It seems like just yesterday that Kyrie Irving hit a dagger three to give Cleveland its first championship in franchise history. A lot has changed in the offseason but the favorites to win the MVP this year remain mostly the same. Let’s look at the main contenders (odds via Boyds Bets).
Russell Westbrook (+200): Westbrook is the favorite for two main reasons. First, he is really, really good. Last season he averaged 23.5 PPG 10.4 APG and 7.8 RPG while notching 18 triple-doubles. He might have the best chance of averaging a triple-double for the first time since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62. Second, Kevin Durant is gone. If he put up those numbers as the #2 option, what can he do as “the man?”
Stephen Curry (+400): Curry is the defending back-to-back MVP so you have to put him high on this list. However, I wouldn’t lay my money on him. Yes, he was the first unanimous MVP last season and might be the greatest shooter ever, but did you see him in the finals? Often he was the third or fourth best player on the floor. Also, his numbers will take a hit with having to share the ball with Durant.
LeBron James (+500): James proved he is still the best player in the NBA in the playoffs. He was the first player ever to lead BOTH teams in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks in the Finals. However, he will turn 32 this season and has logged so many minutes in his career (199 playoff games). I expect him to get more rest days this season and share more of the load with Irving, but don’t count out the greatest all-around player in NBA history.
Kevin Durant (+1200): KD has the same problem as Curry. Tons of game but only one basketball to around in Golden State. His numbers will dip and even last year he finished a distant fifth in the voting.
Anthony Davis (+1600): Davis was banged up last year and didn’t play up to his previous season. It is a bit troubling to see a young player regress in his fourth season but most think he will bounce back. Even still, the NBA isn’t a big man’s game anymore and I’d be shocked to see him win MVP.
Kawhi Leonard (+1600): This is the smart money right here. Last season Leonard put up 21.2/6.8/2.6, all career-highs. However, those numbers don’t even tell the story. His best attribute is his defense. He is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, including last season. He was second in the MVP vote. With Tim Duncan gone, he is now the face of the franchise. Expect a big year from “The Claw.”
James Harden (+1600): Harden can flat out fill it up on the offensive end. His numbers were actually up from two years ago when he finished second in the MVP race, but last season was out of the top five. The reason is he is a flat out liability on defense and his team wasn’t very good. Fair or not, voters factor team play in. If the Rockets are good, he will be in the mix again. If not, look for big numbers with no MVP.
Paul George (+2200): Not only did George come back from a major injury last year, he was even better than when he left. Still just 26, he can even improve on last season. His MVP candidacy rests largely with his teammates, much like Harden. If the Pacers finish #7 in the East again, he won’t collect many votes.