The 2016-17 NBA regular season has reached the month of December. With one full calendar month completed, who’s the leader in the early race for MVP?
Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket between New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) and forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
The first full month of the 2016-17 NBA regular season is officially in the books. The brief week of October set the season in motion, but it was in November that the season began to gain the preliminary form of traction.
One month into the 2016-17 NBA regular season, a number of players are in pursuit of history—and no, that isn’t hyperbole.
A player is currently averaging a triple-double after 20 games played, and there’s reason to believe he’ll maintain this all-time pace. Others are putting forth two-way contributions that compare to even the greatest seasons in league history.
If that’s not enough, the laws of being a point guard are being re-written and the expectations for NBA big men are evolving.
For as much hyperbole as is admittedly spewed, this season could change the trajectory of the NBA forever. Players are eliminating position roles and evolving into legends before our very eyes, and the only rational response is to applaud their contributions before they pass us by.
The question is: who is the frontrunner for MVP after the first full month of the 2016-17 NBA regular season?
Nov 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots during the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Target Center. The Knicks defeated the Timberwolves 106-104. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves are still in the process of defining roles and rotations. What’s abundantly clear, however, is that Minnesota has an individual worth building around in Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns won Rookie of the Year by a unanimous vote in 2016-17 and is following up with yet another extraordinary season.
After making 30 3-point field goals in 82 games as a rookie, Towns has already converted 27 in 18 games in 2016-17. Despite being game-planned for in a far more focused manner than he was in 2015-16, he’s still maintaining a high level of efficiency.
Towns was flirting with a Top 20 ranking for a vast majority of the 2016-17 season, but it was his most recent outing that secured his place.
Towns went off for a career-high 47 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks, and a steal on 15-of-22 shooting from the field and a 17-of-20 mark at the free throw line against the New York Knicks. It was too incredible of a performance to keep him out of the Top 20.
Nov 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) dribbles the ball against Philadelpia 76ers in the second half of a 122-95 win at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
19. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Position: Point Guard Age: 30 (3/25/1986) Experience: 11th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .423/.395/.848 2016-17 Season Averages: 37.9 MPG, 20.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 2.7 3PM
The Toronto Raptors have been relying upon the scoring prowess of DeMar DeRozan to reach the current record of 12-6. For as gaudy as DeRozan’s statistics may be, it’s still Kyle Lowry who makes everything go for the Raptors.
The 30-year-old is already a two-time All-Star with an All-NBA nod on his resume, but 2016-17 is shaping up to be his best season yet.
Toronto has a net rating of +8.1 with Lowry on the court, but that metric drops to a team-worst mark of +1.3 without him. Toronto has still been an above-average team without him, but it has the look of a contender with him.
Lowry is No. 19 in Real Plus-Minus and has been the catalyst to the Raptors’ success on both ends of the floor.
Lowry has done the usual: scoring, facilitating, rebounding, and defending at a high level. He tallied 28 points and nine assists against Kyrie Irving, had a triple-double against Russell Westbrook, and picked up 27 points against Chris Paul.
Lowry is often more subtle in his impact than he is directly superb, but he’s been one of the most impressive players of the 2016-17 season.
Nov 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
18. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Position: Point Guard Age: 24 (3/23/1992) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .483/.425/.871 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.8 MPG, 24.7 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.0 RPG, 2.6 3PM
The Cleveland Cavaliers are 13-4 overall, 9-2 at home, and 4-2 on the road. The leading scorer for one of the most dominant forces in the NBA hasn’t been LeBron James, but starting point guard and 2016 NBA Finals hero Kyrie Irving.
Irving is still coming along in other areas of the game, but he’s solidified his place as the No. 1 scoring option on a championship contender.
It’s admittedly difficult to overlook the issues that Irving has incurred in 2016-17, but it’s just as tough to look past his virtues. He’s leading the charge as a scorer for a team that’s playing at a legitimately elite level.
That includes the 39 points he posted against the Philadelphia 76ers and the 32 he almost easily posted against the Houston Rockets.
