We're already at the Half-Way point of what is proving to be a fascinating NBA season. We've had some surprises, some devastating injuries and some outstanding Basketball. However, as we look at the race for the Most Valuable Player award we see some all-too familiar faces fighting it out for the most coveted individual prize in Basketball.
1. LeBron James (Miami Heat)
26.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 7.1 APG
- I think we take LeBron James for granted at times. His exceptional all-round play has become expectant of the great man. His stats are off the charts this year, his assists and rebounding are up and his scoring remains in the top ten in the league. He is playing like a man with the weight of the world off his shoulders this year, having finally attained that elusive ring last season. His speed, power and ability to take over a game on any given night make him the front runner for another MVP title this season.
LeBron is the benchmark for all players, regardless of your thought on his character. He has freely admitted he didn't handle himself well with the infamous 'Decision' and the subsequent year he spent at Miami. The pressure he put on himself was too much for any man to cope with. Today, he's a different person and it's showing both on and off the court. He's adapted well to playing the Power Forward position more this season, as he did so successfully in the Playoffs last season. The Heat sit atop the Eastern Conference and you feel it's going to take a monumental effort from any team in the conference to defeat them four times in a Playoff series.
This is now LeBron's team and whilst it is close, he is the leading candidate for the MVP award... For now.
2. Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
29.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 4.4 APG.
- Durant is the most dominant scorer in the League and has been for a number of years now. This year has been no different, leading his Thunder team to the equal best record in the entire League. His game has developed this year too, this can no doubt be attributed to the summer with the USA National team at the Summers Olympic Games. He is now a more willing passer, demonstrated by his highest assists total since he arrived in the NBA.
He has a nasty streak to his game these days and despite his slender physique can now be counted on to provide solid defense which has benefited the Thunder greatly. Durant has also put a lot more pressure on himself this season, with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden traded to Houston many wondered if the Thunder would take a step back. This hasn't been the case, Kevin Martin has proved to be a capable scorer off the bench and Durant has now evolved into the veteran leader everyone in Oklahoma was hoping for.
No doubt this Thunder team will take some stopping in the West. Questions remain over the longevity of the Spurs in the Playoffs and you could only see the Clippers causing them problems besides that. Durant is headed for the scoring title once more but you get the feeling that will be a consolation prize this year as he looks to add the MVP trophy and NBA Championship to his collection.
3. Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
29.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.6 APG.
- The New York Knicks took the basketball world by storm at the beginning of the NBA season. Starting 8-1 and had everyone sitting up and taking notice. There were so many questions regarding this team. The Age? The Cohesion? Thanks in the main to Anthony things are looking up in New York for the first time in years.
Anthony has been moved to the Power Forward position this year and it has paid dividends. He is an elite scorer and has taken advantage of miss-matches on offense against most Power Forwards in the league. What has been most impressive and somewhat surprising has been Anthony's willingness to buy into a team ethic, something that hasn't been evident throughout his career. Although his assist total does not show it, his ball movement out of double-teams on offense have enabled the Knicks deadly 3-point shooters to take advantage. He's also bought into the defensive scheme that Mike Woodson has implemented. Anthony has, at best, looked disinterested on defense throughout his career. The penny looks to have finally dropped, Anthony realising he must become involved in all aspects of the game if he is to get New York to the promised land.
You have to ask where the Knicks would be without Anthony this year. While the Knicks have started to slide as they integrate returning players. They are still primed for a deep run in the Playoffs that will captivate the New York people and if Anthony can maintain this form I expect to see them in the Conference Finals against Miami.
4. Chris Paul (L.A Clippers)
16.6 PPG, 3.5 RBG, 9.7 APG.
- If it wasn't for his terrible luck with injuries Paul would no doubt have been higher on this list. He has missed the last four games and the Clippers have said there is no timetable for his return. Despite this, we cannot detract from what Paul has done this season. He has almost single-handedly transformed this Franchise from a laughing stock into a legitimate contender.
Paul is a winner, the way he plays is infectious and his unselfish style of play has brought the best out of everybody around him. In particular Blake Griffin, who was a big campaigner in getting Paul traded to the Clippers and he has been the main beneficiary of Paul's vision and creativity. His pressure defense and his ability to create turnovers is one of the main reasons the Clippers are in contention for the Western Conference title.
