It can be argued the NBA has never been in a healthier place talent-wise.
On a nightly basis, some of the league’s finest talents – both veteran and those just wetting their feet – are putting up stat lines the likes of which have never been seen.
Some are just now blossoming into superstars, while others are warping the definition of when exactly a player should hit their prime.
As such, the 2017-18 NBA MVP race should be one of the tightest in recent memory, with multiple future Hall of Famers making strong cases for the top spot. Here are our Top ten candidates as of Dec. 4.
10. Nikola Jokic
2017-18 Stats: 15.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.6 apg
Although Nikola Jokic has somewhat struggled getting acclimated to playing with his new frontcourt partner Paul Millsap (who is now out for a while with a wrist injury), and despite the fact he doesn’t look to dominate games as often as he should, the Serbian big man is still having an excellent campaign.
Tenth in the league in rebounding, third among centers in nightly assists, Jokic’s dime-dishing, rebound-securing, post-dominating style of play is thrilling to watch, and has Denver in the thick of the playoff race in the stacked Western Conference.
For what it’s worth, the Nuggets outscore opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor, which only speaks to the star big man’s vast importance to head coach Michael Malone and his system.
9. LaMarcus Aldridge
2017-18 Stats: 23.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg
One of the surprises of the offseason came when reports surfaced regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and a massive extension with the San Antonio Spurs.
To that point, Aldridge – being the ball-dominant, score-first, pass-second big man that he always has been – and the Spurs – primarily head coach Gregg Popovich – appeared to be an awkward fit, destined for a divorce.
But after an air-it-all-out meeting between player and coach, the two parties decided to commit to each other for the long haul. And thus far, Aldridge has rewarded Popovich’s faith in him tenfold.
The Texas product is playing his best basketball since his days as a Portland Trail Blazer, setting a career-high in field-goal percentage (51.6 percent) and on pace to shatter his previous career-best three-pointers made in a season. Prior to this year, the most triples the almost-seven-footer had made in a single campaign was 37 back in 2014-15. Through 22 games this season, he already has 15.
Once Kawhi Leonard returns, the Spurs’ frontcourt (also featuring the ageless Pau Gasol) will have San Antonio absolutely humming.
8. Andre Drummond
2017-18 Stats: 14.3 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Similarly to Aldridge and the Spurs, Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons seemed headed for an ugly breakup. There were countless rumors regarding team president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy heavily shopping the seven-footer – both last season and this past summer.
Well, Van Gundy must be elated the rumors never came to fruition, as Drummond has been exceptional thus far in 2017-18.
The sixth-year big man has transformed his game, becoming a more savvy playmaker while keeping the brute strength and monstrous athleticism that always made him special.
Through 27 games in 2017-18, Drummond already has 87 assists. His career-high in dimes prior to this season? 90. Not to mention, he’s also leading the NBA in nightly rebounds with 15 per game.
It’s been quite the impressive turnaround for the 24-year-old – one that has Detroit sitting pretty with a 14-8 record – and it’s entirely possible we still haven’t even seen him reach his peak. What a scary proposition.
7. Damian Lillard
2017-18 Stats: 25.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.2 apg
According to raw statistics, Damian Lillard has had better seasons than this one. Thus far, he’s not setting career-highs in points, assists or three-pointers per game.
However, at the same time, the explosive lead guard is shattering career marks in various advanced metrics, such as box plus/minus and win shares per 48.
How is that possible?
Part of it is that Lillard has made it a point of becoming a more serviceable defender. The stats bear that out, as the sixth-year guard is rebounding and blocking shots better than ever before.
That, in turn, has helped the Blazers own the league’s second-best defensive rating at 100.3, which is primarily why they currently boast a 13-10 record and sit sixth in the Western Conference playoff race.
