NBA Player Power Rankings: Who’s The Leader For MVP After December?

Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; A fan holds a Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) MVP sign as the Rockets play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The month of December has concluded and a new year has begun. Which superstar is leading the race for MVP after the month of December?

The 2016-17 regular season is shaping up to be one of the most influential campaigns in NBA history. Statistical possibilities are being rediscovered and rewritten as players produce in a manner that no one expected them to.

As the standings take shape and the MVP race is put into perspective, however, one can’t help but wonder if statistical infatuation is missing the mark.

The end goal for every team is to win games, just as the reason superstars are paid like superstars is because of their value to the pursuit of victory. Statistics are pretty and easy to value, but how much do they mean if they don’t result in a win?

The 2016-17 NBA regular season has been the perfect platform for players to establish their individual greatness, but the MVP should be the player who elevates their team the most.

In the first Player Power Rankings of 2017, the goal is to find the proper balance between statistical brilliance and true value. There’s a delicate balance between numbers and winning when attempting to avoid overvaluing one or the other.

The question is: which player truly is the NBA MVP following the completion of the 2016 calendar year?

Jan 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Utah Jazz guard / forward Gordon Hayward (20) controls the ball during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 115-104. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

20. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz

Position: Small Forward
Age: 26 (3/23/1990)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .455/.368/.878
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.1 MPG, 22.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.9 3PM

The Utah Jazz have two players who could easily make this list: center Rudy Gobert and small forward Gordon Hayward. Gobert is a frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year and Hayward is the closer and primary playmaker.

After years of being underrated, Hayward is playing at a level that should earn him a long-awaited All-Star Game appearance.

Hayward missed five games, but he’s re-established himself as the best player on the Jazz. Gobert could receive that title due to the fact that he’s the anchor of a defensive-minded team, but Hayward’s level of play seems to be improving every time out.

Hayward is not only the closer in Utah, but the player who paces the offense through the full four quarters with his dynamic execution.

Hayward began this past week by scoring seven fourth quarter points in a five-point win over the Phoenix Suns. He then tallied 30 points in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, had 23 against the Boston Celtics, and admittedly struggled to reach an efficient 16 against the Toronto Raptors.

Gobert made this list the previous two weeks, but Hayward has earned his status as a Top 20 player with his well-rounded play.

Jan 5, 2017; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) talks to teammates during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won 115-114. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

19. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Position: Point Guard
Age: 26 (5/8/1990)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .469/.418/.833
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.6 MPG, 23.2 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 2.8 3PM

The Charlotte Hornets are one of the most consistent teams in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Steve Clifford has turned Charlotte into the type of team that makes you beat them, which is all you can ask for when a doesn’t have a superstar.

Though he hasn’t yet achieved superstar status, it’s fair to believe that starting point guard Kemba Walker has taken a massive leap towards that elusive tag.

Walker has the Hornets off to a 20-17 start on the strength of his torrid pace. He’s one of the best closers in the NBA, as well as one of the most productive and efficient scorers in the Association—a significant change of tune from previous seasons.

Walker has vastly improved his outside shot, which has thus enabled superior execution in other facets of the game.

This past week, Walker started things off by dropping 37 points, five rebounds, and five assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He followed with 34 points against the Chicago Bulls, 20 points and nine assists against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and 32 points against the Detroit Pistons.

If you’re still doubting the legitimacy of Walker’s star status, then you need to keep a closer eye on what’s happening in Charlotte.

Jan 5, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) looks to drive to the basket on Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 118-109. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

18. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Position: Point Guard
Age: 26 (7/15/1990)
Experience: 5th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .455/.354/.893
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.8 MPG, 26.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.5 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 2.6 3PM

The Portland Trail Blazers are holding onto their postseason dreams because of one reality: the No. 8 seed is up for grabs between terrible teams. Being six games below .500 is generally a sign that the draft lottery is on the horizon, but Portland has found the perfect season to struggle.

For as disappointing as the Trail Blazers have been in 2016-17, Damian Lillard continues to solidify his place as one of the best point guards in the NBA.

