By Matt Citak
Most conversations about this season’s NBA MVP revolve around two players: James Harden and LeBron James.
Harden is in the middle of the greatest offensive season of his nine-year career. His 31.4 points per game leads the NBA, and is more than three points higher than the next leading scorer. Harden currently has the Rockets up half a game on the Warriors for the number-one seed in the Western Conference, as his new partnership with Chris Paul has been paying huge dividends in Houston. The 28-year-old guard also played his way into the NBA record books last month with his 60-point triple-double, the first of its kind in league history.
Over in Cleveland, James continues to amaze on a nightly basis. The 33-year-old finds himself in the top five in the league in both scoring and assists this season, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and grabbing 8.4 rebounds per game. The superstar just wrapped up the first calendar month of his career in which he averaged a triple-double, putting up 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game in February. Between a rejuvenated James and all of the Cavaliers’ new pieces, Cleveland looks ready to compete for its fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
Harden and James are garnering all of the attention, but another player — Anthony Davis — has earned himself a spot in the MVP conversation.
The New Orleans Pelicans 6-foot-10 power forward has been on an absolute tear over the last six games. During that stretch, Davis has averaged 41.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.2 blocks, and 3.0 steals per game, all while shooting over 54 percent from the field. Oh yeah, the Pelicans also won all six of those games…
If that doesn’t convince you of just how dominant Davis has been as of late, let’s take a closer look at one recent contest. In their first game back from the All-Star break, the Pelicans went up against the Miami Heat. Davis finished the game with 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks, and five steals, becoming the first player in NBA history to achieve that 45-17-5-5 stat line in a game.
But Davis’s chase for the record books goes beyond this recent six-game stretch. For the season, the big man is averaging 28.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, all while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from the three-point line. The 24-year-old finds himself second in the NBA in scoring, second in blocks, and seventh in rebounds. To give you some perspective, no player in league history has ever averaged those numbers while attempting as many three-pointers per game (2.2).
While his stats are jaw-dropping, Davis’s value to the Pelicans goes beyond his gaudy numbers. With their star player on the court, New Orleans is +3.2 points per 100 possessions. When Davis is on the bench, that number drops all the way down to -4 points per 100 possessions. To put it simply, New Orleans plays like one of the top teams in the NBA when Davis is playing, and one of the bottom teams in the league when he’s not.
What Davis has done in New Orleans this season is nothing short of amazing. Many thought the Pelicans’ season was done after DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles during the team’s January 26th victory over the Rockets. The team went on to lose five of their next six games, and all looked lost. But because of Davis’s recent tear, New Orleans finds itself sitting as the six seed in the Western Conference, just two games back from Minnesota in the third spot.
With the Western Conference as close as it is (only 3.5 games separate the three and nine seed), a lot can change over the next six weeks. The Pelicans could end up anywhere from the three seed to not making the playoffs, depending on how the next 22 games go.
But one thing is certain: at just 24-years-old, Anthony Davis has earned himself a spot in the MVP conversation. And if he continues his recent level of play and lead New Orleans to home-court advantage in the playoffs, then he just might beat out Harden and James for the league’s highest honor.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.