James Harden is playing like an MVP.
So is Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So is Stephen Curry.
So is Anthony Davis.
So is Kevin Durant.
So is LeBron James.
So is Kawhi Leonard.
In this week's NBA Power Rankings, we're taking a step back and viewing this crop of MVP contenders as a whole to truly appreciate just how many special seasons are unfolding as we speak.
The best field of MVP candidates ever.
Basketball-Reference.com a stat called Game Score that takes into account everything that goes into a box score - points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, shooting percentages, free throws, you name it. You can find exactly how it's calculated here , but all you really need to know is that it's a good barometer for simply how statistically prolific a player performs over one game, several games or an entire season.
If you take every MVP since turnovers became official in 1977 and average out their Game Scores from their MVP seasons, it comes out to 22.4.
If it's an unfamiliar stat, just know that's a really high number. It's higher than the MVP seasons of Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Rose, to name a few.
As it stands right now, there are seven players - SEVEN! - performing at that MVP benchmark.
We'll get to this week's rankings in a bit, just know that one of the players who did not receive a single top-five vote from any of our five voters this week is Kevin Durant. The same Kevin Durant threatening to shoot 50-40-90 while scoring over 28 points per game, dishing out a career high 6.0 dimes per game AND playing in every single game.
And yet he can't sniff the MVP. That's how utterly absurd the best of the best have performed so far in 2018-19.
It's even more remarkable when comparing this crop of superstars to groups of players from past seasons.
In over 40 years of modern NBA history, there has never been a season with this many MVP-caliber players.
The closest comparison is the 1989-90 season in which we had five with Magic Johnson (winner), Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing. How reliable is Game Score when evaluating the merits of MVPs? Those same five players that finished with the best Game Scores all finished in the top five of MVP voting.
Here are all of the seasons featuring the most MVP-worthy performers:
|2018-19||Anthony Davis, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James|
|1989-90||Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing|
|2017-18||James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|2016-17||Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LeBron James|
|1992-93||Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone|
|1990-91||Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Karl Malone|
|1988-89||Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler|
|1986-87||Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley|
All this to say that if it feels like we're in a golden age of superstars in the NBA, it's because we are. And this group of seven doesn't include the likes of Joel Embiid and Paul George, both of whom have received some "he should be in the MVP discussion" love and are within striking distance of our magical 22.4 barometer.
Given the seasons that Harden and Antetokounmpo are having, it might ultimately be a two-horse race that on paper isn't really that close of a race. It speaks volumes to just how transcendent they've been this season.
For everyone else, you can play the "in any other year" debate.
If you're judging solely by Game Score, all seven of our aforementioned 2018-19 studs grade out better than 13 of the last 22 MVPs.
Alas, only one can win.
This week's Top 5
Onto this week's rankings where as always, we poll members of our expert editorial staff and then take the average voting results to churn out a top 5.
With three of our five voters picking James Harden, he has moved into the top spot for the first time this season, leapfrogging Giannis Antetokounmpo who has been in the lead since our first update in the first week of December.
Harden is in the midst of one of the most sensational offensive outbursts in league history. He's averaging 44.0 points per game in January and is averaging 40 over his last 20 gams dating back to December 8. With 57 against Memphis and 58 against Brooklyn, Harden became the second player in NBA history with back-to-back 55-point games, a feat matched only by Wilt Chamberlain.
Stephen Curry moves into third as the Golden State Warriors have retaken the top spot in the Western Conference, puncuated with an emphatic 31-point shellacking of the Nuggets in Denver in a game that Curry his eight shots from beyond the arc. He's really heating up of late, averaging over nine made 3s per game over his last three games.
Kawhi Leonard is fourth in this week's rankings followed by Nikola Jokic.
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