There's no question about it: if the NBA season ended today, James Harden would be crowned MVP. The Houston Rockets guard was our choice at the All-Star break, and he remains the heavy favorite to take home the hardware at the 2018 NBA Awards in Los Angeles June 25.
Baseball-Reference tracks MVP probability based on player stats and previous voting results. The database currently has Harden in No. 1 by a landslide, with a 65.9 percent probability of winning the award. He's followed by Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
Is it possible that a player who's all the way down at No. 6 could have a shot at the award? That may seem unlikely, but Anthony Davis' performance lately has turned heads.
Davis has been on an absolute tear since late January, when New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury. As a result, he's sprinted into the MVP conversation. His explosive February earned him Western Conference Player of the Month honors.
For the season, Davis is averaging career-bests of 28.1 points and 2.3 assists in addition to 11.1 boards and 2.3 blocks per game. He wasn't a good shooter early in his career but has become a moderate threat from outside; he's shooting 36 percent from downtown. His 28.9 Player Efficiency Rating ranks second in league.
Perhaps most impressively: with Boogie sidelined, A.D. has carried the Pelicans to the No. 4 seed in the loaded West. They've won 10 games in a row. No disrespect to Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic, but when you consider A.D.'s supporting cast with Boogie out of the picture, that feat becomes all the more impressive.
In a Tuesday victory over the Clippers at the Staples Center, Davis posted 41 points and 13 rebounds and shot 17 of 31 from the field. He is routinely blocking five shots a night. Some of his individual performances of late have positioned him among elite company.
The problem for Davis? Harden isn't slowing down.
The Pelicans may have won 10 in a row, but the Rockets have won 17. Davis might have the second-best PER and scoring average in the league, but guess who's first in both categories?
The Rockets by no means have the No. 1 seed in the West locked up, so they're playing their stars at full-blast. Harden has had the occasional minor mishap—for example, he amassed 10 turnovers at Oklahoma City Tuesday—but for the most part he's been rock solid. In that same game, he added 11 assists and four steals while shooting 8 for 13 from the field. He's also playing the best defense of his career.
It's worth noting Davis left Wednesday's game with an ankle injury; X-rays came back negative, but whether he will miss any time is unknown.
If the Rockets were to stunningly drop their final 18 games, the Pelicans won their final 18, and Davis flourished while Harden struggled, there's a chance Davis could claim the award. There's a slight chance the other top contenders could make a charge, too. But all signs indicate this thing is locked in stone, and James Harden will deservedly claim the 2017-18 NBA MVP.
Davis' emergence was a topic of discussion on our daily sports show, Out of Bounds, Thursday. Check out the full episode above, with the Davis talk beginning around the 15-minute mark.