NBA MVP Rankings: Midseason

By: Brandon Rosenthal

Rankings Date: Jan 9, 2019

The midway mark of the NBA season is here for most teams, and we have a lot to digest. There have been some surprises and some things we saw coming. The Bucks, Raptors, and Nuggets are fighting for the best record in the NBA (you’re lying if you called this). The Celtics, Warriors, and Rockets have gotten over their early season struggles and now are back in the mix (we all called this.) The Grizzlies started the season 12-5, shocking everyone, but have gone 6-17 since (pretty obvious, sorry Grizzlies fans). Luka Doncic has essentially taken over the league, and the Kings are actually good! The first 40 or so games have been awesome to watch, and at this point, it’s pretty clear what players are having MVP-like seasons.

The guys on this list are all names that we thought would be here. There are no surprises as to who is on this list. The arguments occur on where they are placed. For most of the season, it seemed Giannis was the clear-cut MVP. Harden was playing well, and LeBron was doing LeBron things (before he got hurt), but it was Giannis’ award to lose. However, over the last couple of weeks, James Harden has been playing absolutely lights out, shooting his way up the MVP ranks. If the first half of the season had an MVP … mine would be … you know what … Let’s just get into the rankings!

Note: MVP rankings will come out every 2 weeks until the season ends.


1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Credit: Nba.com/Getty Images

Record: 23-16, 4th in West (22-14 w/ Harden)
Games Played: 36 (92.3% of games)
Best MVP Stat: 10 games of at least 30 points and 10 assists


James Harden has been on an absolute TEAR lately. Say what you will about his free throw shooting, or his traveling (I should know, I’ve been saying a lot about it), but this man can play some basketball. Harden is single-handedly saving the Rockets season, and they now find themselves in the 5th seed! In the past 14 games, the Rockets are 12-2 and have beaten some of the NBA’s best (DEN, GSW, BOS, OKC). Not only is Harden dropping defenders left and right, but he averaged 39.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 9.2 assists, and 1.9 steals while making 82 threes and 163 (11.4 per game) free throws (okay, I had to throw some shade) during those 14 games. Not only has Harden been playing out of his mind, but he also WANTS to be the MVP. If he keeps playing like this, this will be an easy choice come seasons end. Added bonus, the Bucks and Rockets play tonight, and Harden is ready to show why he’s number one.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINTOVFG%3P%FT%
33.75.98.737.15.644%39%85%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-3PM/3PA
28.738.9%6.310.6173/448

BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstFG3PT
W, Den1/7/19325147/186/15
L, @ Por1/5/19385713/355/17
W, @ GSW1/3/1944101513/3210/23
W, Mem12/31/184310138/196/12
W, Nor12/29/18419610/257/17

Harden drops Jamal Murray on 1/7/19

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Credit: Hoopshype.com/Getty Images

Team Record: 28-11, 1st in East (26-11 w/ Giannis)
Games Played: 37 (94.9% of games)
Best MVP Stat: 13 games with at least 25 Pt, 10 Reb, 5 Ast


While Giannis might be first on most lists, at the moment he is a close second to James Harden. In August 2017, Kobe Bryant challenged Giannis to win the NBA MVP. Last year Giannis finished 6th in MVP voting, receiving zero first-place votes. So far in 2018/19, that is not the case AT ALL. Giannis has grown up right before our eyes, doing things that NBA fans haven’t seen before. At the moment, the Bucks are in first place in the East, and Giannis has clearly been the catalyst. Giannis has done a bit of everything for the Bucks this year: scoring when he has to (17 games of 30+), distributing when he has to (16 games of 7+ assists), and controlling the glass (26 games of 10+ boards). Most importantly for Giannis, he is playing only 33.5 minutes a game, which is about 3 minutes less than last season, so his Per-36 numbers are even more impressive (29p/14r/7a/2b/1s). If Giannis continues to keep the Bucks at the top and gets his scoring closer to 30, we might have an old-fashioned MVP-race on our hands. Added bonus, as mentioned earlier, the Bucks and Rockets play tonight. Let’s see if Giannis can pull out a win against the red-hot Rockets.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINBLKSTLFG%FT%
26.612.66.033.51.61.358%70%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-Dist.
29.131.6%6.79.87.4 ft.

BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstFGFT
W, Uta1/7/193010213/304/6
L, Tor1/5/194318416/258/11
W, Atl1/4/19168106/84/6
W, Det1/1/1915876/113/5
W, Bkn12/29/1831101013/173/5

3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Credit: Getty Images

Team Record: 19-22, 14th in West (18-18 w/ Davis)
Games Played: 36 (87.8% of games)
Best MVP Stat: 9 games with at least 30 pts, 15 reb, 1 blk


When I originally wrote down my MVP rankings, I didn’t have AD in my top five. Then I started to take a deeper look and to quote the late-great Chris Farley … HOLY SHNIKEYS! Anthony Davis is fucking good at basketball! A shocking statement, I know, but he is having a crazy good season … he is just in the wrong conference. Davis is first in the NBA in Efficiency Rating (PER), first in the league in Win Shares, and has career-highs in point-per-game and rebounds-per-game. He has 28 double-doubles in 36 games and has scored 40+ six times. All the numbers are there for Davis, except for wins. The Pelicans are closer to the bottom of the West than the top, and it doesn’t seem to get any better for them. The bright side is the Pelicans are getting healthier (Elfrid Payton is back), and they still have Anthony Davis … for now. If the Pelicans can get some wins and sneak into the playoffs, Davis might have a shot. Otherwise, he will have to settle for a place finish.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINBLKSTLFG%3PT%FT%
28.713.34.437.02.61.851%32%80%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-DRB%
30.729.3%7.39.228.0

BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (3-2)

ResultDatePtsRebAstBlkFG
W, Mem1/7/1936133314/20
W, @ Cle1/5/192010326/12
L, @ Bkn1/2/1934264312/25
W, Min12/31/18DNP
L, Hou12/29/182211116/13

4. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors

Credit: Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

Team Record: 31-12, 1st in East (23-10 w/ Kawhi)
Games Played: 33 (76.7% of games)
Best MVP Stat: Scored 30+ twelve times (10-2)


The Kawhi-MVP conversation has one of the weirdest stats out there … because the Raptors are 8-2 without the superstar. Aside from that bizarre-o stat, Kawhi has been nothing other than spectacular. Finally out of Popovich’s system, Kawhi is averaging a career-high 27 points per game, while shooting a career-high 19 shots a game. Raptors coach Nick Nurse is letting Kawhi do what Kawhi does best, and it’s clearly working. Kawhi’s usage rate is around what it has been the past two seasons, so his style of game has not changed at all. What did change is his health, and now that he is healthy, he is back in the MVP conversation. In the past 10 games, Kawhi has averages of 30p/7r/3a while shooting 50/32/83 (fg/3pt/ft). The Raptors have a shot at home court throughout the postseason, and Kawhi has a real shot at MVP if he can make that happen.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINSTLFG%3P%FT%
27.37.83.134.81.950%37%85%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-TS%
27.030.2%5.65.361%

BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstStlFG
W, Atl1/8/193146611/18
W, Ind1/6/19DNP
W, @ Mil1/5/19307658/16
L, @ Sas1/3/19211528/13
W, Uta1/1/194561016/22

5. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Credit: Nba.com / Getty Images

Record: 21-19, 8th in West (20-14 w/ James)
Games Played: 34 (85% of games)
Best MVP Stat: Scored 40+ three times (High: 51)


The Lebron-for-MVP train may have left the station with his recent injury, but the Lakers have not looked good since his absence, so that might actually boost his MVP campaign. LeBron wasn’t the favorite before his injury, but he was top-3 in my eyes. The Lakers were 18-11, sitting pretty in the top four before a 2-5 stretch, and then the LeBron injury. Before the injury, LeBron was putting up some incredible numbers, doing a little bit of everything for the Lakers, and they desperately need him back. LeBron has really stepped his game up from the three-point line, making 3 or more threes 11 times, and hitting at least 1 in all but six games. The Lakers are 2-5 without LeBron, and he could be back as soon as next week. I doubt King James can get to the top of the MVP ranks, but I can see him coming back and getting the Lakers back in the top 4.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINTOVFG%3P%FT%
27.38.37.134.63.444%36%68%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-3PM/3PA
26.431.3%4.97.768/191

BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games Played (2-3)*

ResultDatePtsRebAstFGFT
W, @ GSW12/25/18171356/115/8
L, Mem12/23/18221478/144/4
W, Nop12/21/182212148/206/9
L, @ Bkn12/18/193613813/238/13
L, @ Was12/16/1813635/163/6

*LeBron James has missed the last 7 games with a groin injury (LAL 2-5 in that stretch)


Honorable Mentions

These players may not be at the MVP table, but they are telling the host they have an invitation.

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Credit: Associated Press

Team Record: 27-14, 2nd in West (22-8 w/ Curry)
Games Played: 30 (73% of games)
Best MVP Stat: Made 6+ 3PM in thirteen games (Most: 11)


If Stephen Curry had played in more games, he would be higher on this list. Curry is having an amazing season, very similar to his MVP seasons a couple years ago. The only problem is there is another player on this list that is also on Curry’s team. Regardless, Curry’s scoring has jumped up to around 30 a game, and he’s making the most threes per game of his career. Curry has hit 9 threes or more three different times, and even though he has missed 11 games, Curry is still 2nd in 3-pointers made and 4th in attempts. Having said all of that, Curry’s usage rate is down, and so are his assists, meaning that the Warriors are able to make things happen without him. Curry is having an all-time year, but he has missed too many games to be in the top-five.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMIN3PMSTLFG%3PT%FT%
28.95.25.534.85.01.348%44%91%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-3PM/3PA
25.631.1%4.56.4151/341


BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstFG3PT
W, Nyk1/8/19147145/193/12
W, @ Sac1/5/19425214/2610/20
L, Hou1/3/19353614/275/15
W, @ Pho12/31/18349411/175/9
W, @ Por12/29/1825586/152/8

7. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Credit: Getty Images

Team Record: 27-14, 2nd in West
Games Played: 41 (100% of games)
Best MVP Stat: 15 games of at least 25p, 8r, 5a


While the Warriors have been dealing with injuries and depth concerns, Kevin Durant has been the one constant. KD is having a fantastic season, playing in every game for the Dubs, while getting his playmaking numbers up. Durant is averaging 6.2 assists per game (career-high) and has 19 games of 7+ assists. KD is efficient as usual, shooting over 50% from the field and over 91% from the charity stripe. Durant is one of the most efficient NBA players ever, and one of the best scorers ever, but his regular season MVP-award days are numbered as long as he’s with the Dubs.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINBLKFG%3PT%FT%
28.47.46.135.81.051%36%91%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-FG/FGA
25.431.3%6.24.6401/794


BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstFG3PT
W, Nyk1/8/1924667/142/7
W, @ Sac1/5/19295911/203/7
L, Hou1/3/19267310/231/5
W, @ Pho12/31/1825248/143/4
W, @ Por12/29/18252510/190/1

8. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder

Credit: USA Today

Team Record: 25-15, 3rd in West (24-15 w/ PG)
Games Played: 39 (97.5% of games)
Best MVP Stat: Scored 30 or more 14 times (High: 47)


Paul George is having the best season of his career, by far! After making the decision to resign with the Thunder, George has looked more comfortable than ever, playing at a level he has only shown in flashes. George is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, steals, and field goal attempts … which is shocking considering Russell Westbrook is on his team. PG has taken over as the number one scoring option in OKC, and the Thunder are looking like everyone thought they would last year. George has also been fantastic on the defensive end all season long, leading the league in steals and defensive win shares, and is 5th in the league in defensive rating. In his last six games, PG is averaging 30p/6r/2a, but the Thunder are 3-3. It’s unlikely George will win the MVP, but I felt he needed to be on here.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINSTLFG%3PT%FT%
26.88.03.935.42.245%38%83%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-DWS
23.729.7%6.15.92.9


BOLD indicates league leader

Last 5 Games (3-2)

ResultDatePtsRebAstFG3PT
L, Min1/8/19279149/245/13
L, Was1/6/1920457/183/7
W, @ Por1/2/19378210/235/9
W, @ Lal1/2/19374215/292/11
W, Dal12/31/1822417/213/11

9. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Credit: USA Today

Team Record: 27-14, 4th in East (26-13 w/ Embiid)
Games Played: 39 (95% of games)
Best MVP Stat: 34 double-doubles (21-13 record)


There are plenty of things for Joel Embiid to be proud of this season, but the number one thing is that he has played in 95% of the 76ers games. The oft-injured Embiid was drafted in 2014, didn’t play a game until 2016, and had injuries in his first two seasons in the league. This year has been different, and it’s been awesome to watch, as Embiid has filled up the box scores, getting double-doubles 90% of the time. The Sixers big-man has been a machine on the glass all year. He is 3rd in the league in defensive rebound percentage and has 16 games of at least 15 boards. Embiid has been a force all season long, but I don’t think he can bring himself, or the 76ers, to the top.


Stats & Shooting

PTSREBASTMINBLKFG%3PT%FT%
26.713.43.533.71.849%30%80%

Advanced Stats *

PERUsageWSBox +/-Dunks
25.332.5%5.23.470


BOLD indicates league leader


Last 5 Games (4-1)

ResultDatePtsRebAstBlkFG
W, Was1/8/192010418/13
W, Dal1/5/192512517/17
W, @ Pho1/2/1942182212/23
W, @ LAC1/1/192819339/19
L, @ Por12/30/18DNP

***

Thanks for reading, and make sure to check back in two weeks for the latest rankings!

Brandon Rosenthal is a writer, podcast host/producer, and avid basketball fan since the early 1990’s. He has been covering the NBA since 2016 for the30minutelunchbreak.com. You can view all of his posts and articles, and follow him on Twitter.


Advanced Stats

Player Efficiency Rating (PER): A measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.

Usage%: An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor

Win Shares (WS): An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.

Defensive Win Shares (DWS): An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense.

Box Plus/Minus: A box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team.

Defensive Rebound % (DRB%): An estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.

True Shooting % (TS%): A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.

Dist: The average distance (in feet) of field goals attempted.

Author: Brandon Rosenthal

I’m a sports fanatic, podcaster, and sports blogger. Sports is a passion of mine and I enjoy connecting with other sports fans out there. You can follow me on twitter or here on Wordpress.

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