Irving has still been rather inconsistent as a facilitator, but he’s made progress in that regard. He dished out 11 assists in just 29 minutes against the Detroit Pistons and tallied 25 points in 28 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks.
Irving has been compared to NBA legend and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas since he was in high school. At times this season, he’s looked the part.
Nov 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) guards Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Heat won 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
17. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Position: Center Age: 27 (6/13/1989) Experience: 5th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .550/.000/.551 2016-17 Season Averages: 32.8 MPG, 17.3 PPG, 14.8 RPG, 4.5 ORPG, 2.4 BPG, 0.8 SPG
The Miami Heat haven’t been winning games with much regularity, but Hassan Whiteside represents a bright future. He’s establishing himself as a legitimate star and should be an All-Star if he continues to perform at this level.
Though it may not be the hot new thing to play a traditional style as a big man, Whiteside is a glorious throwback to the dominant interior forces of yesteryear.
Whiteside is dangerously close to becoming the first player to average at least 17.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks since Moses Malone in 1982-83. He’s shooting 55.0 percent from the field and giving the 7-12 Heat their best hope of winning games.
That includes the 25 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks he recently posted against the Denver Nuggets on 11-of-17 shooting from the field.
Whiteside has the size, strength, length, and athleticism to dominate any caliber of opponent. What’s become a truly underrated aspect of his game, however, has been his proficiency from midrange and his capability from the post.
Miami may not be winning with the type of consistency that a fan would desire, but he’s been nothing short of superb in 2016-17.
Nov 30, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden. The Detroit Pistons won 121-114. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
16. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Position: Point Guard Age: 27 (2/7/1989) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .427/.331/.886 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.2 MPG, 26.1 PPG, 6.2 APG, 2.6 RPG, 2.3 3PM
The Boston Celtics were forced to play nine games without Al Horford and eight without Jae Crowder. Despite playing roughly half the season without two of the most valuable players on the roster, Boston is 10-8.
The player who helped keep Boston afloat during that difficult stretch was All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas is one of three players currently averaging at least 26.0 points and 6.0 assists in 2016-17. The other two players on that list are Houston Rockets superstar James Harden and walking triple-double Russell Westbrook.
To be associated with those two players all but guarantees Thomas a spot as one of the Top 20 players in the NBA this season—just as he was in 2015-16.
Thomas’ recent decline in efficiency hurts his ranking, and Horford could soon pass him on the Top 20. The reality is, Horford has missed half the season and it’s far too early to forgive nine games of unavailability.
Thomas helped the Celtics remain relevant when Crowder and Horford were out, which makes for a Top 20 ranking when coupled with his star-caliber production.
Nov 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard Wade Baldwin IV (4) in the second half at FedExForum. Charlotte defeated Memphis 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
15. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Position: Point Guard Age: 26 (5/8/1990) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .469/.424/.788 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.2 MPG, 23.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 2.9 3PM
The Charlotte Hornets are 10-8 after 18 games and have been the beneficiaries of a tremendous season from starting point guard Kemba Walker. He’s scoring with confidence, efficiency, and versatility, and has been clutch as can be.
Walker hasn’t yet been an All-Star, but with the prime of his NBA career on the horizon, he’s looking the part of a lock in 2016-17.
The 10-8 Hornets have net ratings of +4.8 with Walker on the court and -0.1 with him on the bench. Individually, he’s leading Charlotte in points, steals, and 3-point field goals made per game—and doing so with elite efficiency.
Bigger than the individual statistics or advanced metrics, however, is the manner in which Walker is stepping up when it matters most.
Walker established himself as one of the most clutch players in basketball during his time with the Connecticut Huskies. He’s continued to thrive in said situations during his professional career, including his 62 clutch points scored in 2016-17—second in the NBA.
Walker is clutch, the Hornets are above .500, and his All-Star Game campaign is in full bloom. The Bronx native is in the midst of a spectacular season.
Nov 25, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) dunks the ball against Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) and forward Dario Saric (9) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
14. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Position: Small Forward Age: 27 (9/14/1989) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .473/.400/.886 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.5 MPG, 25.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.4 3PM
Jimmy Butler was dealt quite the difficult hand when the Chicago Bulls changed his position from shooting guard to small forward. Through 17 games in 2016-17, Butler hasn’t missed a beat as he’s maintained his extraordinary level of play and production.