The Trail Blazers went a respectable 2-3 in a recent five-game stretch without Lillard, which created pressure for the star point guard to respond. He did exactly that in his first game back, posting 21 points and 10 assists on 14 shots in a 118-109 victory.

Lillard could have come back and attempted to re-establish his dominance as a scorer, but instead embraced his teammates and helped facilitate their success.

Lillard’s evolution into a facilitator has been an intriguing story during the 2016-17 NBA regular season. His willingness to distribute has enabled him to become more efficient with his scoring, primarily due to the pressure he’s relieving from himself.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 26.8 points per game while shooting less times than he did a season ago. The team success is beginning to reflect it.

Dec 29, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) brings the ball up court against the Boston Celtics during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

17. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: Point Guard
Age: 24 (3/23/1992)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .476/.415/.885
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.8 MPG, 24.2 PPG, 5.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 2.4 3PM

The Cleveland Cavaliers have benefited from the emergence of Kyrie Irving as a facilitator. Though he’s known for his scoring prowess, Irving has solidified his place as a star in the NBA by stepping up in the area he previously struggled.

As the Cavaliers pursue a second straight NBA championship and a third consecutive Finals appearance, Irving is playing at a career-best level.

Irving missed Cleveland’s first three games this past week, but returned for a road game against the Brooklyn Nets. During his first game back, Irving posted 32 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter of a 116-108 road victory.

For those who forget, Irving’s showing against Brooklyn was his first since he posted 32 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, and three steals in a 124-118 win over the Boston Celtics.

Irving has missed five of Cleveland’s 34 games, but he’s done a better job of taking care of his body in 2016-17. He’s driving with a predetermined destination rather than hoping for the best, which has helped him improve his efficiency and overall bill of health.

Irving and the Cavaliers are championship favorites again and that wouldn’t be possible without his tremendous contributions.

Jan 5, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles the ball past Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles (2) during the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

16. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 27 (8/7/1989)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .468/.241/.832
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.3 MPG, 27.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.3 SPG

The Toronto Raptors are thriving and DeMar DeRozan is one of the primary reasons why. Though his scoring numbers have slightly declined from where they used to be, he continues to produce at a legitimately elite rate.

DeRozan’s scoring prowess plays a defining role in Toronto’s success and there’s no rational way to dispute that.

DeRozan opened this past week with 31 points in a 123-114 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He followed with 26 points on 12-of-21 shooting in a blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and responded with 23 points and seven rebounds in a 101-93 win against the Utah Jazz.

Kyle Lowry has reclaimed his status as the best player in Toronto, but DeRozan is still one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA.

The key to DeRozan’s evolution into a legitimate Top 20 player has been his willingness to embrace other facets of the game. He’s rebounding, facilitating, and defending at higher levels than expected, and has vastly improved his overall efficiency.

Whether or not Toronto succeeds in its reported attempts to trade for Paul Millsap, DeRozan should continue to shine in 2016-17.

Dec 30, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) shoots the ball as Brooklyn Nets guard Randy Foye (2) defends in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 118-95. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

15. John Wall, Washington Wizards

Position: Point Guard
Age: 26 (9/6/1990)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .466/.322/.822
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.5 MPG, 23.3 PPG, 10.2 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 1.1 3PM

There are very few point guards who get the job done on both ends of the floor in the modern NBA. One of the rare players who qualifies as a legitimate two-way star is Washington Wizards floor general John Wall.

An elite facilitator, dynamic scoring threat, and high-quality defender, Wall has Washington the cusp of re-emerging as a postseason-caliber team.

Since opening the season at 8-13, Washington has followed Wall’s lead and achieved a 9-5 record over the past 14 games. 17-18 isn’t where the Wizards were hoping to be, but they’ve improved dramatically behind Wall’s leadership and production.

A recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks was tough to stomach, but even then, Wall had 27 points, eight assists, and three steals on 10-of-19 shooting.

Wall began this past week with 19 points, 14 assists, and four steals on 7-of-14 shooting during a 118-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets. He tallied 18 points and 12 assists in a loss to the Houston Rockets, but it’s encouraging that he continued to trust his teammates.

