2 APG he is still in a good position to average a triple-double yet again. To do this on a team that's 43-29 in the Western Conference and holding onto the 4th seed is no small feat (Not to mention that he's had to incorporate two superstars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony from this offseason). This team goes where Russ goes and the stats back it up. Russ averages a triple-double in wins with a plus/minus of 12.6 per game. When the Thunder lose Westbrook shoots 5% less efficiently from the field, scores less points, grabs less rebounds, and passes less assists. The Thunder are 18-3 when Westbrook puts up a triple-double. The reigning MVP is not out of the race yet, but will need to get his shooting percentages up while continuing to make sure PG13 and Melo are getting the touches they need.
4) F - LeBron James (CLE)
King James has been doing what he has always done: carry teams. Cleveland is currently 41-29 which gives them the third best record in the East. Cleveland has had the greatest roster overhaul by a team that is coming off of a trip to the NBA Finals (read our trade recap for more on Cleveland's roster) and LeBron has somehow been able to keep their championship hopes alive. He's putting up 27.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 9.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.0 BPG while making it look easy. For the first time in his career it's possible he plays all 82 games in the regular season. With the way his supporting crew has looked this season, that's exactly what they need from him. Most likely, with his team underperforming and the way history has shaped itself throughout LeBron's career, LeBron will not be selected as MVP winner. At this point, we've recognized that he's by and far the best player in the league and giving him the award every year would not be exciting for anyone except the city of Cleveland.
3) G - Damian Lillard (POR)
Dame Time. Lillard has been on fire for Portland this season and has continued to showcase his talents. As one of the league's most consistent and clutch players in the league since his debut in 2012, Dame is having a career season with the Trail Blazers without having to put up career highs. He's not currently on pace to have career highs in PPG, RPG, or APG (averaging 26.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 6.5 APG) his leadership and mamba-mentality have propelled Portland to a 44-26 record (3rd seed in the West). He's been averaging over 30 PPG since February and has shown no signs of slowing down. If Damian can keep the Trial Blazers at the 3 seed in the West, it's very possible we see him get MVP votes and a possible 1st Team All-NBA selection for the first time in his career.
2) F - Anthony Davis (NOP)
Anthony Davis, another 2012 draft selection, is a 6"10 former high school point guard who has refined his game to become the most talented big man in the NBA. Davis is averaging 28.2 PPG (2nd in the league), 11.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, and a league-best 2.4 BPG. Davis paired up with center Demarcus Cousins last season at the trade deadline and this is their first full year together. Or at least they thought it would be. Cousins went down with an ACL tear on January 26th of this year and will not return until next season. Since that point, Davis has had to carry the Pelicans into the playoffs and has been doing a great job. In the month of February AD averaged 35.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 2.5 SPG, along with 2.2 BPG which one him Western Conference Player of the Month. If Davis while his numbers in March are slightly down, the brow shows no signs of letting up and not dominating game in and game out.
1) G - James Harden (HOU)
Houston has the best record in the NBA and a large part of that is due to the acquisition of point guard Chris Paul this offseason. However, a larger part of their success is due to this backcourt partner: James Harden. The Beard has been close to claiming the MVP award the previous two seasons, but it looks like he may finally get the coveted award. Harden is averaging a league-best 31.0 PPG along with 5.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, and even grabbing 1.9 SPG. His numbers aren't as eye opening as the were last year, but the eye-test is reacting more positively to him now more than ever. Harden is the best player on the best team in the NBA, which of course gives him some automatic MVP votes. This is Harden's race to lose at this point, and it seems that he has all of the requirements and skills to keep his game elevated throughout the rest of this season.
Honorable mentions: F - Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), G - Kyrie Irving (BOS), F - Kevin Durant (GSW), G - Stephen Curry (GSW), G - Victor Oladipo (IND)