The main candidates to win the MVP next season: Obviously Stephen Curry, with two in a row behind him. Kevin Durant, who’ll now be a teammate to Curry on the Golden State Warriors. Surely James Harden, who has a solo show going on with the Houston Rockets. And as usual LeBron James is also in the mix, but it’ll probably another season of him taking it a bit easy at time during the regular season. And of course, it’s impossible to forget about Russell Westbrook, without anyone “stealing” his spotlight and possessions, ready to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder on an angry F U tour, directed at a certain player and team.
These are the five leading candidates to win the MVP next season, although they’re not alone. Kawhi Leonard seems to be improving with every day that goes by, which puts him at a high level, the highest possibly. Paul George also has the run of things with the Indiana Pacers, and has to be considered as a dark horse candidate. Damian Lillard can put up big numbers for the Portland Trail Blazers, and a better regular season from them could put the spotlight on him in a more serious way than before. Anthony Davis should have been there, among the top 5, but he has a bad team around him, and a head coach that’s probably better as an assistant, not to mention a league that makes it difficult for a big man like him to really stand out among everyone else.
Westbrook and Harden might be in the best position to win the award based on their space to operate as individuals, but we’ve seen again and again how much team success is important to the voters. For example, Curry won the MVP in 2015 despite Harden having the better regular season. Harden was also more vital to the Rockets than Curry to the Warriors, but the Warriors finishing with 67 wins in the regular season convinced those making the decision to hand Curry his first MVP. In 2016, there was no competition.
Curry, for all the records he seems to be setting and involved in, has only had about 1.5 really great seasons, which means it’s too early to put him in lists with all-time greats. Durant arriving means a player who can score 28-30 points a night (his averages show, he obviously can throw down a lot more). The Warriors might be even better on offense next season. They averaged 114.9 points per game last year. They’re not going to score around 140 points, which means someone, or simply everyone, will have to bring down their numbers a little bit for the greater good. Still, good enough numbers (25-ish points per game?) and another season of finishing on top of the NBA could be enough to give one of them the MVP. Voter fatigue is also something that needs to be taken into account.
LeBron James has four MVP awards, but at this point in his career, it’s not about that. He is chasing Michael Jordan, and is haunted by his ghost, and yet it’s the Finals MVPs, which James has three of, and given only to NBA champions (at least for the last 40+ years), that LeBron is after. And based on his slight decline in regular season production, especially with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others good enough to take some offensive load off of him from time to time, he doesn’t have to that good and influential.
But what about Harden? or Westbrook? It’s safe to say both of them can put up the numbers, and might be the leading candidates to lead the NBA in scoring. Harden is even going to be playing in a new system, under Mike D’Antoni. If Harden buys in, this means more possessions, a faster pace, and more points. Steve Nash won two MVPs under D’Antoni, and Harden turning into something new could help him win the voters over.
Westbrook, besides wins, needs a narrative. He has the platform. A scorned star, an angry friend, and a team that’s finally his. But is the Thunder don’t win at least 50-55 games and look like a team capable of knocking off the Warriors or the Spurs, I doubt the MVP is going to land in his hands, and the famous “soon” meme will keep on circulating. He’s probably the most likely player to put up the best numbers next season, and it still might not be enough.