Every season, the NBA hands out its most prestigious award to its most valuable player. Winning the award is second only to winning a championship, and although the league names its MVP each season, each team, even the worst teams in the league, also have a player that stands out from the rest. My job is to discern the MVP's from the rest of the team.
The MVP might not even be the best player on the team. The MVP award doesn't go to the best player in the NBA, it goes to the most valuable. That may seem a bit confusing or a bit stupid, but there is a difference. Take LeBron James for example. He has been the best player in the league for about 10 seasons now but he only has four MVP awards. He also always been "The King" but he doesn't have even close to that many MVP trophies. The toughest part about this list is predicting next year's rosters. With NBA teams looking to package their players and get some talent in return, it is tough to say who will end up where. Other teams that just can't get over the hump are looking to trade with the lottery teams. Huge free agency signings have shaken up the league completely. Kevin Durant joining the Warriors has sent shock waves through the league and many teams are feeling the ripple effect.
30 Atlanta Hawks - Paul Millsap
With many of Millsap's teammates leaving, he will be looked upon to do most of the scoring. Dwight Howard will be replacing Al Horford but won't make an MVP bid because he hasn't been himself since his days with the Magic. Jeff Teague leaving also leaves a lot of extra responsibility for Dennis Schroeder at the point. The Hawks will have a new look and a lot of adjusting to do for their new reputation and style of play.
Only a handful of players remain from the outstanding 2015 season. I thought that their core would have stayed together for at least a few more years. First DeMarre Carroll left and without him, the defensive grit was lacking. After getting booted for the second straight year by the Cleveland Cavs, the Hawks decided they needed to move on from their current group of players. They have a lot of work to do if they want to be close to the team they were two seasons ago.
29 Boston Celtics - Al Horford
The Celtics may have signed Al Horford just to try to lure in Kevin Durant, but that, as you know, did not work. Now the Celtics get Al Horford but no KD. While they were hoping to get KD as well I don't think it was ever a very realistic possibility (sorry Celtics fans). Even though they didn't get their main guy, they still get Horford, an all-star level talent. The Celtics have many other players that could also be the MVP such as Isaiah Thomas or Jaylen Brown, but I think Thomas overperformed last season and will be brought back down to Earth this year. Brown will need a season or so to get adjusted to the NBA.
I predict that Horford will score and rebound at a higher clip than he did with the Hawks because he won't be competing down low with Paul Millsap for rebounds or touches. The Celtics and Horford should be a good fit. Expect to see Horford in the all-star game again this season.
28 Brooklyn Nets - Brook Lopez
The Nets have really unloaded their roster and there isn't much that remains. Brook Lopez has been the only solid piece that has remained constant. The Nets have ousted Thaddeus Young and spent big bucks to bring in Allen Crabbe and Jeremy Lin. Choosing Brook Lopez was a pretty easy decision because the rest of their roster is 10-win worthy. I would look for the Nets to have the worst record in the NBA this season and the worst part about that is they won't even get the overall #1 draft pick because of a previous trade with the Celtics to acquire Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce and Garnett were already on their last legs, and that trade is really coming back to bite them now. Lopez is a very steady performer and I expect to see the same out of him this season. The addition on Jeremy Lin will help him get easy baskets as well. The two can form a nice little two-man game.
27 Charlotte Hornets - Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has really shown strides to becoming a top-5 point guard in the NBA. Last season Walker increased his scoring output as well as his field goal percentage all while keeping assists consistent. Walker had a very good season last season and I look for him to build off of that and follow it up with another outstanding season.
Nicolas Batum is another strong candidate for Hornets MVP. He does a little bit of everything, but Kemba is the man in Charlotte and he will be the one taking the final shot and making clutch plays for them. Kemba is known for being cold-blooded in late game situations when his team needs him the most. I would trust him with the final shot any day of the week. He knows how to create space for his jumper and almost always knocks it down. He's been doing it since his days at UConn and that's what'll make him the MVP of the Hornets.
26 Chicago Bulls- Jimmy Butler
Even with the additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler wins Bulls MVP going away. The Bulls are his team, and he has been waiting for this for a while. Derrick Rose is gone and Rondo will replace him. I'm not quite sure whether that makes the team better or worse, but the addition of Wade is clearly an improvement. Wade and Rondo have both seen their better days, but still, look for them to play key roles in the Bulls playoff run. I surely expect the Bulls to miss Pau Gasol, who left in free agency.
