Three or four games into the NBA season, it’s easy to identify the MVP candidates already, whether by looking at impressive statistics, or just by knowing who’s good and who isn’t. It’ll come down to six players: Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Why him: A two-time defensive player of the year heading into the season, not to mention the NBA Finals MVP in 2014, Leonard seems to be adding more and more to his game with every day that goes by. He’s already one of the better shooters in the NBA, but he’s playing with aggressiveness and force that the Spurs missed in the playoffs last season. The Spurs system usually doesn’t make one player too dominant on offense, but Leonard might be entering that stage in his career when it’s inevitable but let him take over.
Numbers so far: 28 points per game, 3.3 steals per game, 50% from the field.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Why him: Durant was an MVP in 2014 and is probably the most gifted player in the NBA offensively. While the Warriors system should make it difficult for him to be as dominant as he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant isn’t going to completely turn himself into a cog in the system. He’s so good the team will change for him, and combine that with the perceived hunger to show his ability on his new team, it could put him over the edge, in a good way.
Numbers so far: 31.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists shooting 56.6% from the field.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Why him: He could be the best 3-point shooter in NBA history, coming off two MVP seasons (one of them deserved to go to someone else), and is playing in a system that’s tailor-made for him to thrive in. Obviously, things are changing with Durant arriving, and I don’t think Curry is going to get too many votes when this season is over but at this point, he’s certainly in the discussion.
Numbers so far: 25.7 points, 42.9% from beyond the arc.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Why him: After so many years of being at the top or just two centimeters below, it’s really redundant explaining. James is the most influential basketball player in the league in terms of what he means to his team, when he’s on the floor or when he’s resting. Six consecutive NBA finals, but this award isn’t given on past achievements. Honestly, James is more interesting in awards that come in June, not earlier in the year, but as always, he’s in the discussion until the very end of the season, even if he isn’t giving 100% all the time.
Numbers so far: 21 points, 8.3 rebounds, 10 assists, 50% from the field
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Why him: Harden should have won it in 2015, but the Curry hype train derailed his own bid. In short, Harden is playing in a system that’s going to inflate his numbers even more, and he had excellent numbers (in certain categories) before Mike D’Antoni. Add the fact that everything in Houston goes through him, and it’ll be down to one thing: If the Rockets are a top 4 team in the West or not.
Numbers so far: 29.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 6.3 turnovers per game.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Why him: Same reason Harden is – everything flows through him in Oklahoma City, plus he’s playing with an enormous chip on his shoulder. I don’t buy the “Westbrook was always better than Durant” talk, but left on his own without a superstar to “steal” his shots and time with the ball, his potential for putting up eye popping numbers is better than anyone’s.
Numbers so far: 38.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 11.7 assists, 44.4% from beyond the arc.
And what about other guys: Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeMar DeRozan? I’m pretty sure someone will throw their name in the hat at some point during the season as a dark horse candidate. But they’re not going to win it, or even come close.