Two weeks ago, Chris Paul and Pau Gasol sat atop SBNation.com's NBA MVP Power Rankings. My, how things have changed! Well, kinda. Here are the top 15 players in the 2010-10 NBA MVP race as of right now. (All stats through Monday.)
1. Chris Paul, Hornets (Previously: 1)
My MVP vote still goes to Paul, the alpha, omega and zeta of the "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on with that offense?!" New Orleans Hornets. Let's break down New Orleans for a second. The Hornets have the No. 23 offense in the NBA -- that's not good. But Paul is one of the league's most efficient stars. On possessions Paul uses (through a shot or turnover, with a bit of credit added for assists), the Hornets score 1.23 points per possession. In total, on possessions involving Paul or not, the Hornets average 1.03 points per possession. Paul uses up 21.6 percent of the team's possessions when he is on the court, and he has been on the court for 71 percent of the Hornets' minutes. Ergo, in non-Paul possessions, the team averages ... 0.99 points per possession. That's worse than any NBA team this season. Even the Cavs.
So basically, if you take Paul away, this offense would be by far the worst in the NBA. Instead, it's "not good" and the Hornets are 16-12. At The Hive recognizes that Monty Williams' offense is doing its part in testing the theory by asking roleplayers to pick up the slack and Paul to defer. It hasn't worked, and probably won't.
If you're more interested in a stat line as justification for CP3 being on top: 16 points, 9.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds, league-high 2.8 steals, just 2.5 turnovers, 48 percent from the floor, 47 percent from long-range and a league-best 91 percent from the line. He leads the league in PER and Win Shares. No contest. Unless there are two former MVP winners breathing down his neck, in which case ...
2. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (Previously: 8)
Larry Bird won three MVPs, his final one in 1985-86 at age 29. His per-game stats that season: 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists while shooting 49 percent from the floor, 42 percent on threes and 89 percent from the line.
Mr. Nowitzki, this season, at age 32: 24.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists while shooting 55 percent from the floor, 39 percent on threes and 87 percent from the line. Bird was better, especially in making plays for others and defending (rebounding included). But Dirk is pretty good, right!
3. LeBron James, Heat (Previously: 7)
James was having a strong individual season all along; once Miami figured out how to get the team offense going, LeBron just blossomed. He, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been dominant, often together but sometimes apart, when one or two hits the bench. That's the luxury of LeBron + Wade: it's like having a top-3 player who never needs to rest and for 20+ minutes a game, including crunch time, can be cloned. It's like the dopest Magic: The Gathering card you could come up with.
4. Deron Williams, Jazz (Previously: 3)
The Jazz continue to thrive -- you could argue the West has a distinct top four, with Utah the surprise entrant -- and Deron is the reason for just about all of it. Williams' shooting efficiency is fantastic thanks to a high percentage on two-pointers (52 percent) and more than six free throw attempts a game, and you know he can pass (9.7 assists a game). D-Will vs. CP3 is a debate to last forever. But who cares? Both could end up on the All NBA first team.
Atlanta held on tough during Joe Johnson's brief absence, and you can credit Horford's smooth acceptance of extra offensive duty as a key reason. Bret Lagree at Hoopinion did a lovely little comparison of Horford and the man who follows him on this list; it's well worth a read. Though a decrease in minutes masks it, Horford is a real candidate for not only the All NBA team, but Most Improved Player.
He takes more shots this year ... and shoots more efficiently in the process. Before this season, he was one of the most reliable post defenders in the NBA. Now? He's one of the top offensive post options to go along with it. Just a beautiful evolution to watch.
6. Dwight Howard, Magic (Previously: 4)
Howard's Magic have struggled, but it ain't Dwight's fault. As is the case with CP3, Howard just hasn't had much help. Orlando hopes the GIlbert Arenas-Jason Richardson-Hedo Turkoglu acquisitions will help. We'll see. In the meantime, Howard will be racking up 20-10 games, of which he has 12 in his first 25 games this season.
