There are always surprises and breakout players in an NBA season and with that it can be hard to make predictions on postseason awards before the season tips off…
But not as much with MVP lately. This has been a two-man race for a few years now — LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They are the two best players on the planet, both are near the peaks of their games. Each has won the award before.
It is likely a two-man race again this season, they are at the top of the list of people to watch, but we’ve got three others who could slip into the discussion and some dark horses out there. Still, smart money probably is on the guy at the top of this list.
1) LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers). When it comes to winning the MVP a player needs two things: Great statistics to show off a great season, and just as importantly a great narrative. Voters for MVP are media members and that’s a group who likes stories. We know LeBron is the best player on the planet and will put up numbers (even though with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving around his raw numbers may dip a little). And now having returned to Cleveland and lifting that team to elite contender status, he has a narrative people love. He has to be considered the favorite to pick up his fifth MVP.
2) Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder). He’d be on top of this list for me had it not been for the foot injury that will have him out at least the first month of the season (considering the type of injury and the Thunder’s history of being cautious with injured stars, expect it to be longer). Also, this year he will have a healthy Russell Westbrook on his team all season, last season with Westbrook out Durant had to take on more of the scoring load and did so while still being very efficient (which really is what won him the award). All that said, he is going to put up big numbers, particularly the second half of the season, and he’s going to be the best player and a legit title contender. He is the guy who got the trophy last year and he’ll get a lot of votes again.
3) Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers). He finished third in the MVP voting last season and again will be at the heart of a contender with the Los Angeles Clippers. If someone tells you “all he can do is dunk” you know that person doesn’t watch a lot of basketball — he has a solid midrange jumper now (with range out to the three point line), is a good passer out of the post and can even score plenty with his back to the basket (even through his footwork can still be sloppy). And yes, he can dunk — if you’re that athletic you should get a lot of shots at the rim. Griffin averaged 24.1 points a game with an impressive .583 true shooting percentage plus had 9.5 rebounds a game, and his numbers could well go up. The one real challenge to Griffin’s candidacy? He may not be the best player on his own team. Griffin and Chris Paul will split votes, and that could hurt both of them. Expect the Clippers PR machine to get behind and push one of them over the other, probably Griffin.
4) Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans). The Brow is entering his third NBA season and this could be a breakout year for him. He averaged 20.8 points a game with a .582 true shooting percentage plus 10 rebounds a game last season and after a summer as a key part of Team USA at the World Cup he is ready to make a leap — by the end of the season he may establish himself as the third best player in the NBA. Also, he’ll be the star of a Pelicans team that is going to surprise a lot of people. All that may not be enough for him to win the award this year, but he’s going to move into the discussion (and probably win one down the line).
5) Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls). There are a lot of “ifs” with his candidacy. If Rose stays healthy. If he looks close to his old self before the knee injuries. If the Bulls behind him look like a team that can challenge the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title. If all those things come together… well, Rose has won this award before. He’s dynamic and entertaining. Every other guy on this list is at least 6’8”, Rose is listed at 6’3” yet slashes his way into the paint and makes plays among the trees in the NBA — it’s something fans can relate to in a way they can’t with taller players. If Rose and the Bulls are back and big stories again, he will be in the MVP conversation.
Dark horse candidates: Chris Paul (Clippers), Stephen Curry (Warriors), James Harden (Rockets), Carmelo Anthony (Knicks).