Though it’s quite early in the 2016-17 NBA regular season, Butler is looking the part of a legitimate NBA superstar.
Butler already has a 40-point game, four games above 30 points, and an average above 25.0 points per game. He’s shooting exceptionally well and is playing with an even greater confidence than he did during his All-Star campaigns in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Some fear that he’s sacrificing his defense for improved offense, but situationally, there aren’t many players a coach would rather have defending a star scorer than Butler.
Butler is benefiting from the presence of a mentor with as great a resume as just about any player in NBA history: Dwyane Wade. The two former Marquette Golden Eagles stars have bonded and connected both on the court and off of it.
With Wade in his ear, Butler appears primed and ready to realize his superstar potential with Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls.
Nov 28, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) dribbles around Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith (14) during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
In his most recent outing, DeMarcus Cousins went off for 36 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. The game prior, he had 37 points, 11 rebounds, and four steals, which followed his 32 points and five blocks, and 36 points and 13 boards in the two games before that.
Love, hate, or feel indifferent about Boogie Cousins, it’s hard to do anything but herald Cousins for the all-time player that he’s becoming.
The Sacramento Kings have been one of the worst organizations in sports for the better part of two decades. Cousins has been one of the few reasons to remain optimistic, however, and that trend has continued into 2016-17.
It’s hard not to penalize Cousins for not making the playoffs after six seasons, but it’s also impossible to ignore his all-time production.
Cousins is one of three 2016-17 stars on pace to become the first player to average at least 28.0 points and 10.0 rebounds since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000-01. The Kings, meanwhile, have a net rating of -0.4 with Cousins on the floor and -11-5 without him.
Cousins desperately needs to appear in the NBA Playoffs, but he still deserves respect and accolades for his individual brilliance.
Nov 30, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives to the basket past Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Grizzlies 120-105. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
DeMar DeRozan got off to one of the greatest starts by a scorer in NBA history. He’s since cooled down a bit, but DeRozan’s slight decline in scoring has enabled him to focus on other areas of the game—a positive.
The proof: DeRozan is averaging 22.6 points per game over the past five outings, but he’s also posting 6.2 assists, 6.0 rebounds, and just under one 3-point field goal per contest.
DeRozan could be higher on this list if we’re to value bare statistics, but the league’s elite are beginning to resurface. What DeRozan has done is establish himself as an elite scoring threat and is now focusing on rounding out his game.
Considering the Toronto Raptors have won four straight games, it’s safe to say that his change of tune is benefiting the team.
The one knock against DeRozan is that the Raptors actually have a better net rating when DeRozan is off the court. He’s still an invaluable contributor, but the advanced metrics aren’t exactly in DeRozan’s favor.
Regardless of how you feel about DeRozan’s past, he played at a Top 15 level during the first month of the 2016-17 season.
Nov 26, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts after a three point basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
11. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Position: Point Guard Age: 28 (3/14/1988) Experience: 8th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .488/.414/.922 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.8 MPG, 26.7 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.1 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 4.2 3PM
Since opening the 2016-17 NBA regular season at 4-2, the Golden State Warriors have won 12 of 13 games. There’s another member of the team ranked higher, but two-time MVP Stephen Curry has been unfair this season.
No matter what the statistics say, the Warriors can rely upon Curry for the type of offensive runs that few players are capable of going on.
Even with a fourth All-NBA player added to the mix, Curry is averaging just under 27 points and six assists on an incredibly efficient slash line. More importantly, he makes timely contributions that help the Warriors extend leads and fight off runs from the opposition.
The word clutch is often applied to players who hit game-winners, but Curry is clutch in the sense that he hits big shots during key points of a full game.
Curry may not be ranked as high now as he was in 2015-16, but he’s still one of the league’s elite players. He’s been a dominant force when he’s been hot and an incomparably valuable decoy, whether he’s been focused on or not.
The Warriors will continue winning, Curry will continue producing, and his ranking will continue to improve over the course of the 2016-17 season.
