With the NBA season right around the corner, it is never too early to project who the season awards are going to go to. Last season, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors took home the regular season MVP trophy for the second straight season, only to fall short of the NBA championship. This season, the race for the MVP trophy is wide open and there should be several players whose names should be mentioned in the discussion. Some of them seem like regulars in the debate, while others will be “rookies” to the dance.
When one thinks of what a league MVP should be, the definition could mean many things. It could be the best player in the league stats-wise. It could be the best player on the best team. It could be a player who does all he can to carry his team on his back. In this article, we will feature a variety of players that are projected to do exactly that this season.
Here is a list of fifteen MVP material players that might very well be in the discussion for the award this season. The list will feature both no-brainers and some names that will make you think more about what makes them an MVP quality player.
15 Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
With the fifteenth and first spot on this list, here is a wild card in the whole MVP discussion. Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves could be in the discussion if (and only if) the Timberwolves have success with their young talented roster and make a run to a playoff berth.
With a core of Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach Lavine, and the newly-drafted Kris Dunn, the Wolves look like they are not too far away from contending in the West. Towns had an impressive rookie season, in which he averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. With all the young talent the Wolves have, it is hard to find any reason why he cannot be an MVP type player this season in their system.
14 Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
This player is a “why not?” pick in the MVP discussion. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks went from being booed when he was drafted last summer to being loved at the end of the season.
During the 2015-16 campaign, the Knicks player made a solid case to be named Rookie of the Year, but was beaten out by the guy in the 15th spot on our list. This season, Porzingis is going to be teaming with Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in New York to try to bring the Knicks back to the promise land, something that seems like the Knicks have been trying for years now, but constantly fall short of.
No matter the case, the Knicks should be fun to watch this season and with three viable MVP-caliber players donning the blue and orange, the sky is the limit for them this season... if everyone stays healthy.
13 DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
This player’s MVP hopes will depend on his team doing anything positive around him this season. DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings is an MVP-caliber player who just plays on a bad team. If he was on any other team, he could be a consistent contender for the league MVP, but playing for the Kings, he never seems to get the chance to prove that.
When a player puts up 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, there is no reason he should not be in the league MVP discussion, unless he plays for a really bad team. The Kings have not been relevant since 2005-06, which was the last time they made the playoffs and it's sad to see how they are wasting Cousins’ talent. He does let his emotions show, but when you are frustrated with your team, it is hard not to.
There have constantly been talks about the team looking to trade Cousins, which would benefit him a lot.
12 Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
Sometimes, a player might need new surroundings to rejuvenate his career. Derrick Rose will surely have a chance to do that when he suits up for the New York Knicks this coming season. After playing his entire career with the Bulls, we saw him win the MVP at the start of his tenure there, but also saw him go down with injuries.
Chicago traded him to the Knicks in hopes of starting their rebuild. Being in a new city and surrounded by new players like Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, he may be re-energize and play at the MVP level that he was at before he caught the injury bug. If he can do so, expect D-Rose to be reinserted in the MVP debate. Halfway through the season, we'll get a good sense of how it's going to be for Rose.
11 DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Talk about loyalty! During this past free agency period, DeMar DeRozan could have gone to any team that he wished, but he did not even meet with any teams and resigned with the Raptors to keep them as a perennial contender in the East.
They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals last season before losing to the eventual NBA champion Cavaliers in six games. DeRozan then played on the gold-medal winning Team USA basketball team this past summer at the Olympics in Rio, so he could actually improve with some of his experience playing international basketball to help the Raptors bypass the Cavaliers and get to the Finals (we know it's a long shot, but you never know!).
The Raptors are Canada’s only hope for an NBA Title. Can DeRozan help the Raptors deliver the country an NBA championship? If so, he would surely be in the race for the MVP.
10 Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
The newly-signed Bull, Dwyane Wade, has made it clear on several occasions whose team the Bulls are: they're Jimmy Butler’s team. Butler has become one of the best players in the league over the last couple years and has been seen as the best player on the Bulls. Now with Wade and Rajon Rondo wearing the red and black of the Bulls, many fans seem to think that Butler will take a backseat to them.
Wade and Rondo have played with Big 3s before, so they know what it takes to work in a trio like this. Expect them to let Butler take the reins as the star and help him carry the team. The Bulls went into this off-season thinking about unleashing a rebuild, but came away with Rondo and Wade in free agency. If this team makes the playoffs, expect Jimmy Butler to be around the MVP conversation.
9 Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
When you are mentioned as possibly being the best point guard in the league, there is no reason you cannot be in the MVP discussion. Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers is one of the most explosive players in the league and he is the man in Portland. That was made official when LaMarcus Aldridge left for the Spurs in free agency last off-season, a move that made many critics thought would usher in a rebuilding period for the Trail Blazers.
By their play last season, that proved not to be the case. Lillard led the Blazers to the fifth seed in the playoffs before losing to the Warriors in the West Semifinals. If the Blazers continue their play and prove to be a contender this season, Lillard will be in MVP talks far and wide.