7. Pau Gasol, Lakers (Previously: 2)
The Lakers' December swoon has coincided with a noticeable drop-off for Gasol, who had been pushing CP3 at the top of our rankings two weeks ago. In December, Gasol is averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds on 47 percent shooting. Those are lovely numbers, but not as lovely as Pau in November (20/12 on 54 percent). With Andrew Bynum brushing aside the cobwebs, the Lakers shouldn't need ultra-premium Pau to make another title run. But it'd still be nice.
8. Manu Ginobili, Spurs (Previously: 5)
Manu literally won two games for the league-best Spurs this past week, so the No. 8 spot may seem low. But San Antonio, like Boston, is such a balanced juggernaut. If the Heat are three space-piercing skyscrapers, the Spurs are a biodome the size of New Hampshire. (I bet Matt Bonner would live inside of it.) Nonetheless, Mr. Ginobili is quite noteworthy for his incredible accomplishments, and so on.
9. Dwyane Wade, Heat (Previously: Unlisted)
Wade enters the rankings due to a hot stretch. He's averaging a career-high 6.4 rebounds a game, which helps Miami a ton in that he and James can start the break immediately when they grab the ball off the defensive glass. If Wade were classified as a small forward, he'd rate as one of the top rebounders at the position. It's no contest at shooting guard.
10. Paul Pierce, Celtics (Previously: 9)
The disclaimer from Manu's entry could be repeated here: this list could be made up of Spurs and Celtics, really. The last five players on the Celtics' bench would probably skunk Miami's 4-9 players. That may be hyperbole, but realize that Jermaine O'Neal is coming back this week, and that Kendrick Perkins just began non-contact practice, and that Rajon Rondo has missed several games due to his ankle. And the Celtics are still reeling off huge win streaks. Pierce, one step behind Dirk on the Bird Spectrum, is the biggest reason why.
11. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (Previously: 10)
The weirdest fact about the Lakers' shakier-than-it-ought-to-be post-Thanksgiving run is that Kobe is playing less selfishly and more efficiently. Bryant has shot less frequently than he did in November, and his shooting percentage has shot up. Are we just overrating the Lakers' dip? The team is 8-3 in December, after all, and has the league's No. 1 offense.
12. Kevin Love, Wolves (Previously: 15)
I noted above that Howard has 12 20-10 games this season. Love has 15. He's still on pace to average 20-15 for the first time since Moses Malone's heyday. Over his last 15 games, he has averaged 16.7 rebounds. His numbers are comparable to a young Charles Barkley, except that Chuck was more efficient from the floor. I'm not sure Love will ever be Barkleyian on offense, but he's downright Truck Robinsonesque.
13. Russell Westbrook, Thunder (Previously: 11)
Kevin Durant's return to form has led to Westbrook driving to the rim less; at least, that's what I take from flagging free throw numbers for Russ. He's still been a real beast, and his explosion this season give the Thunder huge peace of mind heading into the next couple criticial years.
14. Tim Duncan, Spurs (Previously: Unlisted)
Big Fun won't last on this list long simply because the Spurs don't need him to play more than 30 minutes a game, and Manu and Tony Parker don't need him to use up too many possessions. But the old man is still rebounding with the best, scoring regularly and efficiently, and defending his heart out.
15. Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks (Previously: 12)
I'm in a tough place, OK? I put Stoudemire at No. 15 and Knicks fans think I'm loony and hate New York. I put Stoudemire at No. 15 and the statheads who know S.T.A.T. doesn't belong anywhere near this list think I'm soft. But I think he's been the 15th most valuable player this season. What can I say? I'm a soft loonie who hates New York. (Note: that's not true. I don't hate New York. I hate eating York peppermint patties right after I've brushed my teeth. It feels dirty.)
Falling off the list: Joakim Noah, Paul Millsap