Russell Westbrook, James Harden lead early race for NBA MVP

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. Oklahoma City won 97-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. Oklahoma City won 97-85. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

A few weeks ago, officially stopped publishing.

As some of you (my immediate family) may know, this site had a connection to that one, which was run by respected NBA writer Chris Sheridan, who built up his reputation with the Associated Press and ESPN.

Your boy here used to write the Most Improved Player Rankings for SheridanHoops, and it was one of the greatest creative outlets I’ve ever had.

I wrote about presidential candidates, Old Spice commercials, and igloos. It was a simpler time.

But like everything else in this cruel world, SheridanHoops had to come to an end sometime. It was great while it lasted.


But while that site is out of business, we couldn’t just sit on our hands.

So, we’re taking one of the most popular column ideas Sheridan had and putting it to work here, where far less people will read it.

I always wanted to rank the NBA’s MVP candidates, not just the most improved ones. So here goes, our first-ever MVP Rankings.

Check ’em out:

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Westbrook’s MVP candidacy was one of the most predictable things in basketball this year. No Durant means unlimited shots, unlimited hero moments, unlimited motivation for an already-angry athletic freak who is as talented as anybody else in the game. My mom predicted Russell Westbrook would win MVP. And so far, he hasn’t disappointed. Brodie is averaging a league-leading 31.8 points and 10.6 assists per game, which ranks second behind James Harden. The Thunder are just 8-7, and they’re going to have to be better than a .500 team come spring if Westbrook wants to take home the hardware. But for now, his stats are ridiculous. He’s 2011 Derrick Rose-like.

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets: Harden is proving he can play a legitimate point guard, and he’s leading the league in assists (12.4), almost out of spite. If anybody in the league needed a reputation boost, it was Harden, and in that way, Mike D’Antoni has helped save his career. The Rockets are off to a heartening 9-5 start, and if they turn into a legitimate Western Conference contender, Harden’s value will become even more apparent. And just imagine if he starts playing defense.

3. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: DeRozan likely would have been No. 1 if we had done the rankings a week ago, but a 12-point outing at Sacramento knocked him out of the league lead in scoring. The 27-year-old guard is averaging a Jordan-like 30.9 ppg, and he’s doing it by knocking down late ’90’s-MJ style jumpers, and shooting 49% from the floor. The Raps are just 8-6 as of Wednesday, and they’ll need to contend for that No. 2 spot in the East again if DeRozan has any shot of winning this thing.

4. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers: It’s only November, but you’ve got to give the Clips a lot of credit for turning up the heat and starting off 13-2. People forget that before Paul, Jordan and Griffin all went down in their first-round series against Portland last year, it looked like the Clippers might have a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors in the West. Curry was down, and the Clips were clicking. And then, predictably, everything fell apart. The Clippers are trying to remind everyone that this team is legit—unfortunately, they’ll have to keep this up until May for it to have any meaning.

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi just keeps getting better. He’s now averaging 24.8 points and 6 boards, and putting up a 27.98 player efficiency rating. He’s become the alpha dog for the 11-3 Spurs, and it won’t be long before he’s talked about as a legitimate candidate on a yearly basis. He may be Pop’s final masterpiece.

Not mentioned: LeBron James. LeBron has eased his way out of the gate, which is completely understandable after achieving the signature accomplishment of his career a few months ago. He’s focused on facilitating more than in years past (23.2 pig, 9 apg, 8.4 rpg). His nine assists per are up from 6.8 last year, and that number could stay high all season long, as he’s got more trust in his teammates and doesn’t need to take on as much of the scoring load. That could keep him on the outside of the MVP race this year, but does anybody really think LeBron cares about that? Nah.

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