NBA PM: 5 Dark Horse MVP Candidates


One of the most polarizing topics to discuss in the NBA is guessing who might win the Most Valuable Player award. The conversation can sometimes get heated among friends, but it’s always fun to speculate who could walk away with the award.

Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis are among the five favorites to take the award next season, according to the Bovada Sportsbook. By virtue of winning the past two awards, there is no doubting that Curry will be the favorite to take home next season’s trophy.

It’s always interesting to see how some of the various sportsbooks view the award races. Two seasons ago when Curry won his first award, he was out of the top 10 in several odds maker’s eyes heading into the season. It just goes to show that any player is capable of taking the leap to become the league’s MVP.

With that being said, here are five players that could win the MVP award despite not having the best of odds to win:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – 16/1 odds:

Despite finishing runner-up last season in the MVP voting, Leonard enters next season with the seventh-highest odds of winning. In only five seasons, Leonard has already accomplished so much. He was named the Finals MVP two years ago. He was an All-Star last season, and he is coming off of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Adding an MVP to his resume would all but complete his trophy case. Leonard is easily the best player on a Spurs team that includes LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs are always a threat to win a championship with Gregg Popovich in charge and, as a result, will help keep Leonard’s chances of winning high.

Paul George, Indiana Pacers – 22/1 odds:

George could very well be the most likely name from this list to take home the award. George came back last season and eliminated any doubt about how he would return from his gruesome leg fracture. He averaged a career-high 23.1 points, seven rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game last season.

It seems very reasonable to think that George will be in the MVP conversation all season long. The Pacers are poised to make an improvement next season after adding more scoring options next to George in Thaddeus Young, Jeff Teague and Al Jefferson. George is arguably one of the best two-way players in the league and should be able to make a strong case to be the MVP.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – 28/1 odds:

Although Bovada’s official odds listing misspelled Lillard’s first name, he should be taken very seriously next season. Whether it was being snubbed from last year’s All-Star game after being the league’s sixth-leading scorer or being left off of Team USA in Rio, Lillard is a player who has consistently been underrated throughout his career and used these snubs as fuel to prove people wrong.

The Blazers surprised many people last year by advancing to the second round of the playoffs and seem ready to build upon that strong run. They added to their core by bringing in Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner, and also re-signed several of their own players. They like their chances in the Western Conference, and that begins and ends with Lillard being an MVP candidate. The days of Lillard being underrated could be coming to an end sooner than later.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – 66/1 odds:

With the Celtics looking to become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, don’t be surprised to see Thomas among the names being considered for next year’s MVP award. Thomas is coming off of a career-year in which he averaged 22.2 points, 6.2 assists, three rebounds and 1.1 steals per game and was named an All-Star.

After posting numbers like that, Thomas is among the players around the NBA who are outperforming their contract since he’ll make just $6.5 million next season. Thomas was the Celtics’ leading scorer last season in the regular season and playoffs, and seems like a safe bet to continue being the team’s best scoring option. If he can build upon his career year, he could find himself in the MVP race next season.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls – 100/1 odds:

Butler is among the players with some of the lowest odds of winning on Bovada’s list, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a shot at winning. The Bulls will have a completely different roster next season after a series of moves this offseason, but this is still Butler’s team. Incoming shooting guard Dwyane Wade has even said as much.

Butler averaged a career-high 20.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals last season to lead the Bulls. Butler is consistently among the top of the league in minutes per game (ranking third in the NBA last season). If the Bulls can remain in the playoff hunt next season, Butler could be a name to look out for (especially if Chicago exceeds expectations).

Honorable Mention:

John Wall, Washington Wizards – 50/1:

Wall could find himself in the hunt if the Wizards can jump back into the playoff picture. He remains the team’s best playmaker and is among the top distributors in the game today. He posted career-highs last season in points (19.9), assists (10.2), rebounds (4.9) and steals (1.9). If he can keep those numbers up, and get help from other players on the team, Wall could be a name to watch.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – 33/1:

If the Cavaliers roster didn’t have a guy named LeBron James on it, Irving’s chances of winning an MVP would be much higher. Irving certainly has proven he is among the league’s best point guards and put aside any doubt out there of how he would perform in big playoff situations. For Irving to have a chance, he’ll need to outperform James next season and put up monster numbers.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers – 22/1:

Next season is going to be a big season for the Clippers. Paul and Blake Griffin can both become free agents next summer and the direction of the franchise will likely hinge on how this season turns out. Paul is consistently in the MVP conversation, as he finished sixth in the voting last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the hunt again next year.

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks – 33/1:

Anthony’s chances of winning an MVP award hinge largely on how much help he can receive from the rest of the team. If the Knicks can remain in the playoff picture next season, Anthony could have a chance if he can put up numbers. Despite adding players in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee among others, the Knicks are still Anthony’s team.


As we’ve seen in recent years, a player’s odds of winning an award generally have no bearing on how the voting will ultimately turn out. It’s easy to see players like Curry, James, Westbrook, Durant and Davis as the favorites to win the MVP award next year, but another player could turn in a career season and win the award. For now, all we can do is speculate how the race could play out.

Did we leave any players out? Hit the comments and let us know!


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About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer entering his fourth season with Basketball Insiders. He covers the league out of Orlando and Miami, focusing on the Southeast Division.

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