Oh, and by the way, for those that may think the rest of the team is carrying Lillard’s slack defensively, Portland actually allows 0.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with their star floor general in the game. So that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
6. Kyrie Irving
2017-18 Stats: 23.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.2 apg
Quite simply, Kyrie Irving has appeared to find the perfect fit with his new team, the Boston Celtics. His relationship with his new head coach, Brad Stevens, has been especially fruitful, as the two can’t seem to stop sending each other compliments through the media.
The Celtics own the NBA’s best record at 20-4, have already ripped off a ridiculous 16-game win streak and have accomplished both of those feats without an All-Star piece in Gordon Hayward.
Irving’s mesmerizing scoring ability, coupled with his clutch shot-making, have made him into a prime MVP candidate early in the 2017-18 campaign.
5. Anthony Davis
2017-18 Stats: 25.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg
Although DeMarcus Cousins has taken some of his shine, it can’t be questioned that Anthony Davis is still the New Orleans Pelicans most impactful player.
An elite scorer, rebounder and defender, Davis leads the Pelicans in on/off differential at an absurd mark of +18.7. (For reference, New Orleans is actually getting outscored by 1.7 points per 100 possessions with Cousins in the game. Weird, but true.)
Depending on how long he’s out with his latest injury (to his left pelvic region), Davis should garner MVP love once awards season rolls around.
4. Stephen Curry
2017-18 Stats: 26.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.5 apg
Even with Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry struggling to sink triples at his usual obscene clips (the human flamethrower is currently converting a career-low 36.9 percent of his threes), he’s still putting up absurd stat lines on a nightly basis.
Much like the Cousins-Davis dynamic for the Pelicans, Curry lost some of his shine since former league MVP Kevin Durant joined the team.
Nevertheless, the nine-year pro is still Golden State’s most important player, as the team outscores opponents by 16.3 points per 100 possessions with him in the game. (Durant’s on/off differential, on the other hand, sits at +4.7. Still respectable, but nowhere near Curry’s level.)
Thus, it’s only fair the most important player on the best team in basketball will get a ton of much-deserved MVP love.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2017-18 Stats: 29.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.5 apg
After kicking 2017-18 off with one of the most impressive starts in recent memory, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play has tailed off just a bit.
Even so, the Milwaukee Bucks do-everything swingman is dominating in every facet for his team. The league’s second-leading scorer at 29.4 points per outing, Antetokounmpo is also the Bucks’ top rebounder and shot-blocker. And prior to Eric Bledsoe arriving into town, the superstar wing also led the team in assists and steals as well.
Antetokounmpo is on his way to becoming just the fourth player in league history to average at least 29.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 blocks over an entire season. The other three were David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo.
Not bad company for the Greek Freak, who is still somehow only 22 years old.
2. James Harden
2017-18 Stats: 31.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 9.8 apg
The league leader in both points and assists per game, James Harden somehow continues to defy logic by taking his play to a higher level every single season.
The Houston Rockets have easily been the NBA’s best non-Warriors team, outscoring opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possession on the year. They’ve been playing at an elite level mostly without Chris Paul, who missed 14 games early in the year with lingering knee pain.
Harden has had the Rockets humming to the point some believe they may actually give the Warriors some trouble when the postseason rolls around, though we’re months away from having to worry about that.
In all, if it weren’t for arguably the greatest talent the NBA has ever seen still dominating at an obscene level, Harden would easily be No. 1 on our list.
1. LeBron James
2017-18 Stats: 28.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 8.7 apg
What’s there to say about LeBron James that hasn’t already been said?
He recently passed the legendary Alex English for tenth on the all-time scoring list, he’s still the best player in basketball and now, even his jumper is falling at an elite rate.
Among players with at least 100 pull-up jumpers attempted, James places fifth in effective field-goal percentage at 51.8 percent. That’s a more accurate rate than Durant, Lillard and DeMar Derozan, who are known for their pull-up feats of basket-getting wizardry.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are rolling, too, reeling off 11 wins in a row and finally resembling the team many expected them to be before the season.
James has been unstoppable, and we should all appreciate him for as long as we can, as there’s no way the 33-year-old will be able to keep this up forever… is there?
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
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