Nov 27, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Rockets won 130-114. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
10. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Position: Point Guard Age: 26 (7/15/1990) Experience: 5th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .470/.357/.889 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.7 MPG, 28.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 2.5 3PM
Damian Lillard may not get this respect in common circles, but he’s one of the most respected leaders in the NBA. He makes his voice heard in the locker room, forms close relationships with his teammates, and holds himself accountable for his flaws.
The evidence of Lillard holding himself accountable is the fact that he has three double-doubles in his past four games after being criticized for not passing enough.
Lillard already has two 40-point games and an additional three outings with at least 36 points scored. He’s scoring with fantastic overall efficiency, has embraced the need to facilitate, and called himself out for needing to defend better.
If nothing else, one can’t help but respect Lillard for leading the Trail Blazers to a 10-10 record through 20 games after struggling so severely earlier in the month.
A .500 record is a perfectly fine place to be for any team after the first month of a season. It enables said team to control their own destiny the rest of the way and make the playoffs by simply playing up to their potential.
Lillard is a big-game player, a vocal leader, and one of the most dynamic offensive point guards in the 70-year history of the NBA.
Nov 25, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) looks to his bench during the third quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons win 108-97. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
9. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Position: Power Forward Age: 27 (3/16/1989) Experience: 7th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .478/.211/.766 2016-17 Season Averages: 32.9 MPG, 20.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 ORPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
The Los Angeles Clippers live and die by the contributions and leadership of superstar point guard Chris Paul. True as that may be—and it is true—the Clippers are slowly becoming a team that relies just as heavily on Blake Griffin.
The greatest evidence of Griffin’s value to the 15-5 Clippers is the fact that Los Angeles blew a double-digit lead and lost 127-122 to the Brooklyn Nets when the 27-year-old was absent.
Griffin’s individual statistics are impressive enough for him to be ranked in the Top 20, let alone the Top 15. He’s posting double-doubles, scoring upwards of 20 points per game, and facilitating at an extraordinarily high level.
Most of all, Griffin’s impact on the Clippers has been the most powerful of the stars—on both ends of the floor.
The Clippers currently have net ratings of +18.3 with Griffin on the floor and -5.2 without him—the worst mark that Los Angeles has with any player on the bench. It has an offensive rating of 114.6 with Griffin on the floor and a team-worst mark of 98.5 without Griffin.
On the other end of the floor, the Clippers have defensive ratings of 96.4 with Griffin and 103.7 without him—the solidification of Griffin’s Top 10 status.
Nov 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives for the basket as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) defends during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Position: Point Forward Age: 21 (12/6/1994) Experience: 4th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .523/.231/.779 2016-17 Season Averages: 34.5 MPG, 22.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 6.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 0.5 3PM
Some have opposed my high ranking for Giannis Antetokounmpo of the 9-8 Milwaukee Bucks. On Tuesday, November 29, however, Antetokounmpo validated the ranking by going head-to-head with LeBron James and dominating The King.
Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and two blocks on 13-of-19 shooting while helping force James into seven turnovers.
For fans of the advanced metrics, the Bucks have net ratings of +4.5 with Antetokounmpo on the floor and -10.8 when he isn’t—a difference of 15.3 points per 100 possessions. Milwaukee has offensive ratings of 105.8 with Antetokounmpo and 96.9 without him.
On the other end, the Bucks have defensive ratings of 101.3 with Antetokounmpo on the floor and 107.6 without him—another massive disparity.
Not only is Milwaukee significantly better with Antetokounmpo on the floor, but he’s been historically productive. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he’s on pace to be the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in1975-76 to average at least 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals.
Nov 26, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Spurs won 112-100. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
7. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Position: Small Forward Age: 25 (6/29/1991) Experience: 6th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .450/.381/.908 2016-17 Season Averages: 33.9 MPG, 24.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.9 3PM
The San Antonio Spurs are in the first season of the post-Tim Duncan era—an incomparable experience. Duncan has been the pillar of consistency and the driving force behind the Spurs’ sustained success—success that spanned three decades.
