Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls: While only in his 3rd season in the NBA, the 22-year-old Chicago native has proved a lot to the rest of the league quickly. He’s already garnered the 08-09 Rookie of the Year and has become the first Bulls player since Michael Jordan to don an Eastern Conference All Star jersey, doing so in both 2010 and 2011. This year, Rose has catapulted himself into the talks concerning best point guard in the league, among the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. While averaging 24.6 points per game and 8.1 assists, Rose has undoubtedly led the previously mediocre Bulls to a commanding 2nd place in the East and given Chicago their first star since #23 graced the court. Rose serves as the facilitator, scorer and overall leader to the championship contending Bulls and this season he heads a powerful class of MVP candidates.
Still within striking distance:
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic: The reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year has made a name and a persona for himself in his first seven NBA seasons, and this year has been his best to date. Despite the Magic’s sudden team overhaul in December, Howard has continued to lead the team to the 4th best record in the East and they’re in line for home court in the first round of the playoffs. His defensive presence around the rim is unmatched in the league and Superman can give teams fits when he gets going offensively. His 23.1 PPG and 13.9 rebounds per game prove he’s a tough matchup for any team. This year, he’s proven he can carry a team on those broad shoulders of his.
Amar’e Stoudemire, F/C, New York Knicks: With his self-proclaimed moniker STAT, Stoudemire has certainly been “Standing Tall and Talented” in his first season in the Big Apple. Averaging a healthy 26.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG, Amar’e has led the Knicks to a shocking 6th place in the East with seemingly no supporting cast until the arrival of Carmelo Anthony in late February. He’s a superior talent on the offensive end and has been seen picking it up defensively in certain games. With a late surge, Stoudemire could move up this board.
Kobe Bryant, G, Los Angeles Lakers: What more can be said about the 5-time champion, 13-time All-Star, 2-time Finals MVP and former regular season MVP? Bryant is simply the most decorated and talked about player since the days of the aforementioned Jordan and each and every season he finds his way into this discussion. While the previously underachieving Lakers sit 3rd in the West, much of it could be accredited to the two-time reigning champions complacency. As of late, the Lakers have once again found their swagger and confidence and are a favorite to take home the title for the third straight year. Simply put, Bryant is the face of this franchise and he takes the lead durng this time year in and year out. With 25.1 PPG and 4.8 assists per game, Kobe is once again lighting it up as the most clutch player in the NBA and toast of the town in LA.
Long Shots (for now):
LeBron James, F, Miami Heat: While LeBron continues to have the most gaudy stats in the NBA by averaging nearly a triple double (26.3/7.5/7.1), the reigning two-time MVP has gone from crowd favorite to instant villain after his Summer 2010 embarrassments. Not to mention, the much hyped Heat or “The Heatles” have yet to beat any respectable opponent outside of the Lakers on Christmas Day. Their late-game struggles and statistically league-worst clutch shooting further prove this anomaly. LeBron, or King James as he prefers, isn’t getting it done late in games and is not leading his team the way he led the Cavaliers for 6 seasons.
Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder: At a mere 22 years of age, the Durantula has proven himself as the most prolific scorer in the NBA already. And while the reigning scoring champion continues to post ridiculous numbers (28.1 PPG/7.1 RPG), he is not quite at the cusp of scooping up an NBA MVP award. But rest assured, he certainly will in due time.
Honorable Mentions: Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas Mavericks…Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat…Tony Parker, G, San Antonio Spurs…Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves