Wait, I thought the NBA season doesn’t really start until Christmas Day. Apparently, things are getting crazy already. From the summer of blockbuster trades and free agency, including Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Jeremy Lin, to the out-of-nowhere James Harden trade, to the out-of-nowhere Mike Brown firing, to the crazy Phil Jackson/Mike D’Antoni saga of this past weekend, it’s strange to think that there have been actual basketball games played.
Before the season started, I tried to identify the top MVP candidates of 2012-13, with an eye on who would be playing key roles on contending teams. Since then, we’ve seen the Lakers falter, the Knicks come roaring out of the gate, the Heat pick up where they left off, the Timberwolves start off fast, and the Celtics struggle. Now those MVP candidates – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul – all still belong in the conversation, but there is definitely soem movement at the top, at least at this moment. Kevin Durant will need some time to adjust to life without Harden, Kobe will need to adjust to a new system, Paul will need his team to elevate to the next level, Parker will have to share the spotlight on a decidedly unsexy team, and LeBron James will have to fight voter fatigue a year after sweeping all three MVP awards. So who has entered the conversation thus far?
If the Grizzlies finally make a leap to title contender this year, a lot of the credit will go to Randolph, who spent so much of his early career as an enigma. Ask anyone who watched him play for the Knicks or Trail Blazers, and they will tell you that he is at times maddeningly brilliant and remarkably frustrating. But with his Griz neck-and-neck with the San Antonio Spurs for early command of the Southwest, a top-seed could mean some MVP props for Randolph.
Melo is a scorer, we all know that. But with a baffling offseason in New York, and with teammates who are old enough to have played with peach baskets, this did not figure to be their year. Somehow, the combination of Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace in the place of Jeremy Lin and the injured Amar’e Stoudemire has paced the Knicks to the top of the Atlantic division. Melo is a big reason, along with good early-season play from J.R. Smith and contributions from some of the ancient guys. It reamins to be seen if Wallace, Kidd, and Marcus Camby can make it through the season unscathed, but this could be Anthony’s year if the Knicks stay hot.
With Ray Allen gone, Kevin Garnett in his twilight and Paul Pierce aging gracefully, this is unquestionably Rondo’s team. He’s off to a great start, dishing assists like no one’s business. A forgotten superstar for some reason, Rondo will shoulder the most responsibility for a Celtics team that gave the eventual champion Heat everything they had in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Harden could make the leap from Sixth Man of the Year to MVP, all thanks to a timely trade. The Rockets are probably looking at an 8th seed in the playoffs at best, but if they can sneak into the playoffs, a lot of it will be due to Harden’s explosive scoring and dynamic playmaking.
Mayo is a forgotten gunner in the NBA, but a move to Dallas and an injury to Dirk Nowitzki has been a boon to Mayo’s game. He’s scoring at a high rate and keeping the Mavericks in the hunt while their team MVP is still sidelined. Mayo may be finally hitting his stride in his fourth year in the NBA.
Wait, what? The guy who was supposed to be fading into retirement has shown a lot of juice early in the year, playing 30 minutes a game with averages of 18.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. The Spurs will be in contention for the best record in the West, and for now it’s mostly due to Duncan.
AK-47 is back in the NBA, and he is right back to stuffing the stat sheet. The T-Wolves are an early surprise, and they are winning without Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio. It’s a small miracle that they have not been snowed under with the amount of injuries they’ve sustained, but Kirilenko and teammate JJ Barea both deserve credit for keeping them close.