They are individual awards, but most of them derive from having team success.
The Defensive Player of the Year likely won’t be playing for one of the worst teams in the league. The same is especially true for the winner of the MVP trophy, which is named after Maurice Podoloff, the first commissioner of the NBA. The award has been given out for 65 years and includes only legendary names. Since it began in 1955, every eligible player that has won the award has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The list of candidates for this award are true superstar-caliber players. Circumstances always play a major part in deciding this award though, and that will be no different this season. Many players will have a great case for why they should win it, but ultimately only one can achieve such an accolade.
So what factors could hold candidates back from taking the individual award home? The kryptonite for each candidate is addressed below.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – Odds
The biggest hurdle for the reigning MVP will be improving his outside jump shot. Toronto exposed that element of his game in the playoffs, and it broke Milwaukee. He also needs to work on finishing with his left hand, which was something that disappeared late in games. Winning back-to-back MVP awards is not easy. but it has been done five times since 2002. The Greek Freak has all of the tools he needs to repeat, including the championship-caliber team surrounding him. As long as the Bucks can handle Philadelphia, they should be the favorite to represent the East in The NBA Finals.
Stephen Curry – Team Success
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Warriors are not the favorites out West. With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson presumably out for most of the season, Curry is going to have to do some heavy lifting to keep Golden State from sinking. He had the second-highest usage rate during his record-setting MVP season in 2015-2016. With Durant on the team, he ranked 11th, 10th and 13th. There will certainly be some nights where they just don’t have the collective firepower, but Curry will provide plenty of highlights along the way. Oddsmakers agree, placing him just behind Giannis as the favorite this season.
James Harden – Defense and Efficiency
Harden felt as though he should have repeated as MVP a year ago. The Beard set numerous offensive records over the course of last season on his way to the scoring title. One aspect of the game where Giannis had the edge was on defense. Inefficient shooting has not hurt him before, but now he is playing alongside Russell Westbrook. He will need to improve in that area if Houston is going to be successful. Harden needs to be more effective on the defensive end in order to secure his second MVP award in three seasons.
Kawhi Leonard – Health and Paul George
Last year, Kawhi put the Raptors’ franchise on his shoulders in the postseason. The load management he received likely enabled him to do so, but Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said they do not plan to rest Kawhi as much this year. Staying healthy is the first priority for all of these guys, but now Kawhi will be playing next to the guy that finished third in MVP voting last season. The spotlight will be shared more in Los Angeles than it was in Toronto, which may hurt him in terms of the voting. Still, he stands as arguably the best player in the world and has an excellent chance at earning his first regular-season award to go with his Finals MVP awards.
LeBron James – Age and AD
LeBron is a four-time winner of this award, but has not won it since 2013. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-2006 season, he may have extra motivation to reclaim his spot at the top of the mountain. With Anthony Davis also wearing the purple and gold this year, it will be interesting to see how much load he carries. If he were to win his fifth this season, he would tie Karl Malone and Michael Jordan as the oldest players (35) to win the award. Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only player in NBA history to win the MVP six times.
Anthony Davis – Health
LeBron has stated that the Lakers should run the offense through Davis. It is an excellent idea, given the unstoppable force that The Brow has been in recent years. Even in his odd final season in New Orleans, Davis still averaged 26 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists per game. The two seasons prior to that, he averaged 28 and 12 and played in 75 games each year. Still, he has missed a lot of games due to a variety of injuries over his career. If he can just stay healthy, everything else should fall into place around him.
Nikola Jokic – Conditioning and Statistical Numbers
While Joker is clearly Denver’s most talented player, the roster is arguably the deepest in the league. The Nuggets may reduce his minutes to better condition him for the postseason. Jamal Murray is a great offensive weapon, but Jokic is their most important player on that end of the floor. With the way they move the ball and their balanced scoring attack though, the big man might not have the eye-popping numbers despite all of the triple-doubles.
Joel Embiid – Health
Embiid desperately needs to stay healthy, as he has missed a total of 88 games in his career due to injuries. Philadelphia added Al Horford this summer, which will greatly aid its efforts to rest the seven-footer over the course of 82 games. That could eat into his production, thus hurting his candidacy. Embiid also needs to show that he can perform in crunch time. With Jimmy Butler out of town, and Ben Simmons’ unwillingness to take shots in the clutch, the 76ers should look to feed the big man and see if he can deliver.
There are a number of other guys to consider, such as Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Blake Griffin. The problem with these guys is that they likely will not have the team success that is almost a prerequisite for winning the award. Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are great dark horse picks this year, but Portland and Brooklyn will have to replicate the same success they had last season. Five-Thirty-Eight gives Portland a 36 percent chance of making the playoffs with a projected record of 40-42.
One more factor to take into consideration would be age. Since 1999, only one player has won the MVP award over the age of 29. That was Steve Nash, who did it in back-to-back seasons with the 2005-2006 Suns.
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