Kawhi Leonard, the player replacing Duncan as the franchise player, has been sensational during the overwhelming time that is the 2016-17 campaign.
Bigger than any statistic is the fundamental improvements made by Leonard on the offensive end of the floor. He’s far more confident with the ball in his hands and has become more creative when attacking off the bounce.
The fact that Leonard is averaging a career-best 24.4 points on an efficient slash line of .450/.381/.908 only validates the belief that he’s improved.
The Spurs are off to a 15-4 start to the season, which implies another 50-win season is in the works. Leonard has hit a bit of a cold stretch in recent games, but he’s made strides as a facilitator that will be vital to San Antonio’s postseason performances.
Whether or not this is his year, Leonard appears all but destined for an MVP award with an NBA championship, a Finals MVP, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards on his resume.
Nov 27, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) backs down Philadelphia 76ers forward Hollis Thompson (31) in the post during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
6. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Position: Small Forward Age: 31 (12/30/1984) Experience: 14th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .498/.362/.720 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.9 MPG, 23.5 PPG, 9.3 APG, 8.1 RPG, 1.1 ORPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.7 3PM
LeBron James has the Cleveland Cavaliers off to yet another extraordinary start to a season. Since struggling out of the gates in 2014-15, James and the Cavaliers have been on a war path—one that has left many quality teams lying in their wake.
James may not be posting his traditionally gaudy statistics, but he has evolved into a more well-rounded player on a 13-3 Cavaliers team.
James is averaging a career-best 9.3 assists per game through 15 appearances. He was thoroughly outplayed by Giannis Antetokounmpo on Tuesday, but that followed a four-game winning streak, including seven straight wins with James in the lineup.
That helps Antetokounmpo, but to imply that it detracts from the brilliant season James has put forth would be an overreaction.
With his 32nd birthday nearing, James appears to have realized his own immortality. He’s trusting his teammates more than he ever has before and is allowing his presence to speak louder than his statistics in 2016-17.
James may or may not add another regular season MVP award to his resume, but he’s preparing himself for an athletic decline with a campaign that only be described as intelligent and self-aware.
Nov 29, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) drives against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
5. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Position: Point Guard Age: 31 (5/6/1985) Experience: 12th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .448/.415/.897 2016-17 Season Averages: 31.2 MPG, 17.9 PPG, 8.9 APG, 5.2 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 2.2 3PM
Chris Paul is the catalyst to the two-way execution of the 14-5 Los Angeles Clippers. His facilitating isn’t just a matter of dishing out passes to create assists; it’s orchestrating the offense with his vocal leadership and activity without the ball.
With the Clippers off to an excellent start to the season and Paul’s individual player falling in line with team success, it’s hard to argue against him being Top 10.
Paul has hit a bit of a wall as a scorer over the past few games, but the Clippers should be thrilled to be 15-5. Head coach Doc Rivers is still figuring out his rotations, but the one constant has been Paul finding a way to impact the outcome of the game.
That’s why, through 19 games, the Clippers have net ratings of +16.2 with Paul on the court and -1.2 when he’s on the bench.
Paul may not always be dominant in the statistics, but his value to Los Angeles is pure basketball. Blake Griffin is becoming the best player on the team, but Paul is the vocal leader and the orchestrator who makes everything work.
As the season plays out and there’s a stronger sample size to evaluate, Paul should continue to crack or flirt with the Top 5.
Nov 29, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) laughs with teammates forward Anthony Brown (21) and forward Terrence Jones (9) during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Lakers 105-88. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The New Orleans Pelicans began the 2016-17 NBA regular season at 0-8 overall, 0-4 at home, and 0-4 on the road. Since then, Anthony Davis has led the Pelicans to a record of 7-4 in a splendid 11-game run.
Though a 7-12 overall record isn’t ideal, it’s only been one month and Davis has already turned the Pelicans into a matchup nightmare.
A healthy Jrue Holiday has undoubtedly helped, and the long-awaited return of Tyreke Evans should do the same. With or without those players, Davis is dominating on both ends in a way that no one has in over 40 years.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Davis is on pace to become the first player to average at least 32.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75.