Butler has the potential to become a top-5 player in the league the next few years. He has all of the tools. He can score like crazy, he can shoot and he can defend. There is no reason why we couldn't be seeing him high in the league MVP voting this season. He's only 26 years old so there is plenty of room for growth, he just needs to put it all together.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James
Is there any question here? LeBron is near the top of the MVP voting every season if he doesn't in fact win it himself. He already has four league MVPs and has been the most valuable player on every team he has played for to-date. I don't need to do too much convincing here. The only other player on this team that you could even mention being MVP is Kyrie Irving. Irving was key in the finals, but let's be real, the Cavs wouldn't even sniff the finals if it weren't for LeBron.
Remember when the Cavs were terrible just a few years ago? That was before LeBron came back. Just to put into perspective how important LeBron is, the season before he came back to Cleveland, the Cavs were 33-49, and his first season there, they went 53-29. That's a 20-game swing and it's all because of the LeBron effect. Obviously not all of those wins were just from LeBron, but Kevin Love as well. But we all know Kevin Love wouldn't have come without LeBron, so essentially the Cavs owe anything Kevin Love does to LeBron James as well.
24 Dallas Mavericks - Harrison Barnes
I'm still not sure if Harrison Barnes is worth a max contract or not, but the Mavericks are going to need him to play like a max player. Dirk Nowitzki would be the next player on my list, but I think Barnes is poised to have a breakout season. If he does, Barnes could make the Mavericks his team when Dirk retires. That seems to be the plan anyway, considering how the Mavericks are paying him.
Wesley Matthews must have other plans. He, unlike Barnes, is a veteran who has probably reached his full potential already. I expect Barnes to flourish with the added minutes and with a much bigger role in Dallas. I'm not sure if I would have signed him to such a large deal, but it will be a boom or bust move by the Mavericks and a risk they were willing to take. In the next few seasons he might be one of the most overpaid players, or he could become a perennial all-star.
23 Denver Nuggets - Emmanuel Mudiay
The Nuggets have a pretty sad roster so that leaves a big hole for Mudiay to fill. He and Jamal Murray are going to have to be the top scorers on the team and they are going into their sophomore and rookie seasons respectively. The Nuggets haven't had a star in a while and have recently gone to the draft to rebuild. They have two solid players so far in Mudiay and Murray, but I don't see them getting out of the lottery any time soon. Stay strong Denver fans, hey, at least the Broncos just won the Super Bowl.
Back to the Nuggets, Mudiay showed flashes last season. He scored 12 points per game, which is a good starting spot for a rookie. He was only 19 years old last season so he can still improve his game so much. There is no doubt that he needs to get better, but the bright side is, that shouldn't be too hard considering how young he is.
22 Detroit Pistons- Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is a throwback player in the way he plays. He is a true big man, not a stretch 4 or any of the new style players that have come along these past few years. He keeps it simple, he defends, he rebounds and he dunks. What more could you ask for out of your center? Not only does he rebound, but he is the best rebounder in the NBA. He is one of the few players in the NBA that can grab over 20 rebounds and score 20 points some nights.
The Pistons have some good guard play with Reggie Jackson and a solid backup in Ish Smith. Stanley Johnson was solid last season as a rookie as he felt out the NBA, this season I would expect him to play a bigger role for the Pistons. The Pistons are on the rise, they gave a good fight to the Cavs this year in the playoffs and next year they look to go further. I wouldn't bet against them, and Drummond will be the driving force behind the Pistons as long as he is there.
21 Golden State Warriors - Steph Curry
This was easily the hardest decision that I had to make while making this list, but when I thought about it, how could I not make the two-time reigning MVP of the NBA the MVP of his own team? Kevin Durant is no doubt a great player in this league, and he has won an MVP on his own, but right now, you can't go against Steph Curry. Sorry KD, no matter what Steph says about strength in numbers, it will still be his team until you can prove otherwise.
Maybe in a few years when the Curry bandwagon has cooled off and Durant has won a few championships with them, then Durant will have the team for himself. But until then, Steph is the MVP of the Warriors and there is no debating that. You can't call KD the MVP of the Warriors before he even puts on the Warriors uniform. Steph has already won a title with the team without Durant so it would be ridiculous to predict KD the MVP. We'll see in a few years though.
20 Houston Rockets - James Harden
James Harden and Dwight Howard clearly didn't get along. Now with Dwight out of town, Harden doesn't have to deal with Howard's complaints and lack of hustle and desire. Harden is no angel himself though. A few seasons ago, when asked how the team would handle the departure of Chandler Parsons, Harden called himself and Dwight the stars while all the others were just role players. And even though that may have been the case, that doesn't sit well in a locker room.
