Head to Head: Handicapping the 2015-16 MVP Race

Who has a shot of winning the Most Valuable Player award in 2015-16? Our writers discuss.

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The NBA season is still a few months away, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start predicting who will win the 2015-16 MVP award. Stephen Curry outpaced James Harden in last season’s MVP race and will look to do so again next season. In today’s Head to Head, Moke Hamilton, Cody Taylor and Jessica Camerato debate who will win the MVP award this upcoming season.

LeBron James

Michael Jordan set a standard that no other NBA player will ever reach. There are many that believe that “voter fatigue” set in after Jordan had won three Most Valuable Player Awards over the course of five years and that he should have won the award over Charles Barkley in 1993 and over Karl Malone in 1997.

Today, one could easily make the same argument with regard to LeBron James. Even without numbers of supporting facts, it is indisputable that James is the “most valuable” of all NBA players. The man is a walking NBA Finals appearance, having brought his team to the promise land five consecutive years and having six total appearances. Of course, James is just 2-4 in those six Finals appearances, but nobody could reasonably blame him for his respective team’s plight.

The question with LeBron is not whether he is the league’s most valuable player (he is), it is whether the voters will vote for him, and I believe that this coming season, they will. The combination of Stephen Curry’s underwhelming performance in the 2015 NBA Finals and the fact that many believed that James should have won the award despite the Cavaliers losing the series, to me, is something that will still be fresh on everyone’s minds. Personally, I believe that sobconsciously, the voters think about things that have occurred in the immediate past and that it impacts their votes.

Case in point: there are many who believe that Kobe Bryant winning the award in 2008 was more a lifetime achievement award than it was due to him being more deserving than Chris Paul. I only bring that up to say that there are some who believe that MVP voting isn’t necessarily always about what happens on the court. Sometimes, it is about principle, and Andre Iguodala’s winning of the 2015 NBA Finals MVP Award may be a testament to that fact.

Regardless, I think that James eventually walks away with the MVP Award because, after coming up short again, I think that the Cavaliers are going to approach this coming season with a sense of urgency that seemed to be missing last season. The goal for them, in all likelihood, will be to win home court advantage throughout the playoffs. In essence, the Cavs will be competing against the Western Conference teams in terms of win-loss record, and I think it is a battle they are inclined to win. The Western Conference is becoming a bit less top heavy, and since win-loss records are a zero-sum game, it is possible that as many as 11 teams could win 48 games out West, especially considering the Anthony Davis-led New Orleans Pelicans are making strides and the return of Kevin Durant bodes positively for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A wise man once told me that predictions are like armpits. Everyone has them, and they all stink. But at this point, one prediction that doesn’t stink is taking LeBron James as your pick to walk away with the 2015-16 NBA Most Valuable Player Award. By the end of next season, the voter fatigue will have worn off and James and his Cavaliers will have crushed their foes in the Eastern Conference. That is, of course, assuming their health. But for now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

– Moke Hamilton

Stephen Curry

It’s not every year that the reigning Most Valuable Player enters the next season not favored to win the award again. But that’s the situation today as Steph Curry is currently behind the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis as favorites for next season’s award.

The criteria for naming an MVP seems to be changing from season to season. Do the voters ultimately make their selection for the best player in the league? Do they choose the player they feel is most important to their team? There is no perfect system in determining a winner, so it’s always a gamble to guess how the voters will go.

We saw in the Finals the argument for James to win the Finals MVP despite not being on the winning team. It was clear he was the best player on the court, but it’s just understood that a player from the winning team will take the award. The argument is also made that a team’s success plays a role in selecting an MVP as well. Many thought Russell Westbrook had a compelling case for MVP last season in the way he carried the Thunder down the stretch without Kevin Durant. The Thunder ultimately missed the playoffs, and Westbrook was shutout of the award after finishing fourth in the voting.

The Warriors had an incredible run last season, and much of that was due to Curry. The Warriors are viewed as one of the deepest teams in the league, but if you take Curry off of that roster, do they have the same success? We saw at times during the Finals that when he struggled to shoot the ball, the team had much of the same struggles. It’s clear that when the Warriors are playing well, their point guard plays a huge role in that. They enter next season as one of the favorites again to win the conference, which will only help strengthen Curry’s case for repeating as MVP. If he puts up similar numbers again next season and the Warriors have another great run, Curry could repeat as MVP.

He’s coming off of a season in which he averaged 23.8 points, 7.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Warriors. He shot 44 percent from three-point range and 49 percent from the field. He elevated his scoring production to 28.3 points per game in the postseason and averaged more rebounds at five per game. He brings an exciting game to the floor and is one of the most likable guys in the league (and don’t forget about Riley). History has shown that players on highly-successful teams have a good chance to win the award, so the MVP race next season could come down to Curry and James.

– Cody Taylor

Anthony Davis

It doesn’t seem to be a matter of if, but when Anthony Davis will win the NBA MVP Award.

In only his third season, Davis became the new face of the league’s most dominant big man. He averaged averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the New Orleans Pelicans as they earned the eighth seed in the Western Conference. His 2.9 blocks topped all players.

Davis, 22, continues to grow in all facets of his game. Since his rookie year, his scoring is up nearly 11 points, his blocks have increased by one per game, his rebounding has risen, and his free throw shooting is up five percent. Given the strides he has made since being the first overall pick in 2012, the ceiling for growth still is high.

Last season Davis finished fifth in the MVP race behind Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. He finished without any first or second place votes, a result that is bound to change this season as no player who ranked ahead of Davis is untouchable in the voting. The league saw a changing of the guard last season when Curry took home the honors. This season it could be another new face, one with a distinctive brow.

– Jessica Camerato

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