Wall solidified his Top 15 ranking with 18 points, 18 assists, and two steals on 8-of-16 shooting in a 112-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jan 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) smiles after a basket during the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz at TD Garden. The Boston Celtics won 115-104. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

14. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

Position: Point Guard
Age: 27 (2/7/1989)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .452/.367/.906
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.5 MPG, 27.2 PPG, 6.3 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 2.6 3PM

Isaiah Thomas won’t stop putting forth unfathomably dominant performances in 2016-17. The 5’9″ narrative has lost its luster because of one simple fact that needs to be accepted: whether 5’9″ or 6’9″, Thomas is playing at a star-caliber level.

The Boston Celtics are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference and Thomas is still the best player in Beantown—and his 52 points against the Miami Heat proved it.

Thomas began this past week by silencing every critic he has with an unforgettable 52-point performance. He shot 15-of-26 from the field, 9-of-13 from 3-point range, and 13-of-13 from the free throw line in a game that every shot counted.

En route to his 52 points, Thomas scored a franchise record—yes, a Celtics franchise record—29 points in the fourth quarter of a 117-114 victory over the Heat.

Thomas became the third member of the iconic Celtics to reach 52 points and the first to score 29 in a fourth quarter.

In his first game since scoring 52 points, Thomas went off for 29 points and 15 assists against the 22-15 Utah Jazz. It was the second consecutive game during which he accounted for at least 50 points.

Enough of the, “He’s great for being a 5’9″ point guard,” talk; Thomas is simply great.

Jan 4, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and guard Austin Rivers (25) defend Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

13. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

Position: Center
Age: 31 (1/29/1985)
Experience: 9th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .453/.405/.838
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.8 MPG, 19.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.4 3PM

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol is the perfect example of why it’s wise to look beyond the statistics and watch the actual game. Few players cover as much ground on defense as Gasol, just as few players are as vital to offensive execution as he.

For a Memphis Grizzlies squad that continues to overachieve, Gasol has been the unquestioned MVP—and he’s in the running for the NBA award, as well.

Gasol began this past week with what was easily his worst offensive performance of the season. He scored two points on 0-of-6 shooting against DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings, albeit on a night where he suffered an ankle injury and was forced to leave in the third quarter.

Gasol responded by scoring and facilitating at high levels the next two times out, but both games ended in losses.

Gasol tallied 22 points and seven assists in a 116-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He then put up 23 points and six assists in a disappointing collapse of a 115-106 loss to the shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers.

If those losses have you concerned, then all you need to do is rewatch the unforgettable comeback that Gasol and the Grizzlies completed en route to a 128-119 road win over the Golden State Warriors.

Jan 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Kings won 120-113. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

12. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Position: Center
Age: 26 (8/13/1990)
Experience: 7th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .450/.373/.779
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.7 MPG, 28.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 ORPG, 3.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.8 3PM

The Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers are in close competition for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. That’s terribly concerning when one considers the fact that both teams are well below .500.

Having said that, Kings star DeMarcus Cousins is roughly half a season away from finally exorcising his postseason demons.

Cousins is one of the most statistically prolific players in the NBA, but it’s only recently that he’s begun to win games. That proved true this past week, when Cousins posted 31 points and six assists in a 120-113 road win over the Denver Nuggets.

Unfortunately, Sacramento has lost three of four, including a 107-102 loss to the Miami Heat during which Cousins shot 4-of-15 from the field.

Having said that, Sacramento is 7-5 over its past 12 games and trending in the right direction as far as the postseason is concerned. Dave Joerger is one of the better coaches in the NBA and Cousins appears to be responding well to his leadership.

Sacramento desperately needs to improve the talent around Cousins, but it’s in the hunt for the No. 8 seed after 36 games.

January 4, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket against Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 125-117. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

11. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Position: Point Guard
Age: 28 (3/14/1988)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .469/.399/.930
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.6 MPG, 24.6 PPG, 5.8 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 3.8 3PM

Stephen Curry is the two-time defending NBA MVP and one of the most dynamic talents in league history. He’s two or three All-Star and All-NBA appearances away from solidifying his Hall of Fame resume, although, “Best shooter ever,” should be enough.

Whether or not you believe he’s played at a Top 10 level in 2016-17, Curry remains one of the truly elite players in the NBA.

Curry began this past week by posting 14 points and five assists in 30 minutes during a 108-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks that was more lopsided than it seemed. The next time out, he had 22 points and five assists during a 127-119 win over the Denver Nuggets.

With critics questioning his production, he erupted for 35 points in a 125-117 win against the Portland Trail Blazers and 40 points against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Though Curry may not be producing in the way fans have grown accustomed to seeing, he remains one of the most valuable and dynamic players in the NBA. He’s the ultimate decoy and one of the league’s elite fourth-quarter players.

Curry may not be producing at an MVP level, but any and every team that takes him lightly will inevitably pay the price.

Jan 5, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts after sinking a three-point basket in a 101-93 win over Utah Jazz at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

10. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Position: Point Guard
Age: 30 (3/25/1986)
Experience: 11th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .477/.445/.852
2016-17 Season Averages: 37.1 MPG, 22.5 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 3.4 3PM

The Toronto Raptors may have been pretenders in the past, but Dwayne Casey’s crew looks legitimate in 2016-17. Defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers is another topic of conversation, but Toronto has distanced itself from the pack as the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto looks the part of a Top 5 team in the NBA and star point guard Kyle Lowry is more valuable to that success than anyone else on the roster.

Lowry is currently No. 4 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 7 amongst point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He’s the catalyst for most everything positive on a team that’s 13 games above .500.

DeMar DeRozan had an explosively hot start, but Lowry has been the player who has led Toronto to its impressive 24-11 record.

This past week, Lowry overcame being awful against the San Antonio Spurs by being unstoppable in his other two outings. He tallied 41 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists on 12-of-16 shooting against the Los Angeles Lakers, and had 33 points against the Utah Jazz.

Lowry is prone to off nights like the rest of the NBA’s stars, but with the exception to the San Antonio game, he’s been consistently superb.

Jan 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) shoots over the defense of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan McRae (12) during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls won 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

9. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Position: Small Forward
Age: 27 (9/14/1989)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .456/.336/.880
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.6 MPG, 25.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.2 3PM

If you questioned why the Chicago Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, then Jimmy Butler’s evolution should answer your questions. Wade is the ultimate mentor, as LeBron James would attest to and Butler is currently learning.

Some questioned whether or not Butler could become a legitimately elite player, but there’s no reason to continue having that conversation.

Butler and the Bulls dropped their first two games this week, although Butler performed well both times out. He scored 25 points against the Indiana Pacers and tallied 26 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and two steals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In the spirit of, “New Year, New Me,” Butler stepped up with one of the greatest individual performances in franchise history to snap the brief losing streak.

Butler went off for 52 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block on 15-of-24 shooting in a 118-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets. He followed with 20 points, eight assists, and six rebounds during a 106-94 win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

With his first career 50-point game and his third 40-point game of the season, it was inevitable for Butler to make the jump from just outside the Top 10 to No. 9.

Jan 5, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) misses on a dunk attempt as Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) defends during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

8. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Position: Power Forward
Age: 23 (3/11/1993)
Experience: 5th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .487/.279/.792
2016-17 Season Averages: 37.3 MPG, 28.6 MPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.3 ORPG, 2.2 APG, 2.5 BPG, 1.4 SPG

The New Orleans Pelicans aren’t a very good team, but Anthony Davis is one heck of a player. He would be an MVP candidate if his team were better, but that if is, in some part, placed on the shoulders of the superstar.

Nevertheless, Davis has been one of the best players in the NBA in 2016-17 and should be honored as such in these rankings.

Davis’ first performance of this past week was a 23-point and 18-rebound clinic in a 104-92 win over the New York Knicks. He then tallied 20 points and 16 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and had 20 points and 19 rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks.

It was just par for the course from a player who, at 23 years of age, is already producing at a consistently all-time level.

Davis is on pace to become the first player to average at least 28.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks since 2000-01. For the only perspective that you need: the last player to average those numbers was Shaquille O’Neal.