Even though it has always been Harden's team, he won't be competing with another huge ego on the team and that should help him. Harden has been the Rockets' clear cut MVP every season since he got to Houston. This year won't change a thing when it comes to the Rockets MVP, expect Harden to be near the top of the league's MVP ladder as well. Just don't expect him to play a lot of defense any time soon.
19 Indiana Pacers - Paul George
There were many questions regarding Paul George and if he would bounce back to be the player he once was after he snapped his leg in a Team USA scrimmage. George answered all of those questions and proved that he was back to normal this season. It is incredible for anyone to break their leg like that and even be able to run again. What's even more incredible is that George broke his leg like that and is back to playing professional basketball at the highest level. Medical science has come a long way.
The Pacers needed George last season more than ever with many players gone from the previous season, but this year, he has some help. Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young are now members of the Pacers, and while they won't be challenging him for the MVP, they will be helping him get open shots, and helping the Pacers win games.
18 Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Paul
Although their record might not reflect it, the Clippers missed Blake Griffin last season. He was out for a good part of the season due to injury. Griffin has sort of been a wildcard for the Clippers because you never know what he's going to give you. Last season he broke his hand for punching the equipment manager in the face. And that guy was his buddy!... Anyway, look for Lob City to be back up and running this season, and Chris Paul will benefit the most out of anyone. Paul will be throwing many oops to both DeAndre and Blake. Easy assists are coming his way, that's for sure.
Not to mention, Blake Griffin's future with the Clippers in is doubt. Although I don't see Griffin going anywhere soon, rumors of Blake going to the Celtics have emerged but who knows if they are anything other than rumors. Anyway, what would the Celtics have to give in return for Blake? Why would the Clips trade away their second best player?
17 Los Angeles Lakers - Jordan Clarkson
Although the Lakers had the 2nd pick in the draft and selected Brandon Ingram, he won't be their MVP this season. Ingram will be more of a late-bloomer and may take a season or two to get adjusted to the NBA. Ingram will have to live in the weight room and the kitchen over the next few seasons so he can get up to a respectable playing weight. No one is questioning the kid's talent and potential, but he won't have as big of an impact in is his rookie season as one might think.
Clarkson on the other hand, has proven himself over the past two seasons. Going into his third NBA season, I really look for him to find his rhythm and get comfortable. With Kobe gone, the Lakers will finally be able to get their younger players some shots, and maybe they will finally be able to win some games. Kobe has been a burden the last few years and it will be great for the Lakers to lose that constant distraction.
16 Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley
Mike Conley better be the Grizzlies MVP with all of the money that they are throwing his way. There is no doubt that Conley is looking to prove everyone that thinks he is being grossly overpaid, wrong. Marc Gasol will give him a good run for his money but Conley will ultimately prove most valuable to the Grizzlies because he orchestrates that offense and is the quarterback of the team. Marc will have a good season as well though.
Like Marc Gasol told the front office of the Grizzlies when they were about to trade him as a rookie, Conley is part of a slim group of players who actually value the team's success over his own. Unfortunately, that is becoming a rarity in today's NBA and what is spoiling many teams around the league. Valuing the team is what truly makes a player more valuable than the rest. No matter what type of numbers a certain player is putting up, if they are a "me" player, that team just won't succeed, it's as simple as that. Look at the Knicks for example, Carmelo is a great scorer but he just isn't a winner and never will be.
15 Miami Heat - Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside finally got rewarded for his work he has been putting in for so long. From just getting a chance with the Heat last year after being out the NBA, to getting a max contract, Whiteside has been through it all. He is a player that every team would love to have. He gets it done on both sides of the ball and is an enormous physical presence that is hard to match-up with down low. Whiteside is much more than an ESPN highlight, he is invaluable to the Heat.
Whiteside will be the man now in Miami since Dwyane Wade is gone. The Heat will have a large adjustment without #3 on the court. The Heat have gone to battle with Wade since 2003, so this season will be a big change and maybe even a little awkward. Wade and the Heat have become synonymous and seeing him on the Bulls will be strange to say the least. Whiteside will be the next to carry the torch.
14 Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo, or otherwise known as, "The Greek Freak" is truly a freak of nature. A man standing almost 7 feet tall is impressive in it's own right but to couple that with a 7' 3" wingspan, he becomes one of a kind. That's not what makes him so great, though. He is huge, but he doesn't play like a big man. Giannis is actually the point guard for the Bucks which will make him the tallest point guard of all time by a long shot. Needles to say, the Bucks point guard will be taller than most other teams' centers.
Having such a tall point guard doesn't automatically equate to success however. A point guard this tall has never really been seen before so Giannis is sort of the test pilot. The league has seen point forwards before such as LeBron James but never a 6'11 point guard. He will truly be the primary ball handler. The Bucks will easily be the longest team in the NBA. Oh yeah, and they have Thon Maker.
