We know the usual suspects will be on the list of NBA MVP candidates for the 2013-14 race. Go ahead and pencil LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony (OK, fine, Kobe Bryant) into the voting form now. But what about the other guys? Does anyone else have a legitimate shot at winning the MVP this year? Let’s take a look at three dark-horse candidates with a shot.
WHAT WINS MVP AWARDS
Before we get to our players, let’s take a quick look at the type of player that wins the MVP award. Of course, he has to be a stud. You’re not getting middle-of-the-road players as the MVP of the league. It’s either an established superstar or someone who’s on the cusp that absolutely blows up (see Derrick Rose).
Generally, it’s a player that is a terrific scorer. In fact, over the last seven seasons, nobody has averaged less than 24.6 points per game. A step further, with the exception of Steve Nash and his back-to-back MVP awards, no player has averaged less than 23 points per game since Magic Johnson in 1989-90.
The moral of the story is that if you’re not going to score at a high clip, you need to be a terrific distributor who makes everyone around you MUCH better. It doesn’t hurt to play for a good team as well.
Being in your 20s helps. Aside from Nash, Karl Malone (35) was the last player to win the award in his 30s and that was the short season in 1998-99.
So who does that leave us with?
Does Stephen Curry possess the ability to average over 23 points per game (22.9 in 2012-13)? Check. In his 20′s? Check. Makes others around him better? Arguable, but we’re going to say yes because Curry demands so much attention that he frees up the court for the rest of his teammates.
Although Curry technically is a point guard, he’s definitely in the mold of a scorer as opposed to a facilitator. He averaged a career-high with 6.9 assists in 2012-13, but his true value is in his ability to knock down shots. Can he find the open man? Yes. Will he ever have the court vision and passing ability of Ricky Rubio? No.
Curry can win the MVP award if the Golden State Warriors find a way to secure a top-two seed in the Western Conference. They’re definitely going to be in the mix for that and it’s not out of the realm of possibility for them to chase the top seed.
The only real question is whether Curry is going to continue to improve. How does one improve upon 45.3 percent from 3? Is he going to shoot 50 percent? If he’s going to eclipse the 23 points per game barrier, he’s going to need to get to the free-throw line more to get easy points. He’s a 90 percent shooter, he needs to get there more than 3.7 times per game.
Let’s jump in the time travel machine and go all the way back to 2011-12. Kevin Love scored 26 points per game with 13.3 rebounds and a shooting line of .448/.372/.824. He finished sixth in the MVP voting. Why? His team stunk.
Back to 2013-14 and we see that Love is back to healthy and is ready to put his dismal 2012-13 campaign behind him. He’s been an MVP candidate before, or at the very least he’s put up MVP-type numbers, but he hasn’t been able to put a winner on the floor.
The 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves are going to score. They’re going to be fun to watch and they’re going to push for a playoff spot. Love could very well win the rebounding title and be in the top-five of scorers again. If he puts up 26/13 on a team that wins 50 games, there will have to be some remarkable competition to knock Love out of the top-three of the MVP race.
Defense? What’s that? If Love really wants to make a run at the MVP, he needs to take a tip from the last Kevin that won the MVP for the Timberwolves. Kevin Garnett averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game in 2003-04. Suddenly 26/13 doesn’t sound like nearly enough.
Still, Love has a legitimate shot if he returns to form and carries the Wolves to at least 50 wins.
James Harden is a terrific scorer that does a bit of everything (save for blocking shots) on the court. Somehow, he only finished eighth in MVP voting in 2012-13, despite taking a Houston Rockets team to the playoffs when on paper their roster resembled a D-League lineup (the D-League All-Stars, but still).
Harden averaged 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals for the Rockets. Did he get every opportunity to put up those gaudy numbers? Yes and no. He was the only option on many occasions for the Rockets, but he was a respectable No.9 in usage percentage. It’s not like they fed him the ball every single possession.
Like Curry, we have to wonder how much higher Harden can go. He went to the free-throw line a staggering 10.2 times per game last season. For him to up his volume there would be remarkable. The last time a guard averaged over 11 free-throw attempts per season was Allen Iverson in 2005-06 (11.5) and before that was Michael Jordan in 1986-87 (11.9).
Harden can do a bit to raise his assist totals and with more help, he’ll likely do that. The problem is, with more help, will he take less shots? Will he get less opportunity to put up those big numbers?
Could Harden put up 28-6-6-2 on a team that wins 55 games? If he does, he has to be strongly considered for the MVP.