On January 24th, Rant Sports published an article addressing a question that's begun to surface rather consistently among Portland Trail Blazers fans, and NBA fans as a whole. That question: can LaMarcus Aldridge pull off an unlikely regular season MVP award?
If anyone had posed this question in preseason article, or even in the first month or so of the season, it would have been either ridiculed or dismissed entirely. In the preseason, the Blazers were considered a middle-of-the-road team with a few nice pieces but no realistic outlook for contention. Furthermore, following his sensational rookie campaign, Damian Lillard was thought of by most as the Blazers' biggest star heading into the 2013-14 season. But now, approaching the All Star break, the Blazers look like a legitimate title contender, and Aldridge has been one of the best players in the league night in and night out, consistently putting up monster numbers against marquee opponents.
So what will it take for Aldridge to actually unseat LeBron James and win an MVP award? Let's look at a few relevant factors.
For starters, you can actually find updated betting odds on the NBA's MVP race at the Betfair online betting site. These odds will continue to be updated throughout the season, but currently Aldridge is tied with Stephen Curry with 11/1 odds to win the regular season MVP, which is good for 4th best overall odds behind Kevin Durant (3/10), Lebron James (7/4), and Paul George (5/1) respectively. That's a pretty tough group to come out on top of, naturally, but if Aldridge keeps up his recent level of play he should continue to gain ground. Frankly, if you're inclined to bet on the MVP race, 11/1 odds might be worth snatching up!
Moving past betting odds, however, the key to the MVP question is simply this: can Aldridge surpass those currently seen as MVP frontrunners? For now, we'll discount Steph Curry. He's too often injured, and frankly has too much help on offense, for it to seem realistic for him to break ahead of the back. But let's look at what it would take to surpass George, James, and Durant in the MVP race.
Paul George is having a fairly spectacular season, truth be told, averaging 23.5 ppg, 6.3 rig, 3.4 apg, and even 1.9 spg all while shooting upwards of 49% from the field, per ESPN. But the public perception is that the Pacers are a very well-rounded team, and even with George putting up these impressive numbers it's likely his MVP candidacy will be numbed somewhat by the strength of his own lineup. Frankly, if Aldridge keeps his own numbers up (24.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg), they may wind up showing a bit more brightly than George's.
LeBron James has proven quite convincingly that he's capable of putting together the league's best statistical resume, when he feels like it. James is unquestionably the best player on the planet. However, he does seem to be almost taking his foot off the gas at times this regular season, and the Heat as a whole don't seem wholly preoccupied with regular season performance. James certainly won't concede the MVP award, but if he and the Heat continue to "coast," so to speak, voters will be more likely to reach for a candidate like Aldridge.
Kevin Durant, at this point, is the real problem, as reflected in the betting odds. Riding a ridiculous streak of 30-point games, averaging 31.1 ppg while shooting over 50% from the field, and carrying the Thunder to the West's best record even without Russell Westbrook, Durant is having his best season yet, and seems perfectly poised to steal the MVP award from James.
Regarding Aldridge, at the point there's a two part answer to the MVP question. The first part is that he's absolutely playing well enough to put himself in the mix, and should not yet be counted out; the second, however, is that he'll need help. Kevin Durant has played well enough that it's his award to lose, and unless Portland convincingly overtakes Oklahoma City in the standings, or Durant slows down considerably, he'll win his first MVP.