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Pelicans' Davis gets to work making his MVP case

Harden, Thompson, Gasol, Bosh round out Top 5

POSTED: Nov 7, 2014 10:17 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Anthony Davis' fast start to 2014-15 has him in the (ultra-early) MVP conversation.

Kevin Durant is wearing street clothes every night, trying to rehab a broken foot.

LeBron James is adjusting to his familiar-yet-new surroundings in Cleveland.

And Derrick Rose is battling tender ankles and the injury issues that have defined his career the past three seasons.

These are the last three men to win the NBA's top individual honor, the Maurice Podoloff Trophy ... also known as the KIA NBA Most Valuable Player. And not one of them is a frontrunner to grab that trophy again in the initial stages of this season.

I'll be the first to admit that it is ridiculously early to start handicapping the MVP race, what with everyone having 76 or more games left. But you don't get second or third chances to make a first impression. And none of the usual suspects have assumed top-notch positions here yet.

Instead, we have a new and relatively fresh-faced crop of stars making the most definitive early statements about where this race will go.

Anthony Davis in New Orleans.

James Harden in Houston.

Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in Golden State.

DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento.

Marc Gasol in Memphis.

LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland.

John Wall in Washington.

You have to start somewhere with this MVP conversation.

Again, it's a long season. So overreaction four or five games into a regular season should be expected. But if we're doing this right, we have to reward the players who have shown themselves worthy, thus far.

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

GameTime: Anthony Davis' Emergence

The guys discuss Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.

It's hard to say what's more staggering: that Davis is averaging 24 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1.8 assists or that he's doing all this at just 21 years old. Davis is an absolute force of nature who isn't anywhere near his ceiling. He makes plays all over the floor and has expanded his offensive game to 19 feet, giving him the one tool that was needed to complete his game. As he continues to polish his skills, he'll continue his rise up the ranks. The Pelicans will rise with him.

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Dunk of the Night - James Harden

James Harden drives baseline and delivers the hammer emphatically over Aron Baynes.

The Rockets have Dwight Howard, a low-post anchor few teams can boast of, but Harden is the catalyst for this team. He's been on an absolute tear to start the season. Harden's work through five games -- 26.0 points, 7.2 assists and 6.7 rebounds -- looks like the digits of a true MVP, someone who impacts the game in all phases. Routinely criticized for not being stellar on defense, he's raised his game there, too. The Rockets are ready to take that next step if this is the Harden they can count on every night.

3. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

The Starters: Are The Warriors Contenders?

The Starters discuss whether or not the Warriors are a legitimate title contender.

Thompson is scoring 27 points a game and should stay around there all season. He's already dropped 41 points on the Lakers and 29 on Portland. He's shooting 54 percent, 50 percent from 3-point range and a sterling 92 percent from the free-throw line. Thompson's fourth season could and should be his best as a pro. An All-Star berth? Perhaps. A scoring title? Maybe. It's all there for Thompson.

4. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

GameTime: Grizzlies Keep Rolling

Dennis Scott takes a look at the blueprint in Memphis that has the Grizzlies undefeated at 5-0, their best start in franchise history.

The Grizzlies are off to a great start thanks to the 1-2 inside combo of Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol leads the Grizzlies in scoring (21.6) and blocks (1.4) and also averages 7.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals. Gasol has emerged as the most complete center in the league. He's one who can dominate both ends and is the sort of player you can build a team around for years to come. The Grizzlies need him healthy to reach their full potential this season.

5. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Bosh's work early this season reminds us of the double-double machine he was in Toronto -- but with more seasoning and, of course, championship experience. The Heat are not going to be the same team they were when Bosh was the No. 3 option behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But they'll be just fine if he can maintain the 24.4 points, 11 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 43 percent shooting from 3-point range he's posted thus far.

6. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Omri Casspi Assists DeMarcus Cousins

Omri Casspi lends DeMarcus Cousins and his headband a helping hand.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list, Cousins has made huge strides from where he was this time a year ago. A tumultuous 2013-14 season, one in which he posted All-Star caliber numbers but missed out on a spot on the Western Conference squad, is in the past. Cousins played a critical role on the gold medal-winning team at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and has drafted off of that performance to start his fifth NBA season. His 24 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocks is the sort of steady production the Kings need from him all season.

7. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

What's he doing way down here? LeBron outside of the top five is a bit of a shock. But it's appropriate given the way he's performed so far this season. But, as he tweeted after the Cavaliers' latest head-scratching loss to Utah, "RELAX." LeBron and the Cavs will be fine. He'll figure out how to be at his explosive best when the Cavs need it. At this stage of his career, LeBron shouldn't be worried about the first five games of any season. That said, it's peculiar to see a 50-plus percent shooter in each of his past five seasons start the season making just 41 percent of his shots.

8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

Aldridge has the best rebounding season (11.1) of his career last year. That work on the boards rounded out his game and cemented him as a MVP candidate in 2013-14. His numbers are way down in that department (6.2 rpg), knocking him down a peg or two here. He remains one of the NBA's best floor-stretching big men, but if he's going to rise up around here, he'll have to grind harder on the boards.

9. John Wall, Washington Wizards

Point guard duels, like the one he had with Indiana Pacers backup point guard Donald Sloan, bring out the best in the ultra-competitive Wall. He's become a complete player who can score, distribute, defend and perhaps most important, lead his team when times get tough. Wall is leading the Wizards in points (21.4), assists (10.0) and steals (2.8) while also grabbing 4.2 rebounds per game. He's doing all of this with his backcourt mate Bradley Beal sidelined with an injury. Anyone still wondering if Wall can carry a team?

10. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

GameTime: Steph Curry's Impact

Isiah Thomas on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson's on-court chemistry.

Curry and Klay Thompson are the NBA's highest scoring duo and could carry that flag all season, provided they stay healthy and the Warriors continue to get more comfortable in coach Steve Kerr's system. The transition has been great for Curry (26.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 6.5 rpg), who roasted Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in a blowout win Wednesday night at home. Curry's matchup Saturday night against Houston's defensive dynamo Patrick Beverley will be an interesting test for both men.

The next five: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets; Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs; Kyle Lowry, Toronto; Zach Randolph, Memphis; Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs.

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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