Our guys at numberFire are here to help us look at the ’13-14 season in an analytics-based way. Today’s topic: Which players are playing at a level that could lead to a Championship?—Ed.

by Bryan Mears / @bryan_mears

Last week, I broke down past NBA Champions (since the ’99-00 season) and analyzed their best player. The data was very interesting—every Champion, other than the odd Pistons year, had their best player post both at least a 12.0 nERD and a 22.0 PER. This gives us a floor in which we can gauge current players and how they’re leading their team this year.

Here is the current table of guys who are having a “Championship-caliber season,” and you can see that it’s quite a bit smaller than last week’s.

Player TeamnERDPER
Kevin LoveMinnesota Timberwolves24.029.7
Kevin DurantOklahoma City Thunder18.326.9
LeBron JamesMiami Heat17.430.1
Anthony DavisNew Orleans Pelicans17.429.7
Chris PaulLos Angeles Clippers15.426.9
Paul GeorgeIndiana Pacers15.423.7
Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors12.624.1

Players that made the cut last week but have since dropped off include Kevin Martin, Markieff Morris, Carlos Boozer, Eric Bledsoe and Paul Millsap. Sadly, the Suns schedule has gotten a bit tougher and Morris has cooled from his crazy hot start. There were several players who have either a nERD of 12.0 or a PER of 22.0, but don’t have both, which is the criteria for a “Championship-caliber season.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

James Harden

As I mentioned last week, there were only four players who finished last season hitting our mark: LBJ, Kevin Durant, CP3 and James Harden. Harden currently has a nERD of 7.6—not awful—but certainly not at the elite level he was last year. A big reason for this has been his atrocious defense so far this year. He has a DRtg of 100.7, and it rises to a terrible 108.4 on the road.

Overall, the Houston defense isn’t that bad and it will definitely take a while for this crew to get used to Dwight Howard in the middle. But Harden doesn’t seem to even try on some plays, and prefers to conserve his energy for the high-paced Houston offense that he leads. If the Rockets want to contend for the title this year (and they do), their perimeter D is going to have to improve. And that starts with Harden.

Kevin Love

Love is on fire and making up for the lost time that he missed due to a frustrating, injury-riddled year last season. His 24.0 nERD, though most likely unsustainable, is very impressive for four weeks in, and the TWolves look really good. Glancing at our table of past Champions from last week, only LeBron put up a higher nERD during a championship season than Love is currently doing (a ridiculous 27.3 last year, if you were wondering).

More importantly to the Wolves, he’s doing it on both ends of the court. As John Schuhmann points out, only the Wolves and Warriors are top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. If this team can stay healthy (a big if), the Wolves have proven that they are legit title contenders, despite the depth of the Western Conference.

Klay Thompson / Andre Iguodala

A two-for-one special here. Both Thompson and Iggy have stout nERDs, 17.1 and 16.5 respectively, but don’t hit the PER requirement. They’re both playing very well defensively, and the Iggy signing is shaping up to be the best free-agent signing this offseason (though Kevin Martin might have something to say about that). Their PER numbers being down might be due to the fact that the Warriors have blown out so many opponents and just haven’t needed to play with the same efficiency at the ends of games.

The Dubs’ title hopes are there because of their stellar backcourt, but they will need some help and good health from their big guys, David Lee and Andrew Bogut, to make them reality. So far this year they have put up a team DRtg of 95.4 (good for fourth in the NBA), which is drastically better than last season’s 102.6 mark. Like the TWolves, these guys have proven to be somewhat injury prone through their careers. If they can keep up the intensity on both ends, and along with a little luck, we very well could be watching the Warriors come June.

NumberFire is a sports analytics platform that uses algorithmic modeling to better understand sports. Follow NumberFire on Twitter at @numberfire andFacebook