The NBA MVP race has been viewed as a four-man show for most of the season, with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rocket’s James Harden, the Golden State Warrior’s Stephen Curry, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James each taking the lead at one point or another.
But now in the home stretch of the regular season, a fifth player has emerged as a candidate, and he really should have been part of the argument all along: New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.
Here are a several reasons why Davis should siphon from first-place MVP votes from the also-worthy candidates.
Davis' Stats Don’t Lie
Now in his third season, the 2012 No.1 pick has hit new career-highs in every major category. He’s fourth in the league in scoring (24.7), seventh in field-goal percentage (54.6), tied for ninth in rebounding (10.4), tops in blocks (2.9), and racks up 1.4 steals per game. Davis also boasts an 82.7 percentage from the free-throw line, a major and almost unheard of boon for player standing 6-foot-10 and taking on average 6.5 trips to the charity stripe per game.
Add all those stats up over the course of 35.8 minutes per game, eighth-highest in the league, and Davis is the most efficient player in the game, ranking first with a Player Efficiency rating of 31.6. At one point, before he missed seven games between February and March, and only played nine minutes against the Miami Heat, Davis was on pace to eclipse Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time PER record of 31.82, set in the 1962-1963 season.
Postseason Or Bust
Yet Davis’ resume wouldn’t be complete unless the Pelicans were winning. And they are. New Orleans has gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, and at 36-30 they now sit only one game back of the Thunder for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Since returning from a minor shoulder injury, Davis has been the main reason the Pelicans are still alive for their first postseason berth in four years. Davis played 50 minutes and put up the jaw-dropping stat line of 36 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and nine blocks in Sunday’s 118-111 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Prior to that performance, Davis put up 43 points and 10 rebounds against a tough Milwaukee Bucks’ defense on the road, and blasted the Detroit Pistons for 39 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.
There’s a key stretch of games that could help Davis solidify his place in the MVP conversation. The Pelicans have 16 games left, half of which will be against playoff bound teams, including a harrowing stretch at Golden State and at the Los Angeles Clippers, followed by a return home to face visiting Houston.
Against the Warriors and Rockets, Davis has the chance to outshine both Curry and Harden, while keeping New Orleans alive for the postseason.
A Little Help From My Friends…Please?
Davis has received some help from teammates, but he doesn’t have the same firepower as half of his MVP rivals. For one, no other Pelican has a PER above 20, next highest after Davis being point guard Jrue Holiday at 18.7.
Scoring wise, Davis is averaging nearly eight points more per game than New Orleans’ next leading-scorer Tyreke Evans at 16.9 per game, and Davis is taking only 2.4 more shots per game than Evans.
The defensive numbers are also skewed in Davis’ favor. No other Pelican is averaging a block per game, and the difference between Holiday’s 1.6 steals per game and Davis’ 1.4 steals is largely negligible.
In contrast, James has point guard Kyrie Irving currently carrying the Cavaliers offense, and despite his struggles forward Kevin Love remains a quality scorer. Meanwhile, Curry has the benefit of All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson and his ability to nail threes at any point.
Westbrook and Harden have both elevated their games this season, but should they get key teammates back for a postseason push it could hurt their MVP chances. The Thunder are barely clinging to the last spot in the West even with Westbrook going bananas every night, and if Kevin Durant comes back in the next week or so and the team flourishes voters could see that as a drawback for Westbrook to take the MVP.
Harden, like Davis, has put the Rockets on his back and now they’re No. 4 in the West, with only two games separating them from the No. 2 seed. Now second in the league in scoring with 26.9 per game after Westbrook’s surge, Harden’s achieved so much even with center Dwight Howard missing 34 games this season.
But again if Howard comes back and the Rockets move up the standings, will voters see that as a negative towards Harden?
Also, while Harden’s defense has improved the season, he doesn’t contribute nearly as much on both ends like Davis.
Voters Love Making History
Back when Derrick Rose won the MVP in 2011 he lifted the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the league and became the youngest MVP in league history at 22. Davis, who turned 22 on March 11, could beat Rose out by almost five months if he wins MVP.
Voters enjoy, more than anything, an excellent story and Davis becoming the best player in the league, not named LeBron, after only three seasons certainly has a very similar feel to Rose’s story.
Davis would also be the first true-big man (removing smooth-shooting Dirk Nowitzki’s deserved 2007 MVP campaign) to win the award since Kevin Garnett in 2004, and their numbers are highly comparable.
As of now, the odds have Davis pegged as the longshot in the field. OddsChecker lists Curry as a big 8/11 favorite followed by Westbrook (21/10), Harden (13/5), James (7/2) and then Davis (60/1)