The top MVP candidates usually are the best players on the best teams, but Chicago was an exception this season. The Bulls earned the No. 1 seed in the East, yet their best player, Derrick Rose, missed nearly half the season with injuries and no other player truly stood out. So credit Chicago for its collective effort, but give kudos to these 10 players for their individual excellence. Here's how we see the MVP race at the finish line.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
Injuries sidelined him for a quarter of Miami's games and reduced his effectiveness when he did play. Statistically, this was Wade's least productive season since his rookie year. Still, even at less than his best, he's one of the elite two-way players in the league, giving him the slight nod over Lakers center Andrew Bynum, Hawks forward Josh Smith and Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki for the last spot on this list.
Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix Suns
At the age of 38, Nash averaged a double-double (12.5 ppg, 10.7 apg), shot a blistering 53 percent from the field and, most importantly, kept the Suns in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season. Watch how bad Phoenix is if Nash doesn't return next season.
Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC Thunder
He was the highest-scoring point guard in the league (23.5 ppg) and the most explosive, but Westbrook was at his worst in the final month of the regular season. He could lead the Thunder to a title if he's on top of his game, but he could also shoot them out of the playoffs.
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
For half the season, the Celtics were mediocre and Rondo was solid if unspectacular. Then he started passing, and passing, and passing some more. In each of his last 24 games, the NBA's most unselfish player delivered at least 10 assists, perhaps the most remarkable streak of the season. By doing so, he breathed new life into Boston and proved that you don't have to score to be incredibly valuable to your team.
Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
His season ended with a whimper because of fatigue and injury, but what he accomplished over the first three months was truly extraordinary. Love finished the season fourth in scoring (26.0 ppg), second in rebounding (13.3) and also made 105 3-pointers, showing off a skill set shared by precious few players in NBA history.
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
How many players earn "MVP!" chants in their 16th season? Bryant further added to his legend by leading the league in scoring for most of the season and carrying a huge load for a top-heavy but thin Lakers team. On the other hand, he shot just 43 percent, his worst mark in 14 years, and clearly lost a step on defense. So MVP? No. But still one of the best, even after all these years.
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
It's saying something that a three-time NBA champion and former Finals MVP just had his best season. Parker has always been a blur on the court and an outstanding scorer. This season, his 10th in the league, he also became an elite playmaker, averaging a career-best 7.7 assists along with 18.3 points. He was simply the best player on the best team in the league.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul achieved one of the most difficult feats in sports: He turned the Clippers into winners. He changed the franchise's culture with his ferocious competitiveness and reestablished himself as the NBA's premier point guard with his dazzling play. The Clips had a few too many slumps to put Paul into serious MVP contention, but his value to L.A.'s "other" team is hard to overstate.
Kevin Durant, SF, OKC Thunder
In his fifth NBA season, Durant evolved from a pure scorer into an all-around player. He improved in nearly every facet of the game, finishing with career highs in rebounds (8.0) and assists (3.5) to go along with 28.0 points, good for his third straight scoring title. The Thunder's late-season fade may have cost him a first MVP award, but at 23 he's only getting better. Multiple MVPs may be just a matter of time.
LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
His monster stats (27.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 6.2 apg), incredible efficiency (53.1 FG%) and defensive excellence make a strong case for a third MVP award for LeBron. But that's no shock. The surprise is that he needed to do so much for the Heat, who got mildly disappointing seasons from nearly everyone else on the roster. LeBron was thought to be forsaking individual accolades when he joined a so-called superteam, but only one Miami player was truly superb this season. That needs to change if LeBron is going to get what really matters: his first ring.