The NBA continues to grow with superstars leaguewide. With this heavy influx of elite level talent, it could be the deepest in terms of skill that has ever been in the league at one time. Whether it be from individual statistics, team success, or player popularity with all these players on this list, each is taken into consideration when crowning the MVP.
The race for the Most Valuable Player award is always a fierce debate amongst the basketball world and to be honest, every player creates and presents a heavy claim each year. So which five head into the 2018-2019 season as the MVP favorites.
1. James Harden – PG/SG – Houston Rockets
MVP Awards – 1 (2018)
The reigning NBA MVP is at the prime of his career and has been putting up video game-like numbers in his past two seasons. Last season, Harden ranked first in the NBA in PPG with 30.4 (his career-high), third in assists per game with 8.8, 71st in rebounds per game at 5.4 (which ranked sixth among point guards). There’s reason to believe that ‘the bearded one’ is set to continue his current stretch of dominance.
After acquiring Chris Paul, numerous questions surfaced around this time last year about how the two superstars would play together. Both Harden and Paul answered those questions by coming up only one win shy of taking down the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Now with Carmelo Anthony in the fray, the necessary question of ‘how much Anthony’s impact will cut into Harden’s statistics?’ should be asked. The case against Harden could very well be Anthony himself. Anthony’s teammate last year and the MVP of two seasons ago, Russell Westbrook, took a small dip in his stats from his MVP season into the next season. From 2016-2017 to 2017-2018, Westbrook went from 31.6 PPG to 25.6 PPG, 10.4 APG to 10.3 APG, 10.7 RPG to 10.1 RPG, and a 34.3 3PT% to a 29.8 3PT%.
The difference, however, lies within the play-styles of both Harden and Westbrook. Unlike his time in Oklahoma City, Anthony is stepping into a tertiary scoring role in Houston where he will join two great players who are terrific scorers and even better facilitators in Paul and Harden.
As much as it shouldn’t, Harden’s case for MVP ultimately depends on what playoff seed the Rockets are able to accomplish in the Western Conference. After the Rockets were able to garner the best record in the NBA last season, any dropoff in seeding could hurt his odds of winning another MVP. A lot of his competition does lye out in the Western Conference and if he outperforms them in their match-ups then he should be in the driver’s seat when voting concludes.
The leg up that Harden has over each of these candidates is the blend of his offensive capabilities along with head coach Mike D’Antoni’s explosive offensive-minded system. This won’t be the first time that D’Antoni had coached back to back MVP’s, as he did so with Steve Nash back in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons in Pheonix. Makes you think, huh?
2. Anthony Davis – PF/C – New Orleans Pelicans
MVP Awards – 0
It is rare that you find an NBA player that is dominant on offense and just as equally commanding on defense. ‘Dominate’ and ‘commanding’ are terms used lightly when describing Anthony Davis. Yet, he finds a way to leave opposing NBA teams cowering in fear, wondering if there is a solution to stopping him.
Last season, Davis achieved a career high in points with 28.1 PPG (good for second in the NBA behind Harden) and led the league with 2.6 blocks per game. ‘The Brow’ has already earned three-blocking crowns and has finished in the top 10 in scoring the past four seasons.
If there was ever a player that you would push all the chips in and build your franchise around in the NBA today, Davis is your guy. While he did lose his teammate DeMarcus Cousins to the Golden State Warriors in free-agency, it might have been good for him. Davis can again be the sole big-man on the team, leading the organization to a playoff appearance and possibly deeper than ever without having to share touches inside the paint.
While the Western Conference is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, there is not one center or power forward in the conference, or the NBA, that can slow down Davis. Assuming Davis will fill the stat sheet with numbers that everyone must do a double take at night in and night out, then it is easy to draw the conclusion of Davis being ready to be named as the leagues MVP.
No player is as crucial to their teams success as much as Davis is to New Orleans. Including the next name on this list.
3. LeBron James – SF – Los Angeles Lakers
MVP Awards – 4 (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)
The king is now rocking out in Los Angeles and in making that decision has sent the basketball world into disarray.