For whatever it may be worth, New Orleans is 4-2 over its past six games and sits just 2.0 games back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Dec 28, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves past New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

7. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Position: Point Guard
Age: 31 (5/6/1985)
Experience: 12th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .465/.400/.877
2016-17 Season Averages: 31.5 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 9.6 APG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 2.0 3PM

Los Angeles Clippers superstar Chris Paul ranks No. 1 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and there isn’t a close No. 2. Paul checks in at 9.09 in the widely valued advanced metric and the No. 2 player checks in at 7.32.

Whether you love CP3, hate him, or feel indifferent, a No. 1 ranking in a statistic of such value inevitably earns him Top 10 status.

Los Angeles is 25-14 during the 2016-17 NBA regular season, including a 22-9 record when Paul plays. That means the Clippers are 2-5 without Paul—a .286 win percentage—and 23-9 with him—a .710 win percentage.

As far as his individual production is concerned, Paul continues to make history on the all-time scale and produce at an elite level in 2016-17.

True as that all may be, it’s hard not to penalize a player who has missed seven of the past nine games. It’s that reason—and truthfully, that reason only—that Paul finds himself on the outside of the Top 6 looking in.

Once Paul gets back to 100 percent and begins appearing with more consistency, he should make another run at the Top 5.

Jan 4, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is congratulated after scoring the game winning basket at the buzzer against New York Knicks during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Bucks won 105-104. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Position: Small Forward
Age: 22 (12/6/1994)
Experience: 4th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .533/.299/.780
2016-17 Season Averages: 35.4 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.9 ORPG, 5.7 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 3PM

As is stressed every week, the Player Power Rankings take the current season into account and ignore everything that’s happened in the past. Thus, while Giannis Antetokounmpo may not have been a Top 10 player before, he undoubtedly has been in 2016-17.

For those who argue, try this: the Milwaukee Bucks are 18-17 and Antetokounmpo is the only player in the NBA who leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals per game.

Antetokounmpo, who also leads Milwaukee in offensive rebounding, field goal percentage, and free throws made and attempted, has been superb. He’s the most valuable player in the NBA when evaluating basic statistics and has been crucial to team success.

On a squad that has just two players averaging upwards of 30 minutes per game, Antetokounmpo has been forced to cover up for more flaws than any other star.

Antetokounmpo is currently No. 2 in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus and No. 5 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Furthermore, Milwaukee has Net Ratings of +5.7 when Antetokounmpo is on the floor and -4.7 when he isn’t.

Coupled with the step-back game-winning buzzer-beater he hit at Madison Square Garden, Antetokounmpo has been elite in 2016-17.

Jan 3, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) looks to pass as Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph (6) defends during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Position: Small Forward
Age: 25 (6/29/1991)
Experience: 6th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .470/.407/.915
2016-17 Season Averages: 33.2 MPG, 24.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 2.0 3PM

In the organization’s first year without franchise player Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs have the second-best record in the NBA. The Spurs are on pace for 66 wins, and though a gaudy number, it’s hard to bet against them maintaining this level of success.

The player who’s most responsible for the Spurs’ success in 2016-17 is two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard struggled in his first appearance this past week, but responded with two big showings in a pair of strong wins. He scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting in just 28 minutes during a signature blowout win over the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard then posted 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, and a block during a 127-99 blowout of the Denver Nuggets.

Leonard is already an NBA champion, Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA First Team honoree. He’s currently on pace to add an All-NBA Second Team nod to his resume.

At 25 years of age, Leonard has already found himself on pace to be a Hall of Fame player with a combination of accolades that only Hakeem Olajuwon can match.

January 4, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates with forward Andre Iguodala (9) against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Position: Small Forward
Age: 28 (9/29/1988)
Experience: 10th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .534/.381/.857
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.5 MPG, 25.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.9 3PM

The Golden State Warriors have enabled Kevin Durant to achieve a level of efficiency that most can only dream of. He was already a four-time scoring champion and the epitome of consistency, but his efficiency in 2016-17 is unfair.

Stephen Curry may still be the most popular player on the Warriors, but Durant is the best player on the team with the best record in the NBA.

Durant, who won MVP in 2013-14, has a legitimate opportunity to win the award again in 2016-17. He’s scoring, rebounding, and defending at borderline elite levels, and is doing so with a measure of efficiency that simply isn’t fair.