They have surrounded Paul with great role-players who can knock down shots and Del Negro's high tempo offense has created numerous highlight reels for the most exciting team to watch in the NBA. If the Clippers are going to maintain their form this season they need Paul fit and firing on all cylinders if they are to give Clippers fans what they haven't had before. That being a first ever NBA Championship.
5. Kobe Bryant (L.A Lakers)
28.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.1 APG.
- The Lakers have been an absolute car crash this season. Disjointed in every aspect of the game. A team of individuals with a coach unable to adjust to the high-profile environment of Los Angeles. The one bright spark, as always, is Bryant. He continues to be one of the leading scorers in the league even with his advancing years. He also has accumulated more minutes than 99% of the players in the league. Astonishing when you consider how long he has been playing in the league.
Bryant freely admits he has been doing too much this year. Compensating for his under-achieving team-mates by taking too many shots and not including others. He's still been playing exceptionally at times even without much of a supporting cast. He has voiced his displeasure at his coaches and players in the media, trying to spur them on and get a response out of them. It hasn't had the reaction he had hoped.
The last two games have seen a complete transformation from Bryant. He has had 14 assists in each of his last two games. More surprising is the fact that Bryant has had more assists than shot attempts, which has only occurred THREE times previously in Bryant's entire career. Unheard of really, however at his age he won't have many more chances for a title run and this is still a dangerous team despite their 19-25 record. Whether Bryant adopts this style of play for the rest of the season remains to be seen. Especially against the better teams in the league.
It's going to take a spectacular effort to get this team in the Playoffs, especially in the competitive West. Bryant will have to be at his brilliant best if he is to save this season for the most disappointing team in the league so far.
6. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
17.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 APG.
- What Tim Duncan is doing this year beggars belief. His minutes are being managed but his influence remains the same. The greatest Power Forward to ever play the game is once again demonstrating the efficiency, desire and fundamentals that have made the Spurs the benchmark for the last decade. They once again hold the best record in the NBA, as they seem to do during most seasons. Whether this ageing team can do damage in the playoffs remains to be seen. With Duncan playing like this, you wouldn't bet against them.
7. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
26.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.5 APG.
- Harden has thrived having finally stepped out of the shadows of Durant and Westbrook in Oklahoma. He has emerged one of the premier scorers in the league and has proven already that he is worth the big contract he was given. He has a tough job getting Houston in the Playoffs this year, with the team under-achieving as of late. In particular back court partner Jeremy Lin. If Harden can get them in the Playoffs despite his supporting cast he would have earnt this spot in the MVP top 10.
8. David Lee (Golden State Warriors)
19.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.8 APG.
- Those who have followed David Lee's career know that he has been putting numbers up like this for his entire career. The difference this year is that he's playing on a winning team that has a chance to do some damage in the playoffs if they stay injury free. This is something he hasn't had a chance at before. Lee is a workhorse with a soft touch that is a perfect compliment for the surprising Warriors team. He hasn't got the credit he has deserved throughout his career and he should be enjoying the praise he's receiving now because it's been a long time coming.
9. Russel Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
22.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 8.4 APG.
- There's no show without punch, and Russel Westbrook has shown that he is capable of leading this team when Durant is having an off night. His distribution has improved greatly this year. His decision making is a big part of this, no longer a shoot-first point guard, although he can still take over a game when it is needed. The Thunder will need both sides of Westbrook if they are going to go one step further this year and lift an NBA Championship.
10. Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls)
12.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.8 APG.
- With Derrick Rose out it's unbelievable the record the Bulls have without him. This is in large part to Noah. Who's energy on both sides of the ball is an inspiration to his team. He is a menace on the boards and has developed an offensive game that now merits consideration from defenses. His ball handling is also vastly improved and his timing on his passes are perfect. If Rose can get back healthy, this Bulls team is going to cause teams problems in the playoffs without question. Noah will be there, heart on his sleeve willing his team on right until the end.
Notable Mentions: Stephan Curry (GSW), Tony Parker (SAS), Tyson Chandler (NYK), Zach Randolph (MEM), Rajon Rondo (BOS).
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_