Stephen Curry GS Warriors
Stephen Curry is the favorite to win the MVP award for the 2014-2015 NBA season. Reuters

The 2014-2015 NBA season has featured a lot of differences from last year. Not only have teams who made first-round playoff exits or missed the postseason emerged as favorites to win the championship, but players who never came close to being named MVP have a chance to win the award.

The Atlanta Hawks are the biggest surprise of the season, going 41-9 through 50 games, with very little competition for the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Even though they’ve had a lot of success through a little more than half of the season, Atlanta doesn’t have a strong MVP candidate. After going 17-0 in January, all five of the team’s starters were given Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors, because none stood out among the rest.

The award is often given to a repeat winner, as five of the last 12 MVP’s had already been honored as the NBA’s top player. This season, though, is likely to produce a first-time winner.

Below is a look at the best players this season and their chances of winning the MVP award.

The Favorite

This season marks the rare occasion in which LeBron James or Kevin Durant isn’t the top candidate to win the award. Stephen Curry has separated himself as the favorite to win the MVP, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The point guard scored 51 points in the Golden State Warriors’ most recent win, and not only is he the No.1 candidate, but he’s an odds-on favorite at multiple betting websites.

Curry boasts all the qualities that voters look for in an MVP. He’s the best player on the NBA’s best team, and the award has gone to the top player on the team with the league’s best record, in four of the last six years. He’s put up terrific numbers, ranking eighth in scoring (23.6ppg) and fifth in assists (8.1apg), while shooting 48.9 percent from the field. Perhaps most importantly, he’s never won the award, and might get the nod over James.

The Next Tier

Despite the slow start from the Cleveland Cavaliers, James remains the best basketball player on the planet, and he has a good chance to win the award for a fifth time. He’s still filling up the stat sheet on a nightly basis, averaging 26.2 points, 7.4 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. Cleveland’s record will hurt his case, but the team’s struggles have proven his worth. The Cavs are just 2-7 when James has been sidelined with injuries.

James Harden is having a similar season to Curry. Harden was an All-Star on a playoff team last year, but his numbers are even better than 2014-2015, and the Houston Rockets appear to be a legitimate contender to win the NBA Finals. His numbers (27 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.8 apg) are comparable to James’ and Harden has been incredibly efficient, scoring 1.48 points per field-goal attempt. Harden has also improved on his defense, but it will be difficult for him to get more votes than Curry, if the Rockets remain behind the Warriors in the standings.

If he played on a better team, Anthony Davis might be the favorite to be named the MVP. The 21-year-old leads the league in PER (31.73) by a comfortable margin, and his 2.8 blocks per game also rank first in the league. In addition to his 24.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, Davis' otherworldly athleticism makes him among the most fun players in the league to watch, as he makes highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis. The New Orleans Pelicans, though, aren’t currently in the playoffs, and Davis won’t win the award if he's watching the postseason from home.

The Third Tier

Marc Gasol can’t be overlooked, putting up the best numbers of his career, while remaining a defensive stalwart for the Memphis Grizzlies. He was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and adding 18.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game has made him a top player in the league. His offensive numbers might not be impressive enough for him to win the award, but the Grizzlies are just three games behind the Warriors, and earning the top seed in the West could make the voting very interesting.

Kevin Durant’s MVP odds rank in the top 10 at several online sportsbooks, but he’s unlikely to win the award, having already missed more than half of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s games. As last year’s MVP continues to battle an injury, Russell Westbrook has a chance to improve his candidacy. When he’s been on the court, Westbrook has been almost as good as anybody, averaging 25.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. Playing with an undermanned team for much of the season, Westbrook has helped keep the Thunder in contention, but Oklahoma City must have a very strong second half for the guard to be considered for the award.

The Longshots

A few pairs of teammates have a chance to finish in the top 10 of the MVP voting, but they might not have a realistic chance to win the award. For the Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are having All-Star seasons, though both haven’t matched their numbers from last year. The Portland Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers through 49 games, and their power forward-point guard combination has been just as good. LaMarcus Aldridge ranks in the top 10 in points and rebounds, while Damian Lillard is averaging 21.7 points, 6.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.

The Washington Wizards' John Wall will get his share of votes, leading the NBA with 10.2 assists per game and playing for a team that could finish with a top-two seed in the East. The Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler is the most improved player this season, and his ability to perform on both ends of the court won’t be overlooked by voters.

The Pick: Curry. The Warriors look like contenders due to his stellar play, so the exciting guard deserves the nod over James heading into the All-Star Break.