The 2016-17 NBA season is almost upon us, a season that will see the Cleveland Cavaliers finally defend the NBA title that LeBron James brought them after so many seasons. Many offseason storylines will come into play this year, with the debuts of rookie stars like Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, and the super team that the Golden State Warriors have become by acquiring former MVP Kevin Durant.
This year will also see Steph Curry defend his MVP crown after a year in which he led the league in scoring and took the Warriors to an NBA record 73-9 win-loss record, which means there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders. So who, if anyone, will emerge to challenge and dethrone Curry from his dominant run as MVP?
Here are 15 potential candidates to win the NBA MVP award in the upcoming season.
15 Karl Anthony Towns
Although he was the Rookie of the Year a season ago, KAT proved that he was dominant and talented enough to be one of the most impressive young players the league has seen in a long time. This young Minnesota team filled with talent has the potential to be a surprise playoff team in 2017, and if they do make the top 8 in the deep Western Conference, Anthony Towns will be right in the middle of it. While a true shot at the NBA Most Valuable Player could be years away for KAT, there is no doubting he is a player on the rise and one to look out for in this league, and with Anthony Wiggins and Ricky Rubio by his side, and Kevin Garnett to mentor him, the sky is the absolute limit.
14 John Wall
When John Wall broke into the league, he looked like someone who could carry a franchise to the finals while winning multiple MVP’s, but with Bradley Beal by his side, Wall has fallen short in every season so far, despite obvious improvements. The Wizards with Wall, Beal and Otto Porter have all been labeled a team on the rise full of young stars, but this season is the year that Wall has to step up and be the superstar he was destined to be. His shooting stroke has improved steadily year by year, and there are few if any PG’s in the East who can match his pure speed and talent, and if the Wizards are ever to make a run, 2016 will be the year, led by John Wall.
13 DeMar DeRozan
One of two Raptors on this list, DeRozan has improved out of sight in recent years, and with the team getting closer and closer to the Eastern Conference Finals, this could be the year that DeMar finally puts his stamp on the NBA. He exploded into a superstar in the year 2016 and the Rio Olympics, showing athleticism and hops unmatched by many in the NBA today, and with a solid team around him, with fellow MVP candidate Kyle Lowry, this could be the year for both Derozan and the Toronto Raptors. Whether he wins the MVP or not, DeRozan should continue his improvements into one of the best Shooting Guards in the NBA, and will play a key part in the Raptors hopeful, deep playoff run.
12 Anthony Davis
Last season was one where most people expected Anthony Davis to break out as a once in a generation, dominant talent, and although he played well all season, failed to meet expectations. The young big man has all the skills of any player in the league, and after making several improvements to his personal game, as well as the Pelicans gaining key players (including Buddy Hield in this draft), this year might finally be the one where Anthony Davis puts his mark on the NBA and makes it his league.
11 Damian Lillard
Lillard is an example of just how deep the Point Guard position is in the NBA, particularly the Western Conference, and it shows just how much he has to overcome if we wants to claim this award, but he has the talent and the players around him to surprise everyone and claim his first MVP. Ever since breaking out as a star in his rookie year, Lillard has been as consistently brilliant as any PG in the NBA, and proved how good of a finisher he was in the post season, and while the Blazers may not be as good as they have in the past few years, Lillard could take over and lead this team to the playoffs. Damian is another young player who will be top 5 in the league in the future, so his MVP hopes may be a bit far off yet, but anything can happen in the NBA.
10 Carmelo Anthony
Melo has been a superstar since he entered the NBA in Denver a decade ago, but has always fallen short of contending for an NBA title or an MVP for one reason or another, and 2016 may be his final shot at the MVP award with a revamped Knicks team around him. With the team acquiring Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, Melo finally has a team assembled around him that could lend itself to both team and personal success. While the Cavs, Celtics and Raptors all look to be tough competition in the East, Melo’s incredible scoring ability could surprise everyone this year as the Knicks finally look like contenders. This may not happen with the injury situation he has gone through over the past several years, but a fully healthy Melo surrounded by all that talent, it’s now or never for his MVP chances.
9 Draymond Green
Draymond Green is one of three Warriors on this list, which is telling of just how strong the super team is, but may hurt all three players chances of winning the MVP award. Draymond put up historic numbers in 2015/16, and showed that he is one of the most versatile and all around talented players in todays NBA, and with another weapon in Kevin Durant on the team, Green may play an even larger role with lesser defense on him. With a versatility only matched by LeBron James, there is a possibility, with the defense focused on his teammates that Green rises above his team as the most valuable member, with a case to be made that he is already the most valuable Warrior come clutch, tough, post season play.
