Surprising early candidates for NBA MVP

Using Marginal Win Score, the metric that believes that individual basketball performance can and should be measured on both ends of the court, and its counterpart “total value” index I call Win Contribution, I have ranked the most valuable players in the NBA so far in this young season .

There are some shocking names on the inaugural list.  There is no name more shocking than Matt Barnes, the little orphan who could.  Barnes, you will remember, is a player who had an outstanding season for the Orlando Magic in 2009-10 (recognized by Marginal Win Score, if not by many other metrics) and who despite that somehow went unsigned for most of the summer until the Lakers picked him up for a virtual song.   The Lakers now look like geniuses, or at least very astute shoppers.  Matt Barnes has been just north of spectacular all season long.  Last Friday he had one of the great individual bench performances in NBA history, scoring 24 points while using a scant 9.5 scoring attempts.  Oh, he also had seven rebounds and five assists.  And he has been doing this all season long.  If he had enough playing minutes he would rank near the top of my list.    As it is, he is the only bench player to make the list.

Meanwhile, you may have wondered what could be fueling the latest rerise of the vampire team, the San Antonio Spurs.  It is the usually overrated PG Tony Parker, who is off to a stunningly good start.  Parker is normally a player that fans place too much value upon because of his athletic skill.  But this season he is delivering big production to go with his athleticism.  Ironically, or perhaps not, Parker is having a great season at the precise time his personal life has hit a rough patch.  Players often say the basketball court becomes their sanctuary during such times, but I usually don’t believe humans can compartmentalize like that.  Then again, I’m not a world class athlete.

Another shocking name found on the list, and this one is very near the very top of the list, is Atlanta C Al Horford.  He is having a breakout season.  His rise to elite prominence, which has been in the making since he entered the NBA, comes as a doubly bitter pill for Bucks fans.  For one, the Bucks wanted him badly in the 2005 draft and would have had him if it weren’t for the idiotic lottery.  The Bucks had the third worst record in the NBA, but the lottery process dropped them to sixth where the team made its annual dumb pick, this one being the international bust Yi Jianlian.  The second reason Horford’s play stings a bit in Antlerland is because his father played for the Bucks and we kept waiting for him to deliver on his promise, and frankly he never, ever did.  He was awful.  Now his son rules.

Another shocker is Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.  If you are among the handful that follow this blog, you will know that Hibbert has shown up on at least one “20 Most Harmful” NBA players lists I write at the end of each season.  Those are basically the inverse of the list below.  Meaning, Hibbert has been generally awful in every season leading up to this one.  It seems the departure of Troy Murphy has freed his soul.  He is playing well.

The final stunner is Dallas SG Jason Terry.  Terry has been in the NBA for a long while and has never put up numbers like the numbers he is putting up this season.  Whenever something like that happens, it is generally the result of the player shooting the ball much better than he had in the past.  And that is what is happening with Terry this season.  That’s an oversimplification, Terry is actually doing many things well, but the thrust behind his rise has been his shooting accuracy.  But be careful, as Kevin Durant is finding out, and as Ben Gordon knows too well, hot shooting is not a stable long term platform for an MVP candidate.  Though it can carry a candidacy for a single season, as Durant showed last season.  We’ll see if Terry can keep up the pace.  History is not on his side.

After those mentioned above, you have the usual suspects, but some of those suspects are causing some surprise in their own way.  Kobe Bryant appears to have regained his form from a few seasons ago, and he returns to the list.  Carmelo Anthony, despite the hubbub about his wanting to go to a city where his wife could better advance her mediocre acting career (insert whip cracking noises here), is having the most productive season of his career.  But its early.  And Chris Paul, despite his off-season yapping, is back to being the greatest player under 6’5” in NBA history.  He is a marvel.  How can a man his size dominate to the extent Paul dominates?

Those are the players who have elevated their games.  Some perpetual MVP candidates have started in the other direction.  Jason Kidd is a perennial end-of-the-season MVP list maker, but so far he just missed the list.  Kevin Durant nearly won my MVP last season, and this season he is not yet in the top 25.  Deron Williams is also just off the fringe.

Mvp Race
Win Score
Win Contribution
Player Winning
D Howard, Orl
5.0 +7.67 3.2__(-1.4) +1.069 1.804%
C Paul, NOH
A Horford, Atl
4.8 +6.65 3.2__(-1.3) +0.853 1.608%
P Gasol, LAL
4.9 +4.92 3.2__(-0.8) +0.784 1.337%
R Rondo, Bos
1.1 +5.28 2.7__(-0.8) +0.730 1.398%
M Barnes, LAL
3.0 +7.32 2.4__(-1.0) +0.664 1.744%
T Parker, SA
C Anthony, Den
3.2 +3.81 2.5__(-0.3) +0.588 1.150%
L James, Mia
3.1 +3.69 2.4__(-0.3) +0.586 1.129%
M Camby, Por
K Love, Min
T Duncan, SA
J Smith, Atl
3.9 +3.42 2.3__(-0.2) +0.482 1.083%
J Terry, Dal
K Bryant, LAL
2.1 +3.23 2.2__(-0.2) +0.443 1.052%
D Wade, Mia
1.6 +3.23 2.0__(-0.1) +0.433 1.051%
S Nash, Pho
R Hibbert, Ind
5.0 +3.46 1.7__(-0.1) +0.424 1.091%
A Bogut, Mil
5.0 +3.22 1.8__(-0.1) +0.415 1.049%

Just missing the list: Joakhim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Jefferson, Manu Ginobli, Lamar Odom, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, Luis Scola, Kevin Garnett, Mike Dunleavy, Landry Fields


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