13 Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns looks to be the Timberwolves future. It was a really hard decision to choose between Wiggins and Towns, but Towns gets the slight advantage because of his well-rounded game. Wiggins undoubtedly has superstar potential, but Towns shoots better, rebounds better and will eventually score more. Towns has the higher ceiling and I think after winning Rookie of the Year he will come back even more impressive.
Even being a big man, KAT had a better three point percentage than Wiggins, a shooting guard/small forward. While they will both blossom into great NBA players and propel the Timberwolves into the playoffs sooner than later, Towns will ultimately be the man in Minnesota. Another important piece to the T-Wolves, is Kris Dunn, the extremely talented point guard out of Providence. T-Wolves fans shouldn't be worried about who the MVP of their team is, because the entire team has a bright future.
12 New Orleans Pelicans - Anthony Davis
This one should come as a no-brainer. Davis is clearly the most important player on the Pelicans and that is exemplified when he isn't on the court. Davis' presence is extremely missed and the Pelicans don't realize how valuable he really is until he's gone. Buddy Hield is the newest addition to the Pelicans, and while Pelicans fans may think he's the next Kobe, or the Steph Curry, he won't be, at least not next season.
Davis came into the league as a player who had the defensive prowess to dominate on that end of the floor immediately. The Pelicans and the league couldn't even dream of him becoming the offensive threat that he is today. When everyone thought that he could do it all, he worked all summer to add another facet to his game, 3 point shooting. Now Davis can effectively help stretch the floor for the Pelicans. Naturally, this is all predicated on Davis staying healthy, which has been far from given. Did I mention he's only 23 years old?
11 New York Knicks- Joakim Noah
Noah may seem like a strong candidate for MVP of the new look Knicks, but if you think back to a few seasons ago, Noah was one of the top vote getters for the league's MVP. I don't think the Bulls were using Joakim effectively for the past few years but this upcoming season will surely be a bounce back. You may say I'm crazy, but before you do, think about Carmelo. What has he ever won?... Nothing. He may be a great scorer but that's all he is and all he will ever be.
Carmelo is a "me" guy and that has never worked well in the NBA. Melo is satisfied if he gets his, no matter how poorly the team does. It's no wonder Carmelo has never won any championships. Rose can't be the MVP because he hasn't played at a high level since before all of his surgeries so I wouldn't bank on him becoming a superstar again this season. The Knicks will be an interesting team to watch and to see if they gel.
10 Oklahoma City Thunder - Russell Westbrook
Without Kevin Durant, it will be truly interesting to see what kind of numbers Russell Westbrook puts up. I wouldn't be surprised if he averages a near triple-double. The last time Kevin Durant was out and Westbrook was on his own, he erupted, pulling off many triple doubles. Westbrook was once seen as a loose cannon and doing more harm than good, but he has tamed his game into more of a "controlled chaos." Russell's athleticism is unparalleled. The only part of his game that is even close to as strong as his athleticism is his competitive nature and will to win. Westbrook is also very durable and before a few seasons ago, he had never missed a basketball game in his life, high school, college and NBA included. Westbrook was great with Durant but he will be greater without him. It's about time he was set free and given his own team.
9 Orlando Magic - Serge Ibaka
The Magic traded Victor Oladipo to the Thunder along with Ersan Ilyasova and Domantis Sabonis, and I don't think it was a wise decision. They lost their best young player and they got Serge Ibaka in return who is nothing more than a solid veteran. Ibaka does however bring rim protection, which is exactly what the Magic need. Although the move wasn't the best for the Magic, Ibaka is a good fit with Nik Vucevic. Vucevic lacks on the defensive end and that's exactly what Ibaka brings. On the offensive end, Serge is merely a spot-up shooter who stretches the floor and prevents a log jam down low.
Oladipo would have been the MVP had he not been traded and I think the Magic would have been better off growing with him. Ibaka has already reached his full potential, and he won't be growing with the rest of the young Magic team.
8 Philadelphia 76ers - Ben Simmons
The 76ers don't have too many candidates for MVP, so Ben Simmons will be able to walk right into Philadelphia and steal it. Simmons is extremely NBA-ready and one of the top reasons he was the top pick in the draft. He is also the ultimate team player which MVP is all about. Okafor, the next most likely candidate, is only a one-way player, or at least he was last season. In order to be MVP, your overall impact needs to be positive and with Okafor, that still remains unclear.