This past week, Durant continued to defy the odds with a string of stellar showings to further solidify his Top 5 status.

Durant recorded 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Dallas Mavericks, and had 21 points against the Denver Nuggets. He tallied 30 points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and two steals against the Portland Trail Blazers, and had 27 points against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Durant may not be playing the same role as he did with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he’s playing just about as well as any of his former teammates.

Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Position: Point Guard
Age: 27 (8/29/1989)
Experience: 8th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .441/.345/.844
2016-17 Season Averages: 36.5 MPG, 27.9 PPG, 11.9 APG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 3.0 3PM

No one expected James Harden and Mike D’Antoni to experience the type of success that they have in 2016-17. Not only is Harden producing at an elite level, but the Houston Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA.

There’s no shortage of realistic candidates for NBA MVP, but few compare to the powerful case being made for Harden.

This past week, Harden recorded three straight triple-doubles and extended Houston’s winning streak to seven consecutive games. Houston is now 18-2 over its past 20 games, and while there are other standout players, it’s Harden who’s the source of that success.

Harden leads the league in assists per game and ranks amongst the most productive and efficient scorers, as well.

Harden isn’t quite as statistically impressive as Westbrook, but his team has won 18 of 20—and no, that cannot be ignored. Harden doesn’t test as well as LeBron James in some advanced metrics, but simply watching the games will tell you how valuable he is to team success.

Whether or not you have Harden pegged as your MVP after the month of December, it’s hard to rationally argue that he isn’t near the front of the pack.

Dec 31, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after a play against the LA Clippers during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Position: Point Guard
Age: 28 (11/12/1988)
Experience: 9th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .426/.330/.821
2016-17 Season Averages: 34.6 MPG, 31.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.9 ORPG, 10.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.0 3PM

The Oklahoma City Thunder are on a three-game losing streak, but how exactly does one downplay a player averaging a triple-double? Not only is Westbrook’s statistical brilliance unprecedented, but it’s a display of how valuable he is to team success.

The Thunder are a comfortable five games above .500, on pace for 46 to 47 wins, and being led by a player doing things that no one has ever done before.

37 games into the 2016-17 NBA regular season, Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double. Some have begun to take that for granted, but the fact remains: no player has achieved that feat since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62.

Most impressive of all is the fact that Westbrook’s is on pace to win his second scoring title and has Oklahoma City resting five games above .500.

Westbrook admittedly struggled in two of the Thunder’s four games this week, but he also had two stellar performances. He had a triple-double in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers and scored 49 points in a two-point loss to the Houston Rockets.

For perspective, the Thunder are five games above .500 and have net ratings of +5.7 with Westbrook on the court and -12.4 without him—a difference of 18.1 points per 100 possessions.

Jan 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant (2) during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Position: Small Forward
Age: 32 (12/30/1984)
Experience: 14th Season
2016-17 Slash Line: .517/.373/.689
2016-17 Season Averages: 37.1 MPG, 26.1 PPG, 8.4 APG, 7.9 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 1.8 3PM

Many attempted to make the case that Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James had begun to hit his decline. Whether or not that proves to be true, it’s quite clear that James is still the best player in the NBA—and, perhaps, the most valuable.

If we’re valuing both statistical brilliance and one’s value to team success, James’ case for MVP is as compelling as any player’s in the NBA.

James led the Cavaliers to three wins in four games this past week, and now has Cleveland off to a 27-8 start through 35 games. It has wins over the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, and is playing at a championship-caliber level.

Even as a 27-8 team, the Cavaliers have net ratings of +10.8 with James on the court -7.1 when James is off the court—a difference of 17.9 points per 100 possessions.

By comparison, the Houston Rockets have net ratings of +8.7 with James Harden and +2.4 without him. The Oklahoma City Thunder have net ratings of +5.7 with Russell Westbrook and -12.4 without him—a difference of 18.1 points per 100 possessions.

In other words: James is of what’s essentially equal value to his team’s success as Westbrook is to his, and James’ team has six more wins with eight fewer losses.

This race won’t end at any point in the near future, but James has the narrow edge. He’s on pace to win his fifth career NBA MVP award.

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