For what it’s worth, McAdoo won the 1974-75 NBA MVP award on the 49-33 Buffalo Braves. If Davis can maintain these averages and lead the Pelicans back to the playoffs in 2016-17, it stands to reason that he could follow in McAdoo’s footsteps.
At 23 years of age, Davis is already paving his path to a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame. Another unreal year from the human cheat code.
Nov 26, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) high fives a teammates after a play against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Position: Small Forward Age: 28 (9/29/1988) Experience: 10th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .559/.423/.863 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.2 MPG, 27.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 2.2 3PM
One of the pitches that attracted Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors was that he’d have a much easier time scoring while surrounded by three players who were named All-NBA in 2015-16. Add 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to the mix and double-teams are hard to find.
Durant has taken advantage of this unique opportunity to play with a core that could start for the Western Conference All-Star team by producing with all-time efficiency.
Durant is currently averaging 27.7 points on 55.9 percent shooting from the field. He’s taking just 17.5 shots per game to get to his 27.7 points, and while that may not be sustainable for most, it stands to reason that it is for Durant.
A four-time scoring champion—only he, Wilt Chamberlain, George Gervin, and Michael Jordan have done that—the 28-year-old is on pace to strengthen what’s already a Hall of Fame resume.
Durant is on pace to become the first player to average at least 27.0 points on 55.0 percent shooting or better since LeBron James in 2013-14. Before James, it was Shaquille O’Neal who last did it in 2002-03.
Considering Durant shoots more often and with superior accuracy, that borders on being insane. Best of all: Durant is doing all of this while playing elite defense.
Nov 27, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates after hitting a three point shot during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Rockets won 130-114. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Position: Point Guard Age: 27 (8/26/1989) Experience: 8th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .445/.350/.829 2016-17 Season Averages: 37.4 MPG, 28.7 PPG, 12.0 APG, 7.6 RPG, 1.5 ORPG, 1.3 SPG, 3.0 3PM
The Houston Rockets surprised many by announcing that Mike D’Antoni had been hired as the new head coach. An equally as intriguing surprise was the announcement that James Harden would move from shooting guard to point guard.
18 games into what was previously described by critics as an experiment, Harden is redefining what it means to be a point guard.
Harden is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average at least 25.0 points and 12.0 assists per game. Houston, meanwhile, is playing postseason-caliber basketball and riding Harden to a 12-7 record.
Say what you will about Harden’s defense, but he’s taken what many deemed a makeshift roster and turned it into a contending unit.
Harden has maintained an intriguing level of efficiency while pouring in all-time statistics. He needs to cut down on the turnovers, but one can forgive him coughing it up five or six times per game when he’s accounting for upwards of 50 points per contest by himself.
For what it’s worth: the Rockets have a net rating of +6.4 with Harden on the court and -10.4 when he’s on the bench.
Nov 28, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) passes the ball during the first half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Position: Point Guard Age: 28 (11/12/1988) Experience: 9th Season 2016-17 Slash Line: .426/.336/.828 2016-17 Season Averages: 35.7 MPG, 31.2 PPG, 11.3 APG, 10.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.8 3PM
Some may not love his game, but how could one possibly overlook what Russell Westbrook is doing? He’s not just stuffing the stat sheet and calling it a day once he’s reached his peak of statistical production; he’s putting his team on his back.
After 20 games, Westbrook is doing something that hasn’t been done since 1961-62: averaging a triple-double.
Westbrook is currently averaging 31.2 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.5 rebounds in 35.7 minutes per game. For perspective, Oscar Robertson became the first and only player to average a triple-double with marks of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists in 44.3 minutes in 1961-62.
For even greater perspective, Westbrook is averaging 31.4 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. Robertson averaged 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per 36 minutes—all lower marks than Westbrook’s.
It’s even more impressive on a per 100 possessions basis.
Westbrook is on pace for the second triple-double season and the first triple-double per 36 minutes season in NBA history. Just as intriguing is the fact that Oklahoma City has won four consecutive games and is 12-8 through 20 outings.
Westbrook is posting numbers that no player has ever posted before and his team is winning because of it.