Embiid could possibly be the MVP, but he hasn't played in a competitive basketball game in two years, so he will undoubtedly be rusty, and the Sixers will ease his way into a lot of minutes. He won't be the most valuable player in the Sixers because he won't play in back-to-back games at least in the beginning of the year, and his play and health are still seriously in question.
7 Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker
Devin Booker had a phenomenal rookie season and I think he will come back this season even better. Last season he averaged 13 points per game and I think that could jump up to nearly 20 ppg this season. He has shown in Summer League this year that his three-point shot is becoming deadly and he has a multitude of ways to score. I think Booker has the brightest future of any player on the Suns and will be their next superstar.
Booker scored more points per game in his rookie season in the NBA than he did in his lone year at Kentucky which really shows how much he grew last season and it is a testament to his work ethic. If he can improve that much in one offseason, he can easily do the same this year. That's why I see Devin Booker becoming the man on the Suns and being the MVP for this upcoming season.
6 Portland Trail Blazers- Damian Lillard
Ever since the Blazers lost veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard has been the man in Portland. This season will be no exception as Damian Lillard will be at the helm for the second straight season. He and C.J. McCollum will be running the show and the young Blazers will be growing every single game. Lillard has always been a fan favorite in Portland ever since getting drafted, and for good reason. He is a great guy and ball player alike.
Allen Crabbe also just resigned with the Blazers but he won't be threatening Damian for the MVP. As long as Lillard stays in Portland, they will be in good hands. He has already proven he has the clutch gene, hitting game-winners and having big fourth quarters. The Blazers will be back at the top soon.
5 Sacramento Kings - DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins is a selfish player and not typically thought of as a winner. With that being said, he is still easily the best and most valuable player on the Kings. He is by far their best rebounder and scorer. The Kings are a sort of dysfunctional franchise so they don't have another player that even compares to a player like "Boogie" Cousins. He has yet to win anything but when he gets some teammates and grows up a little bit, he will be great.
Cousins already has the skillset and size to be one of the best in the league, the only thing he lacks is the right mindset and help. Cousins will become more mature as he ages. Hopefully, with Rondo gone, Cousins won't butt heads with another alpha personality. Then he could really thrive.
4 San Antonio Spurs - Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is already extremely accomplished for his young NBA career. He already has two Defensive Player of the Year awards, a ring, and a Finals MVP. He has such a bright future ahead of him, I expect to see him win a couple of league MVP's and maybe even a couple more DPOY's. Leonard is the epitome of an MVP. He impacts the game in all aspects and is a true team player. He is the prototypical Spur.
Other candidates are LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. These two are great players but they don't bring the same value to each game that Kawhi does. Kawhi will match up against the LeBron and Durant types of the opposing team. He can also lock down guards. No player in the NBA can guard as many positions effectively as Leonard can.
3 Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is a very tough point guard from Philadelphia. Lowry has been an All Star for the past two seasons and looks to be in the prime of his career. Lowry brings a lot of energy to the game and is so important to the Raptors because he runs the offense. DeMar DeRozan was another good choice for MVP, but I gave it to Lowry because he does more than just score. DeRozan is simply on the court to put the ball in the basket. Lowry is much more than that. He dishes, scores and defends.
The Raptors gave the Cavs a good run for their money and a good part of that reason was Lowry. Even though he did have a few rough games, he hit clutch shots, and without him the Raptors would have been swept. The Cavs did end up winning the series, but next year look for the Raptors to be back for revenge.
2 Utah Jazz - Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Two seasons in a row, he has averaged only a point under 20 a game. Not only that, but he hits the boards with 5 rebounds a game and gets his teammates involved with about 4 assists per game. Also, Hayward only missed two games last season which is so valuable. As you know, the best ability is availability. You can have the greatest player ever but if he is constantly hurt, what good is he?
Hayward is a very versatile and reliable player which every team needs. Other players that could have had the MVP are Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Gobert is one of the leagues biggest rim protectors and Favors is your classic big man. Both know their roles and the Jazz are lucky to have them.
1 Washington Wizards - John Wall
There really is no question with this one. John Wall is one of the most explosive players who has the quickest crossovers and changes direction on a dime. He is nearly impossible to guard. Selfish is that last thing that he is. Dishing the ball to to others is one of his favorite things to do on the basketball court. The past two seasons, Wall has averaged 10 assists per game. No one else on the Wizards can even come close to Wall in importance.
Beal is a good 2nd man but comes nowhere near Wall when is comes to the MVP conversation. Wall is the franchise centerpiece and all of their decisions are based on how it will effect him. The Wizards need to get him some help though now that they know KD isn't coming. Sorry Wizards fans, KD isn't pulling a LeBron and coming home.