The MVP award in the NBA is one of the most coveted and highly respected MVP awards in all of sports. The Hall of Fame potential weight an award carries in basketball exceeds that of any other professional sport. In past years, we've seen revenge tours of season long triple double averages from Russell Westbrook, nightly 40 points performances from the beard, James Harden, and even record 3 point shooting seasons from the Bay Area's Stephen Curry. With the NBA becoming a duos league, many stars such as Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis find themselves in new homes, ready to take the league by storm. Many stars claim they are the best, but who will come out on top in the 2019-2020 season?
While coming up with this list, I ranked the top MVP contenders on a scale using factors such as:
- Narrative: What is the media going to find interesting and story-like in this player's journey before and during the season. The media are the main focus on this topic, as they are the ones voting players for awards in April.
- Team Success: Aside from Russell Westbrook in his 2016-17 campaign. the award has been given to the best player on one of the top 2 teams in their respective conferences. The media views winning as a huge factor in determining the MVP award.
- Individual Performance: The player chosen must have the most impact on his team's success. His contributions must be pivotal for the team to perform at a high level. Last season, Kawhi Leonard had one heck of a regular season run; however, he sat for about a fourth of the Raptors games. The team had very few losses as the result of their best player sitting out, which counted against Kawhi since it was obvious, while he was having a career season, the team didn't need him to win. Most MVPs play in at least 70-75 out of the 82 game season, with many playing all 82 games.
- "We want the new exciting thing" bias: Becoming a repeat, or recent repeat recipient of the MVP award is not impossible; however, the media has not fared well towards players who have just won the award in recent years. It has record setting performances and narratives to become a back-to-back award winner. Stephen Curry most recently clutched this feat in his 2015-16 campaign, averaging 8+ more points and more 3 points than his 2014-15 MVP campaign as well as being on the 73-9 Most Wins Record Warriors.
Notable Mentions (in No Order)
- Paul George LAC: After finishing 3rd among MVP votes last season, George has moved his house to his hometown in LA and will suit up for the LA Clippers in October. While one would think he would have a great narrative for the MVP award, he is going to be over-shadowed by his "Fun Guy" teammate, who also happened to move to the Clippers this off-season. George would have more weight in the race if he stayed in OKC, or got traded to a team such as the Raptors or Heat, where he would have been their best player while having a great supporting cast to contend for a top seed.
- Stephen Curry GSW: The Warriors have became Curry's team once again. After the departure of Kevin Durant, Curry has emerged under Kevin Durant's back to back Finals MVP awards and is the clear leader and best player on this year's Warriors squad. He would be in serious contention for the award if it wasn't for Klay Thompson's ALC injury that will keep him out extended time or the West becoming duos heavy. Golden State is not guarenteed a top seed and trip to the finals anymore with the LA teams becoming powerhouses and Houston reloading with the addition of Westbrook.
- Giannis Antetokoumnpo MIL: If it wasn't for voter fatigue from this past season, Giannis would be easily a top 3 candidate for the MVP award. He is the clear best player on the Bucks, and they cannot win without his on-court presence. He will win another MVP award in the future, just not this upcoming season.
- Kyrie Irving BKN: Kyrie's case is supported by he has a narrative that he wants to prove he can lead a team on his own without the need of a hall of fame talent like LeBron James when he was in Cleveland. With Durant sidelined this season, Kyrie will have the chance he failed to utilize in Boston. The thing that keeps me from moving him up to the ranked list is the win record. While the East is way more open than the West, the Nets won't be contending this season for a top 2 seed. They are built to be dominant force once Durant returns, but as of right now, the Eastern conference belongs to the 76ers, Celtics and Bucks.
- Anthony Davis LAL: This was the toughest omission of all players. He has a narrative, in how he wanted to play for the Lakers all of last season, and now he gets his wish. He finally gets to play on a winning team, something not found in New Orleans. He does not have voter fatigue, and his contributions this year will be critical for the Laker's success, which is projected to be very high in a competitive Western Conference. The only detriment to his case for MVP is LeBron. They will both have nights where one carries the other. The problem is LeBron is one of the most recognized and well known athletes of all time. If the Lakers are doing very well this season, then LeBron will gain more credit naturally since he is still viewed as the best player in the world. It is nearly impossible for a LeBron teammate to get spotlight from such a dominant presence. Just as Kyrie or D-Wade.
5. Nikola Jokic DEN
"Western Conference Semifinals - Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers"
After a stellar 2018-19 season, "The Joker," as commonly called, is poised for another breakout year. The former second round pick has improved every season in the league; moreover, his team as improved each year too. The Nuggets have found something in their system that other teams in the NBA lack today: continuity. Their major additions have not been made through trades or free agency. They grow their team organically from the NBA Draft, and their player developmental approach has seemed to work excellent. The chemistry of this team will help them contend in the loaded west for years to come, and Jokic will be the center of the team's success.
