WiththeNBAseasonnearlyhalfwaythrough,talkof the prestigious MVP award has already begun to surface. Most of the players topping the list are no surprise, but others, while of course known to be incredible players, weren’t people’s first bet for the award when the season began.

The bottom line is that the MVP has to have two things: an impressive stat line and a successful team. Personal contributions to the league are great, but the best kind of player raises the level of play for his entire team.

At this point, the top prospects for the MVP award should be:

Kevin Durant (Forward), Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant is an offensive powerhouse. He ranks third in the league in scoring with 28.9 points per game and can make a defense pay from all over the court. With his lean frame, he can sink a three or beat his defender to the inside. While Oklahoma City has many amazing players, such as Russell Westbrook, Durant is the player that the Thunder must have on the court at all times, as he is second in the league in minutes at 39.5 per game. He also leads the NBA with a 30.8 efficiency rating.

Increasing Durant’s likelihood of receiving the award is the success of his team. The Thunder are currently in first place in the Western Conference with a 30-8 mark. They’ve been dominant at home, going on a 12 game winning streak that was ended Jan. 2. OKC has once again proved that they are the team to beat if you wanttomakeittotheNBAFinals,whichmeansDurantwill be the player you need to stop.

LeBron James (Forward), Miami Heat

LeBron James is the reigning MVP winner, which in my opinion greatly deters his chances of winning the award again this year. However, King James is having another spectacular year, and with Miami currently in the top spot in the Eastern Conference (24-12) and showing why they could repeat as the NBA Champions, James has to be placed in the conversation for MVP.

James is a flashy player; with his high-flying dunks and constantly being on the fast break, he’s hard not to notice. He nearly averages a double-double with 26.0 points (fifth in the NBA) and 8.2 rebounds per game, shooting 54.6 percent from the field. However, James can also distribute the ball and will possibly go down as the best passing forward, averaging 6.9 assists, making himNo.12intheNBA.Infact,asofnow,heisthe highest ranking player in assists that’s not a guard.

When his points, rebounds and assists are combined, James leads the NBA with 41.1 per game. While his points are just slightly down from last year’s 27.1, James has improved in both the rebounding and assists categories. He’s an overall player and therefore will always be up for the MVP award.

Chris Paul (Guard), Los Angeles Clippers

At the beginning of the season, Chris Paul wouldn’t have been in my top three choices for MVP. I might’ve had a player like Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony in his spot. However, the Clippers weren’t a team I expected to be chasing the top spot for the Western Conference either. And they are. The Clippers currently stand a half game behind the Thunder at 30-9 and are dominating the Pacific Division. They’re 5.5 games up on the Warriors and 12.5 games up on the Lakers. Earlier this year, LA even set a new franchise record when the team went on a 17-game winning streak.

While Paul’s stat line might not look as impressive as that of Durant or James, as a point guard, he’s the one running the team. Paul is a true point guard with a pass-first mentality, averaging 9.7 assists per game, which ranks second in the NBA. He scores when his team needs him to, averaging 16.8 points per contest and tallying 16 double-doubles on the season. Furthermore, Paul can get it done on the defensive end as he leads the league in steals with 2.62 per game.

Paul is another all-around, unselfish player who makes his team better. Personally, I think Paul is extremely underrated and deserves some more credit.

The NBA season is only halfway through, so the MVP is definitely not set in stone. But keep an eye on these three players. Whoever lifts their team and performs the most clutch down the stretch might just be lifting that MVP award later this year.

Prediction: Durant’s scoring ability wins him his first MVP award.

A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 17, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.