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Steph Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, NBA MVP candidates

5 way-too-early 2021 NBA MVP candidates, ranked

The 2019-20 NBA season is officially in the books, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning the championship, marking the end of one of the longest and most challenging seasons in league history. Throughout the season, several individual players stood out, but in the end, it was Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo who took home his second straight MVP award. 

A lot can still happen between now and the start of the next season, which likely won’t be until 2021. However, that won’t prevent us from speculating on what it could hold for some of the league’s best players. From former MVPs returning from injuries to fresh faces to perennial contenders, here are five likely MVP candidates for the 2020-21 season:

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

2019-20 averages: 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 46.3% FG, 31.6% 3FG

After winning the Rookie of the Year award, expectations were high for the 21-year-old Doncic. But few expected him to be as good as he was during his second season, which saw him become an All-Star, MVP candidate, and a member of the All-NBA First Team. More importantly, the former EuroLeague champion led the Dallas Mavericks back into the playoffs, giving the Los Angeles Clippers all they can handle in the first round before losing in six games. And it looks like he’s only getting started.

Derrick Rose was the youngest player to win the NBA MVP award, which he did at 22 years old during the 2010-11 season. Doncic can actually do it sooner provided that he builds on his strong sophomore season, which he will in all likelihood. The Mavericks, however, will need to be among the best teams in the tough Western Conference to strengthen the Slovenian’s MVP case. Rose won the award after leading the Chicago Bulls to the top seed in the East. If Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of his teammates can help Dallas become one of the best teams in the West, then it should bolster Doncic’s ascent to the league’s most prestigious individual award. 

4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 averages: 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 52.1% FG, 35.3% 3FG 

The Brooklyn Nets finished last season with a 35-37 record, making the playoffs as the seventh seed before being promptly swept in the first round by the Toronto Raptors. The Nets, however, are expected to be one of the title contenders next season, and the return of Kevin Durant is a big reason why.

The 10-time All-Star hasn’t played since suffering an Achilles tendon injury in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals back when he was still with the Golden State Warriors. After the Warriors lost the series to the Raptors, the 32-year-old left to join the Nets with Kyrie Irving, forming one of the league’s most talented and intriguing star tandems.

After spending a full season to recover, Durant will look to return to his deadly form and turn the Nets into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. With a fellow champion in Irving as his co-star, a talented supporting cast around them, and a new head coach in Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash, the two-time Finals MVP is primed for a strong comeback. Expect him to contend for the MVP award, which he won six years ago when he was with Oklahoma City.

Perhaps the only thing that can prevent him from winning the MVP award is the possibility that he might sit out some of their games as the Nets preserve him for what is expected to be a deep playoff run. 

3. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

2018-19 averages: 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 40.2% FG, 24.5% 3FG

Like his former Warriors teammate Durant, injuries limited Curry to just five games last season. With Durant joining the Nets and Klay Thompson expected to miss the entire season with an ACL injury, Curry was expected to carry the load for the Dubs before he went down with an injury of his own. Without the two-time NBA MVP, Golden State limped to a league-worst 15-50 record. But with the return of Curry, Thompson, together with fellow All-Star Draymond Green and the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, the Warriors will enter the new season with championship aspirations, with the six-time All-Star expected to lead the charge. 

The Warriors are expected to be one of the Lakers’ rivals in the Western Conference, and Curry will likely be in the thick of the MVP conversation along with James. He already has two Maurice Podoloff trophies after winning the MVP in 2015 and 2016 and becoming the league’s only unanimous MVP. Without Durant, Curry will need to do more for the Warriors, which only bodes well for his chances of winning the award. For the past year, Golden State has been left out of discussions regarding the league’s best teams. With Curry and his Splash Brother back on board, this may be the time to remind everyone of just how devastating they were. 

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

2019-20 averages: 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 49.3% FG, 34.8% 3FG

“I want my damn respect too.”

This is what James said after leading the Lakers to the NBA title and winning his fourth championship and Finals MVP. Throughout the season, even as the Purple and Gold vaulted to the top of the Western Conference on the strength of James and Anthony Davis, the 35-year-old still felt slighted. This was only amplified when he finished second in the MVP race. But in the playoffs, the four-time MVP proved that he still has a lot left in the tank, and that he should never be doubted, even in his 17th year in the league. With LeBron leading the way, Los Angeles not only won the franchise’s 17th title, but did so in dominant fashion. 

With the Lakers entering the new season as title favorites, James will be in line to win his fifth MVP, which will tie him with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. He hasn’t won the award since his days with the Miami Heat, and the presence of Davis, who is a top-five player in the league and also an MVP candidate, might hurt his chances of winning the award. But as he has proven throughout his career, James should be counted out at one’s own risk, and he may turn in a season for the ages that will make it hard to deny James his fifth MVP trophy. 

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

2019-20 averages: 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 55.3% FG, 30.4% 3FG

What started as the perfect season for Antetokounmpo ended in a stunning second round exit at the hands of the Heat. Giannis won his second straight NBA MVP and won the Defensive Player of the Year award, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win both trophies in the same year. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to the league’s best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and seemed destined for his first title. But somehow, the Bucks suffered another early playoff exit, which should give Antetokounmpo all the motivation he needs heading into the new season. 

The Greek Freak is only just 25 years old, and yet he could win his third straight MVP award, which would make him the first player to pull off the feat since Larry Bird did it from 1983-86. As good as Antetokounmpo already is, he can only get better next season, which would put him in front of the MVP race once more. It’s hard to surpass the dominance on both ends that he displayed during the regular season, but the playoff disappointment of the past year and a desire to finally become a champion should light a fire under him as he looks to lead the Bucks to another strong season.