Being one of the most polarizing athletes in this century, everything that James does comes with a ton of respect and appreciation as well as skepticism and doubt. His most recent criticism came when he decided to take his talents to Southern California and play for the Los Angeles Lakers (sound somewhat familiar?), a team that is unproven and hasn’t seen the postseason since 2013, over a team that already was already established in post-season play.
James joins a Lakers roster that is mixed with young players as well as several accomplished veterans. With the contribution and depth from all that surround James, it does not take a basketball guru to tell he has been issued with much better talent than he was in Cleveland. While there is no question that James will be the leader of this Lakers team, the overall team success will be the result of whether or not he is to be considered for another MVP trophy.
The best player in the game and four-time MVP award winner, it is no surprise that James is up for this honor every season. He has finished in the top four of MVP voting for the last 10 seasons. While James may not lead all the statistical categories, he more than makes up for with his post-season dominance and ability to carry a team from the basement of the league to the attic.
There is not much to say here, other than the fact that the best player on the planet better be on everyone’s shortlist for MVP, regardless of which team he is on.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo – G/F – Milwaukee Bucks
MVP Awards – 0
Although being a serious MVP candidate heading into the 2017-2018 NBA season, Antetokounmpo did everything in his power to get all the votes necessary but still finished in sixth place in the final polls. In 2017-2018 Antetokounmpo finished with 26.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, and a 52.9 FG%, all of which were career highs.
The one stat that Antetokounmpo continues to impress is his increase in scoring average by four or more each season. In his five seasons from his rookie year until now, he has averaged 6.8 PPG, 12.7 PPG, 16.9 PPG, 22.9 PPG, and 26.9 PPG. His 26.9 PPG was good enough for fifth in the NBA last season, ahead of names like former MVP’s Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
Unlike many of the other members on this list, Antetokounmpo has earned his superstar status in a rather uncommon way. Antetokounmpo has started four of his five NBA seasons at different positions, ranging from point guard all the way to power forward. He also separates himself from these other superstars in the fact that he is not elite from beyond the arc, yet has continued to find ways to get a bulk of his scoring done from inside and has done so with increased efficiency.
The one thing that is preventing Antetokounmpo from surpassing some of the other names on this list is the success and media attention that Milwaukee supplies. If the Bucks can take the top seed in the Eastern Conference and have a surprise overthrow in power over the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, then Antetokounmpo will see an uptick in first place votes.
5. Kevin Durant – SF/PF – Golden State Warriors
MVP Awards – 1 (2014)
You can’t have an MVP favorites list without one of the most cerebral scorers we have in the game today. A four-time scoring champion for a reason, Durant ends up as an MVP candidate each season. While he may not be standing above any of the players mentioned on this list in regards to scoring average, no player possess the scoring versatility offensively that Durant can.
Durant possesses a stroke from beyond the arc that is as smooth as Shaquille O’Neal’s head, ball handling that has become more tighter and finely crafted with each season, a post presence that is Nowitzki-esque, and the ability to rise above any player at any time, anywhere…you try defending all that.
Kevin Durant. Professional scorer.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) June 9, 2018
Durant earns a spot on this list for not only his offensive skills but by becoming the lead guy for Golden State. I know all Warriors fans reading this are going to lose it and say that Stephen Curry is and always will be.
Here is why. One word. Defense.
As great as Curry is on offense, unfortunately, he gets bested a great deal on defense. The versatility of Durant to defend any player on the court at any given time at a high and effective level makes him more valuable than Curry (and for the sake of this article everybody excluding the four names previously mentioned).
After finishing seventh in the ballots last season, it appears that other players are more focused or are in a better position to achieving MVP honors more than Durant is. While he is more than capable of putting up numbers to get him some further consideration, it simply isn’t necessary given the Warriors mentality of ‘team first basketball’.
He has his MVP trophy and could just be content with being a solo winner of the award. After all, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP trophy and it’s safe to say he will go down as one of the greatest to play the game. When all is said and done, Durant just might very well be in that same conversation as his career continues in that direction.
That being said, I’m sure Durant will not be crying over not winning this award as he hoists up the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end.