The MVP Race: Preseason Rankings
Generally speaking, going into the NBA season, only a couple of MVP candidates really stick out from the crowd.
This is not the case as we enter the 2017/2018 NBA season.
After a wild offseason the entire landscape of the NBA has changed. The Western Conference has become even stronger than before – so much so that the all-star selection process has been completely revamped.
The championship contenders left in the Eastern Conference have undergone massive facelifts, with entirely new rosters. Both the Cavaliers and Celtics only brought back two of a possible five starters from last season.
In terms of the Most Valuable Player, the two leading candidates from last season find themselves with considerably more help than the previous year. James Harden will now be splitting ball-handling responsibilities with Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook has recently welcomed Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to OKC.
With all of the player movement and roster shuffling, trying to predict the 2018 MVP is a very difficult task. Only one thing is really guaranteed this year: this season’s MVP race will be one of the most exciting is years.
1. LeBron James (26.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 8.7 APG, 27.0 PER) With the departure of Kyrie Irving and with Isaiah Thomas expected to miss a large chunk of the season, a lot more is going to be asked of LeBron James. The Eastern Conference is weaker that it has ever been, so the Cavs should be able to rack up the wins this year. Look for the King to make one last run at the regular season MVP award.
2. Kawhi Leonard (25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 27.6 PER) Kawhi has finished third in MVP voting two years in a row, but 2018 might be the year that he finally breaks through. For starters, he may be the only superstar left that isn’t playing with another bona fide star, and with how ridiculously powerful the Western conference has become, Kawhi Leonard should be this season’s MVP if the Spurs remain a top-3 seed.
3. James Harden (29.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 11.2 APG, 27.4 PER) James Harden has to be a frustrated man. If it weren’t for back-to-back all-time great regular season performances from Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, Harden would be going into this season as a two-time MVP. As for this season, if his numbers don’t slide due to the presence of Chris Paul, and the Rockets lock up a 60-win season, Harden may finally finish first in voters’ eyes.
4. Kevin Durant (25.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 27.6 PER) Coming off the most successful season of his career, Kevin Durant still seemed haunted by his move to Golden State throughout the offseason. Regardless, the narrative in the media is starting to change around Durant. Much like LeBron James in 2012, the sting of Durant teaming up with other stars is starting to wear-off. With another stellar performance as a Warrior, Durant may find himself back in the MVP race this year.
5. Russell Westbrook (31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG, 30.6 PER) Replicating his heroics from last season is going to be near impossible, given how much talent has migrated to Oklahoma City this offseason. It remains to be seen how well the Thunder’s new ‘Big 3’ can play together, but if Westbrook can be the defining force that brings this squad together for a successful season, there is still a chance that he can join the exclusive club of back-to-back MVPs.
6. Kyrie Irving (25.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.8 APG, 23.0 PER) Kyrie is finally out of LeBron James’ looming shadow, and now finds himself as the leader of the Boston Celtics. Yes, the Celtics have some other big names, but let’s be honest with ourselves – Horford and Hayward are simply not on the level of a Kyrie Irving. If he can produce similarly to his predecessor, and Boston finish atop the Eastern Conference, you have to like ‘the Kid’s’ chances at securing league MVP.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 26.1 PER) Giannis seems set to break into superstardom this season. He had a phenomenal year in 2016/2017, but who knows if he can get to a level that so few NBA players are able to reach in their careers. A big part of whether Giannis can secure MVP honors will be how much the Milwaukee Bucks can improve this season, and with Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker back for a full season, that looks very promising.
8. DeMar DeRozan (27.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.9 APG, 24.0 PER) DeRozan surprised a lot of people last season by forcing his way into contention for the scoring title. This season, things look a little different for the Toronto Raptors. With some slight boosts to the rotation, perhaps DeRozan can lead this squad to the top of the Eastern conference, especially given that the Cavs and Celtics will be dealing with chemistry issues early on. If the Raps can secure the number 1 seed, DeRozan might be able to secure league MVP.
9. John Wall (23.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.7 APG, 23.2 PER) The Wizards looked poised to jump into title contention this season, especially with how poor the Eastern conference has become. It was overlooked last year, but Wall had career highs in points, assists, steals, and field-goal percentage. If he can continue to improve this season and the Wizards have a surprise jump in the standings, John Wall may finally find himself in the league’s elite come playoff time.
10. Blake Griffin (27.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 5.9 APG, 24.1 PER) Blake Griffin seems ready to move on from his partnership with Chris Paul, and ready to become the undisputed leader of this Clippers squad. They may have lost their best player this offseason, but the Clippers were able to replace him rather nicely with Danilo Gallinari via free agency and the haul of talented rotation players from the Rockets. If this Clippers squad remains in title contention, expect Griffin to get the bulk of the praise.