8 James Harden
While the Rockets may have had a down year this past season, Harden was at his best with the ball in his hands, and although his defense is still a major liability, Harden will always be in the MVP conversation. Ever since leaving the Thunder via trade several years ago, Harden has made the Rockets team his, and with the departure of Dwight Howard and all his distractions, they can focus on James and giving him the ball, because the team will always have a chance to win when the beard has the ball. With the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs and Warriors all realistically ahead of the Rockets, if not more teams, it will be a struggle to reach the playoffs for Houston, but led by the offensive brilliance of James Harden, anything can happen.
7 Chris Paul
CP3 is often underrated with the outstanding play from Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry, but is one of the most gifted PG’s in the league, and this could be the year the Clippers put it all together, and if they do, Paul will be at the heart of the attack. Alongside his ‘Lob City’ running mates Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have one of the most impressive offensives in the NBA, and with time winding down on his career, this may be his final shot at an MVP. While his defense and stature has always worked against him to a degree, Paul has amazing handles and an ability to find teammates from any position on the court, he is a true, classic point guard who will always be involved in the MVP conversation.
6 Kevin Durant
KD has become one of the biggest villains in the NBA this past offseason, by leaving his Thunder to join the dominant Golden State Warriors, who now have a super team, combining KD with Curry, Thompson and Green. Make no mistake about it, the Warriors will be the most dangerous team in the entire NBA, and KD will play at an MVP level, but with the rest of the talent surrounding him, there is just other candidates who will deserve the award more. With Curry and Thompson especially, the Warriors may be the best 3-point shooting team of all time, and are expected to reach their third straight finals, but there is more deserving players to win MVP, so don’t expect any Warriors player to take the honor.
5 Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry has been a great player in the league for several years, but in 2016 showed the killer instinct that took the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals, and made him one of the best statistical point guards in the entire NBA, up there with Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. This Raptors team is full of talent, and there isn’t a thing Lowry can’t do on a basketball court, which could help him on his way to his first career MVP award, especially if the team can replicate its success from a year ago. Kyle could use some work on the defensive side of the ball, but his passing and scoring ability make him another huge threat for the Raptors team on offense, so look for him to get even better as this teams chemistry and other players progress.
4 Kawhi Leonard
Although he has been one of the most consistent players in the NBA over the last several years, Leonard is always under rated among the greats in the game for one reason or another, but the upcoming season could be the time to prove he is a stand out player in this generation. With the Spurs dealing with the loss of legendary Tim Duncan, 2016/17 is the year the Leonard may stand up and prove he is the man, as he has improved out of sight on both sides of the ball each year he has been in the league. He has also proven that he is clutch in the big moments, winning Finals MVP several years ago, so look for Leonard to be the most consistent player this year, with an MVP not too far away.
3 Stephen Curry
The reigning MVP had a spectacular 2015-16 season, which saw his team reach the best win total in NBA single season history, and has become the most polarizing talent in basketball, but with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and now Kevin Durant all by his side, this team is too talented to allow one may to score enough to reach the MVP award. That isn’t to say Curry won’t have a great year, because he will, and the Warriors will no doubt dominate on their way to the Finals for a third straight year, but there is just too many talented players on this team for Curry to get the award. Expect his play to be at an MVP level, but there just so happens to be another Point Guard out West looking for revenge who may just come and steal it from him.
2 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook gained sympathy from millions of fans after Kevin Durant left him to join the powerhouse Warriors, and there is no doubt that in 2016-17, he will play with an added chip on his shoulder, as he looks to prove what many people have thought about him for years; he is the best player in the NBA when given a team all to himself. From scoring to passing to rebounding to defending, Russ can do it all, and will be motivated to reach the finals to take revenge on KD and the Warriors who ousted the Thunder from the playoffs a season ago. Look for 0 to play angry and aggressive, and who knows, maybe a running partner in Victor Oladipo could be just the thing the Thunder need to challenge the Warriors. Either way, Russ will be a favorite to take home the MVP award.
1 LeBron James
With Steph Curry and KD stepping up in recent years, it’s been a while since LeBron tasted an MVP award, especially with the changes he has had to make moving back to Cleveland, but after bringing his home town their first ever NBA trophy, it seems as though the King could be even more motivated than ever, and that is quite scary for a weaker Eastern Conference. A sharper connection with his now NBA Champion team mates will help, but as usual LeBron will dominate his way into the history books, and will make him one of the most accomplished players in the history of the NBA. The King has already won an admirable 4 MVP’s, but a fifth and six which are almost a guarantee at this point would put him where he belongs, among the all time greats in the game of basketball.