With the 2017-18 NBA season right around the corner, it’s hard not to look ahead and make predictions about which players are most likely to break out.
The league is currently full of young stars who have been putting up huge numbers and on the verge of superstardom.
The NBA MVP award is the most coveted trophy for any individual NBA player. It has never exactly been the award given out to the league’s best player every year, when you consider that Michael Jordan and LeBron James didn’t win it every season and Kobe Bryant only won it once. But rather, it’s an award given to the best season, often one in which the player greatly improved from the year before and is also boosted with a great narrative (See Russell Westbrook last season).
That’s why it’s not so easy to just pencil in LeBron or Kevin Durant every year to win the MVP. You’re better off trying that out if you want to predict the NBA Finals MVP. When it comes to the regular season MVP, voters have proven to prefer new blood with new storylines.
So after one of the busiest offseasons in NBA history, let’s take a look at the 10 players with the best chance to win their first ever MVP award this season. Starting off with…
10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The Process has been trusted so far and it may be time for it to finally pay off.
Embiid inked a maximum rookie scale contract extension this week that will pay him $146.5 million over the next five seasons despite playing in just 31 games so far in his career.
But it doesn’t take long to see why Philly is perfectly fine gambling on Embiid’s health with that much money.
In his preseason debut last night, Embiid threw up 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a block in just 15 minutes. He got to the free throw line 18 times in that span, making 14 of those.
Last season when Embiid finally got on the floor, he averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 blocks and made 1.2 triples in 25.4 minutes a night. Those numbers when adjusted to per-36 actually rival the likes of Wilt Chamberlain.
This is obviously just a sad story if Embiid can never stay on the floor enough. But if he can, and with the Sixers also getting Ben Simmons back from injury this season, Embiid may be able to lead this team into the postseason in a pretty weak Eastern Conference. What a story that would be and think just how much the MVP voters would love it too.
9. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
The next great passing center is already among us and his name is Nikola Jokic.
Jokic may very well go down in history as one of the best passing centers ever, joining the likes of Bill Walton. Last season with the Nuggets, he averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists and shot 57.8 percent from the field. He only played 27.9 minutes per night so it’s his per-36 numbers that have really jumped out to those projecting him to take another lead this season.
When you make that adjustment, Jokic’s line becomes: 21.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks.
Now, big men in limited minutes have traditionally had pretty insane per-36 numbers but Jokic may be different. he truly showed a potential to rise to an All-Star level of play last season and effectively revolutionized the Nuggets.
Denver has some interesting young pieces surrounding him still and it added Paul Millsap as well. That may be enough for them to contend for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and if they pull that off with Jokic keeping up that level of production in increased minutes, he will be part of that MVP conversation.
8. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
While the first two bigs on this list were pretty long shots, it’s time to get down to the real candidates.
Karl-Anthony Towns is just that and it’s almost surprising he’s only eighth on this list. Just look at what he did after the All-Star Break last season: 28.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 59.7 field goal percentage.
Yes, those are MVP-caliber numbers.
Towns did that on a team with no playoff hopes during that time, so it’s a totally different story to do it for a full season. But if he can get close to those, he should be in the conversation. The Timberwolves are projected to compete for the fifth seed in the West thanks to the addition of Jimmy Butler. If they can legitimately do that and Butler aids Towns in being more efficient, that narrative surround KAT will have him in the conversation for sure.
7. Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
This season begins a new era for the Clippers with Chris Paul departing for the Houston Rockets. The new alpha dog will now unquestionably be Blake Griffin.
Griffin has played well without CP3 in the past, finishing third in the MVP voting in 2014 when Paul missed most of that season due to injury. Without Paul in the lineup since then, Griffin has averaged 21.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists per 36 minutes.
Griffin should be asked to do more than ever now and he could benefit from a narrative if he keeps the Clippers relevant despite the loss of Paul. If they end up really surprising people and competing for home court in the first round of the playoffs, it’ll be because of Blake and MVP voters will notice.
6. John Wall, Washington Wizards
John Wall had his best season ever last season under new head coach Scott Brooks. He helped lead the Wizards to a 49-33 record, which was good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. They were just four games back of the top-seeded Boston Celtics, however, and if they can catch up in Year 2 under Brooks, Wall will surely be a candidate for MVP.
