The Water Cooler

Legend Grows Player Power Rankings

These pre-season rankings are based on likelihood of winning MVP in the 2015-16 season. Because this is the criteria, I will be considering individual statistics and performance, but also team success, as this tends to be a strongly weighted factor in the MVP voting each year.

Lebron in Cleveland1-Lebron James, Cavaliers

Lebron is still the best player on the planet and after his Finals performance where I believe he should have been the MVP on the losing team, Lebron will be on a laser-focussed mission in 2015-16 to bring a title to Cleveland. The West just keeps getting stronger, which means the path in the East is getting easier for Lebron and Co. I see only Miami and Chicago as legitimate threats to the Cavs in the East this year. The rest of the good teams in the East (Boston, Milwaukee, Washington, Toronto, and Atlanta) are just too young or simply just not good enough to challenge them. Steamrolling the East may be just enough to bag Lebron his 5th MVP trophy in what I predict will be Lebron’s worst statistical MVP season.

Jan 22, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts after a shot during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. The Thunder won 111-105. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

2-Kevin Durant, Thunder

Coming back from foot surgery, Durant says he feels like “his old self” and based on what I see, I can’t disagree. People forget that the last time Durant was healthy, there was serious discussion as to whether Durant had knocked Lebron off as the best player in the world. In Durant’s last healthy season he averaged 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 5.5 APG and the Thunder gave the eventual champion Spurs all they could handle. With Durant and Westbrook both back healthy, a run to the Finals is not far-fetched. If that happens, the NBA world will get what it’s wanted for years, a showdown of Lebron and KD for the NBA title and the title of best player on the planet.

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) reacts after hitting a 3-point basket during the second half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Saturday, April 25, 2015. The Warriors won 109-98 to sweep the series. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

3-Steph Curry, Warriors

Curry is the reigning MVP after winning the award last year averaging only 32.7 MPG. He shot a ridiculous 59.4% Effective Field Goal percentage, including 44.3% from three. He stayed healthy and the Warriors rolled to 67 wins. I find it unlikely the Warriors will be able to replicate the same level of team success this season, but the Warriors will definitely be in the mix and Curry’s dead-eye shooting and highlight reel plays will get a lot of attention again this year. With his confidence at an all-time high (see his high five with Iguodala before his shot went in), Steph’s ability to repeat as MVP is going to have much more to do with his team’s ability to win big, than it will on Steph’s ability to produce.

Anthony Davis4-Anthony Davis, Pelicans

Davis is a trendy pick to crash the MVP discussion. His versatility for his size and his ability to dominate on both sides of the ball, make him an easy pick as a future MVP. After spending time with Davis with Team USA, Durant even labeled him as such. I think he is still a year or two away from winning the award, but he’ll be in the MVP discussion for the next decade. His numbers last year of 24.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 2.9 BPG are good, but not nearly good enough to win MVP on an 8th seeded playoff team. Ask Cousins and Westbrook about gaudy numbers without team success. The Pels will need to make a leap in the West for Davis to get serious MVP consideration and I don’t see that happening for at least two more years.

James Harden5-James Harden, Rockets

Too bad Harden had to have a career year the same season Curry lit it up for a 67-win team and Westbrook went off without Durant, or Harden would have earned the MVP last year. He quietly carried the Rockets to the 2 seed and Western Conference Finals without Patrick Beverley and with an injured Dwight Howard. His numbers were stellar 27.4/7/5.7 and with another playmaker now onboard in Lawson, Harden should get a few more easy looks. That said, Harden is only 5th in the ranking because if he can’t win MVP with stellar numbers on a #2 seed, what are the odds of winning it when the Rockets get knocked down a couple of notches by a now healthy Thunder team and a reloaded Spurs team?

Durant and Westbrook6-Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Westbrook comes off one of the most statistically impressive seasons in recent memory and I still can’t put him in the Top 5, because he is not even the best MVP candidate on his own team. His 28.1 PPG, 8.6 APG, 7.3 RPG, and 2.1 SPG rivals a stat line we would expect from Lebron James or the Big O. His 8.6 APG is the highest of any scoring champ since Nate “Tiny” Archibald averaged 11.4 APG in 1972-73 under head coach Bob Cousy for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. Still with Durant back in the line-up it is unlikely Westbrook will be able to enjoy the same statistical success, but his team will likely be in the mix for a deep playoff run. Even if the Thunder finish near the top of the West, he’d likely lose votes to his teammate and not finish higher than 6th in the MVP voting.

PG 137-Paul George, Pacers

Now 15 months removed from his broken leg, George is back to full strength. It is the pre-season, but to come out and drop 32 on Detroit in 24 minutes with 5 threes in the first quarter was impressive. George came out and claimed that he will be the MVP this year and even if he isn’t, he’ll be playing like it all season, which will be good news for Pacer nation. People forget that prior to his broken leg, George was 1st Team All-Defense and 3rd Team All-NBA at age 23. Now 25, a full recovery is reasonable as he makes the change to Stretch-4 in the Pacers new small-ball line-up. Expect George to light it up offensively and defensively George will remind us all why he was one of Lebron’s least favorite match-ups prior to his injury.

Demarcus Cousins 28-DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Last year, Boogie established himself as the top Center in the league. Really, in any other season, his 24.1 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.8 BPG would have garnered at least one MVP vote, but Boogie is a good example of how hard it is to get significant attention in the MVP race while playing on a bad team. I think the Kings will surprise some people with George Karl and a starting 5 of Collison, Rondo, Gay, Cauley-Stein, and Cousins, the Kings could sneak into the Playoff picture and into respectability.

John Wall9-John Wall, Wizards

Wall has been fuming since his Team USA snub after being passed over for Curry, Harden, Westbrook, and Paul. He’s tired of being overlooked when it comes to the top point guards in the NBA. He broke the 10 APG barrier last year and joined Chris Paul as the only point guards averaging a double-double. Wall’s elite end-to-end speed makes him electric in the open court. With another season under his belt, I see Wall taking another step in his development and establishing himself as the true leader of the Wiz after getting first-hand lessons from Paul Pierce on veteran leadership.

epa04615362 Los Angeles Clippers Chris Paul (R) works against Houston Rockets James Harden (L) in second half action of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, California, USA, 11 February 2015. The Clippers beat the Rockets. EPA/PAUL BUCK CORBIS OUT

10-Chris Paul, Clippers

Chris Paul quietly posted another statistical freakish last season. His 19.1 PPG and 10.2 to go with another All-Defensive 1st Team and All NBA 2nd Team moves him up the list of greatest current players without a championship. What’s more is that Paul was one game away from getting past the second round for the first time in his career. With the return of DeAndre Jordan, and the additions of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, to help Jamal Crawford hold down the suddenly deep-bench, Paul will have more weapons at his disposal than ever before.  This will be Paul’s last and best chance to win the big one and he knows it. Look for Paul to have his best season since arriving in LA.

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