4. Damian Lillard POR
"2019 Playoffs Round 1 Game 5 West 1st Round: Damian Lillard hits series ending shot against OKC" https://cdn.nba.net/nba-drupal-prod/styles/landscape/s3/2019-04/lillard_game_winner.jpg?itok=hX-e8s2M
While the Trailblazers were swept in the Western Conference Finals by the Durant-less Warriors, all anyone can remember from Portland was how they basically ended the Westbrook and George era in OKC and sent them to the re-builder. The person responsible for OKC's death was none other than Damian "Dame Time" Lillard. Similar to Jokic, Lillard's team has remained mostly the same since the end of the 2019 season, which helps with chemistry that will have problems with teams who have restructured themselves this off-season. Lillard will be backed by his new center in Hassan Whiteside, and back-court mate CJ McCollum. If Lillard leads the Blazers to a top 2 team (3rd seed last season) in the stacked west, then he will be receiving many media votes in April.
3. Kawhi Leonard LAC
"Kawhi Leonard and Paul George at Introductory Press Conference" forhttps://images.complex.com/complex/images/c_limit,dpr_auto,q_90,w_720/fl_lossy,pg_1/i2xqy4b7z7dpr6zn2ifq/paul-george-reportedly-requested-trade-to-clippers-to-play-with-kawhi-leonard
After one of the greatest playoff runs in history, Kawhi "The Claw" "Fun Guy" "Board Man" "Quite Man" Leonard created the greatest Clippers vs Lakers rivalry ever seen. As Leonard does not talk much in the media, he lets his game speak for him. His free agency this past year was the most covered NBA summer topic. The Clippers will be favorites for a top 2 seed, will feature Kawhi more than new teammate Paul George, and will not have voter fatigues, since this 2 time Finals MVP has never won the KIA MVP. The only thing going against his case will be "load management," a common phrase seen next to the injruy report when playing in Toronto. If Kawhi plays in 75+ Clipper games and leads them to a better record than the Lakers, then expect him to be a favorite for the MVP award.
2. LeBron James LAL
"LeBron Dunking against the Blazers in his Lakers debut"
LeBron "King" James chose to take his talents to South Beach in 2010 and join the Miami Heat. After a rocky first season, where they "only" lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, James went on to win his 3rd MVP award and his 1st NBA Championship the next season. When he returned to Cleveland in 2014, he had a bumpy first season back where they "only," again, lost to the Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals. That next season, Cleveland secured the 1st seed and the 2016 NBA Fianls against the 73-9 Warriors, one of the greatest performances ever. LeBron once again has taken his talents elsewhere, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers. He had such a tumultuous season, he missed the playoffs for the first time since his sophomore season. People started wondering if LeBron was finally on the decline. Was this the last we would see of prime LeBron James?
Narrative alone propels LeBron to the top 5 MVP candidates. Entering his 17th season, James looks to run through the West with Anthony Davis, arguably the best second option he has ever had. LeBron has also historically performed much better in second seasons with teams after adjusting to a new environment. The voter fatigue is not a factor anymore with LeBron, as he was last voted MVP in 2013 with the Miami Heat. If he can play 70+ games, assert his leadership over Anthony Davis, get a top 2 seed, and more importantly, be better than the Clippers, LeBron could be looking at his 5th MVP award.
1. Joel Embiid PHI
"Joel Embiid dunking over former OKC Point Guard Russell Westbrook" https://cdn.nba.net/nba-drupal-prod/styles/landscape/s3/2018-01/_dotn_9.jpg?itok=6GdaHNNz
One of, if not the most iconic moments of last year's playoffs was Sixers vs Raptors Game 7. 5.1 seconds left on the clock with the score tied. Superstar Kawhi Leonard runs from one corner to the other and throws up a Hail Mary 3 pointer defended by Joel Embiid.
The ball bounces once, twice, 3 times and four times.
Raptors win the series.
Joel Embiid storms to the locker room in disbelief, sadness, and tears.
This summer, Joel "The Process" Embiid's social media profile photo is the view of him crying. He has been absent on social media training and preparing for battle. He has focused 110% of his energy and time to defeat the critics and the rest of the NBA. He has the perfect 2019-2020 KIA MVP resume. His already impressive and comeback narrative is fueled by his massive personality, which might be one of the only things bigger than the 7' 2" center from Kansas. The 76ers are coming off back to back seasons at the 3 seed. With the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, as well as Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Embiid gaining more chemistry, the 76ers are poised to take a top 2 seed in the weaker Eastern Conference. Embiid has also played the backbone of the team. They perform significantly better when he is on the court, and significantly worse when he is absent. He lead the team last season in points, rebounds and blocks. Most importantly, he is one of the most popular superstar athletes who has yet to be in the top 5 of MVP voting. Embiid is in a big sports market in Philadelphia, which will allow him to receive much national media coverage. He is also known as one of the greatest follows on Twitter and Instagram, posting about destroying opponents and trolling haters in a comical way not seen by professional athletes before. An acceptance speech for an MVP award by Joel Embiid would be one of the greatest speeches of all time.
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