8 James Harden, Houston Rockets
With Superman out of town, who are the Rockets going to call to carry the team? The answer is The Beard a.k.a James Harden. New coach, Mike D’Antoni, has said in recent days that Harden will serve as the team’s full-time point guard, which means that he will have his hands on the ball even more.
Like Russell Westbrook, Harden will benefit from not having to share the spotlight with another Superstar and have it all to himself. He did not like playing third fiddle to Durant and Westbrook during his time in Oklahoma City and he was the man in Houston until the team signed Dwight Howard, who tried to shoulder his way in. Now that Howard has gone home to Atlanta, Harden is the man again in Houston and fans can expect big things from him.
7 Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Now you are probably asking yourself, “How could Kyrie Irving win the MVP when he is not the best player on his team?” Yes, Kyrie has played Robin to LeBron’s Batman the last two years, but Kyrie has what it takes to be the MVP of the league.
He is the point guard and has the ball in his hands unless LeBron is bringing it up the floor. Before LeBron got to Cleveland, Kyrie was the man, so he knows how to be the man. If something happens to LeBron, Kyrie will be counted on to carry the load and fill the void left by LeBron being out of the lineup.
The Cavaliers should be happy where they stand in the league because of the fact that they have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who could both be brought up in any MVP discussion.
6 Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
With Tim Duncan retiring and Manu Ginobili, along with Tony Parker, getting up there in age, who is Gregg Popovich going to look at to keep the Spurs’ dominance going? The answer is Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard has been a bright spot for the Spurs since they traded George Hill to the Pacers for his draft rights on the night of the draft in 2011.
In just his third season, he helped lead the Spurs to the NBA championship over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and was named the Finals MVP. He has always seemed to be a thorn in the side of LeBron James when he is matched up with him defensively, which is no small feat.
With Duncan gone, it seems like the Spurs need to start looking to the future and with Kawhi Leonard, along with LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs’ dominance does not seem to have an end in sight.
5 Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Now that he has got players around him, it is time to see if Carmelo Anthony can play at an MVP level and lead the Knicks where they want to go.
Ever since he has been in New York, the talk has been about bringing a title contender back to Madison Square Garden. Carmelo had his chance to go to a contender last off-season when he was a free agent, but decided against going to a team like the Bulls, to continue playing for his hometown Knicks.
A year later, Phil Jackson and the Knicks front office brought the Bulls to Carmelo by acquiring Derrick Rose in a trade and signing Joakim Noah during free agency. Add them to a supporting cast that already has Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks have a formidable team. Now, it is time to see if Melo has what it takes to be the league’s MVP.
4 Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
After having to share the spotlight with Kevin Durant his whole career, Russell Westbrook will finally be a no-brainer in the MVP debate this season. With Durant out of the picture in Oklahoma City, it is Westbrook’s team. We have seen what Westbrook can do with Durant on the floor and we wonder if his numbers will be even more eye-popping now that Durant has moved on to Golden State.
The team also traded fan favorite Serge Ibaka to Orlando and got Westbrook a backcourt running mate in return in Victor Oladipo. Oladipo can score the ball, but not anywhere close to the level that Durant can, so that shouldn’t hurt Westbrook’s case too much.
You will hear Westbrook’s name in the discussion even if the Thunder are not a contender in the West.
3 Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant is this high on the list because many see him as the best player in the league behind LeBron, with some even saying he is better than LeBron.
Like Steph Curry, playing on a team with the talent that the Warriors have will hurt Durant’s case for the MVP because it will be debated that his success could be because of all the talent that is around him. It will not be like it was for Durant in Oklahoma City, where he and Russell Westbrook were the two stars that got their shots and wanted the ball in their hands. In Golden State, Durant will have to share with Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the Warriors.
A better question is how are teams going to be able to defend the Warriors with so many weapons on the floor at once?
2 Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
You are probably wondering why Steph Curry, the two-time defending MVP, is behind LeBron on this list. Like we mentioned above, over the past two seasons, Curry was the best player on his team, which was the best team in the regular season both seasons. Now with Kevin Durant donning the blue and yellow Warriors uniform, some of the spotlight will be taken off of Steph.
Curry is by far one of the best players in the league, but with all of the talent around him in Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, it will be kind of hard to point him out as the best player on the team. He will still be in the debate, however, because he is the “quarterback” of the Warriors and will have the ball in his hands most plays.
1 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
It seems like you cannot have a MVP discussion without bringing up LeBron James. That would be like having a debate about who should be the league MVP when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, or Wilt Chamberlain played and not mentioning any of them in the discussion.
LeBron is coming off doing what he said he came home to do and that was bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy to Cleveland. This season, he will be looking to deliver back to back championships to The Land just like he did in South Beach during 2011 and 2012 with the Heat. After losing out on the MVP to Steph Curry the last two years, look for LeBron to step his game up and try to win the MVP and the NBA Championship this upcoming season.