He averaged 23.1 points, 10.7 assists and 2.0 steals a night last year. Those numbers are honestly good enough for an MVP on a top-seeded team.
Team success is practically the only obstacle for Wall to have a real shot of winning this thing. The Wizards aren’t that far off from really breaking out and Brooks has experience helping young teams do exactly that.
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Two big factors are in the way of Davis ever winning the MVP: health and team success.
Take those out of the equation and Davis’ numbers speak for themselves. He put up 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals a night last season, all while shooting 50.5 percent from the field.
The Pelicans are an interesting team right now that will really have to prove they can be taken seriously. The addition of DeMarcus Cousins last season didn’t exactly make them a playoff team, and that experiment may not be lasting too much longer.
The team is deprived of outside shooting this year, really leaving Boogie and Davis as its best two 3-point shooters in the starting lineup. The negatives could ultimately benefit Davis’ MVP chances if the stars align.
Davis may be asked to make more plays and shoot more threes than ever before, which will only enhance his already video game-like numbers. If the Pelicans figure all this out and Davis throws up historic numbers, he’ll get some run in the MVP conversation.
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
One thing MVP voters have always loved is a player heading to a new team and then taking it to the next level.
Kyrie Irving has the perfect opportunity to do just that this season with the Boston Celtics.
Irving shocked the NBA world requesting a trade from the Cavaliers this summer, despite going to three straight NBA Finals with the team that drafted him. Joining the Eastern Conference rival Celtics adds another juicy storyline to this NBA season.
Irving has yet to be truly tested leading a team of his own. The Cavs never amounted to much prior to LeBron James’ return. But the situation is different in Boston.
The Celtics boast a much more ready lineup for Irving to thrive in than the pre-LeBron Cavs and also brought in Gordon Hayward this summer to help lessen the load for Irving.
The offense will remain tailor-made for Irving to thrive in as a scorer but also a playmaker, an area he has yet to excel in yet in his career.
Let’s say Irving gets his averages to 27 points and eight assists per night while Boston storms through the East and finishes with the one seed again. That might be just enough for Kyrie to be bringing home is first MVP award.
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last year’s runner up can’t quite be considered the favorite this season after Chris Paul was acquired this offseason.
It’s unknown yet exactly how the two will mesh side-by-side, although they have looked pretty good int he preseason so far. While the team may end up having a better record for it, and potentially challenging for the best record in the Western Conference, Harden won’t have to do as much and inevitably his numbers will drop.
But they still may not drop much and if he ends up being more efficient with CP3 next to him and the Rockets are winning more, there’s no reason to think he still won’t be considered an MVP candidate. Throw in some potential sympathy from voters who think he should have won last season, and Harden could very well win it this year.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
You don’t get much more boring than the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, right? Well, wrong, if you actually watch them.
Leonard took a huge step last season emerging as the Spurs’ No. 1 scoring option while remaining the premiere perimeter defender in the NBA. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 38.0 percent from three.
Leonard actually saw his efficiency dip with the increased load, but maybe this season he figures it out a bit better, has those shooting numbers rise and still scores nearly 26 a night.
If he pulls that off, there will be no reason to doubt Leonard as an MVP candidate. Throw in the fact that the Spurs will always challenge for the best record in the league, and they may be just one injury to a Warriors away from Leonard winning his first MVP.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Freakish numbers are all the fad these days and who better to put them up than the Greek Freak?
Giannis Antetokounmpo is everyone’s favorite highlight reel. His unique ability to sliver through defenses, use only three dribbles to go the length of the floor and also play with as much intensity as anyone in the league is enough to put him in the MVP conversation.
Giannis has one weakness, an outside shot but if he figures it out, it’s effectively game over for the rest of the league. Other than Russell Westbrook, Giannis is your best bet to average a triple-double and put an entire team on his back.
He averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists a night last season. He’ll need to probably hit 25 points per game and maybe get the assists up a bit too to really have a shot at the MVP. He’ll only be 23 this season, so that kind of leap isn’t hard to imagine. If he pulls it off, he should also pull the Bucks up the Eastern Conference standings. If they compete for a top spot there, Giannis will be competing for the MVP as well.