The NBA MVP race in 2012-13 has many threats to its two leading contenders, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
With respect to those two players, a question arises as to whether the media will factor Durant's "overdue" tag into next year's vote (a la Karl Malone over Michael Jordan in 1997).
Although Durant has posted monstrous offensive numbers for a very successful Oklahoma City Thunder team the last two years, he has yet to win an MVP award.
Can any of the other candidates supplant James and Durant for the trophy instead, and just what will it take for them to do so?
The following segment predicts the top 10 NBA MVP candidates for the 2012-13 season. Because the MVP award and a candidate's team record goes hand in hand, the latter is predicted as well.
George will break through as one of the best all-around NBA players in the 2012-13 season. Last year, George's numbers over 36 minutes (he only played 29 minutes a game in his sophomore season) bespoke of a young player on the verge of stardom: 14.7 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 SPG, 39 percent three-point shooting.
The 22-year-old George's offensive game is already versatile and with considerable upside. George can penetrate the paint, play above the rim, and hit three-pointers at a respectable percentage.
He has also established himself as one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league; George's defensive rating (100) in 2011-12 just missed the NBA's top 20.
The Pacers will be returning this fall with almost their entire lineup from last season when they advanced within two games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Expect the still young but increasingly experienced Pacers squad to have a 50-plus win season and for a matured George to be their leader at both ends of the floor.
There's no doubt that Westbrook will do his fair share of explosive scoring, average his usual 23-24 points a game, pound his chest after ferocious dunks and acrobatic "And-1s," and be an integral part of Oklahoma City's impressive regular season.
However, for MVP vote purposes, unless Westbrook somehow finds a way to perform more consistently against grinding half-court defenses (e.g., he shot about 32 percent against Memphis, Miami, and Indiana in last year's regular season), his teammate Kevin Durant will still be considered by and far the better MVP candidate.
Anthony has built a reputation as being one of the best scorers in the NBA, and his impressive 18 PPG average in the 2012 London Olympics qualifying rounds only serves as further evidence of this. Anthony should enter the 2012-13 in elite game shape and score around his career average of 25 points a game.
However, Knicks fans will be hoping for more than just scoring from the athletically marvelous Anthony.
Their wish is that Anthony's experience playing before the world stage will improve his playmaking skills, his perimeter defense, and his ability to generate offense without excessively relying on isolation and broken plays.
If Anthony's all-around game improves for the Knicks, the sky is the limit for his MVP considerations.
The golden era of the NBA point guard will continue in 2012-13, with Paul as one of its finest representatives.
Although he struggled with injuries near the end of the 2011-12 season, Paul should return to the Clippers this fall healthy and prepared to produce near his career averages of 19 points, 10 assists, and two steals a game.
In fact, Paul's assist average may slightly improve next season due to the Clippers' offseason acquisitions of small forward Lamar Odom and shooting guard Jamal Crawford.
However, because the Clippers failed to address various issues on the defensive end of the floor in the off-season, they will only be a fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference. That doesn't bode well for Paul winning his first MVP, though he will receive his share of third- to fifth-place votes next spring.
The virtuoso point guard will have his usual bevy of targets to choose from (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) as well as some new ones (Jason Terry and Jeff Greene) next season As the playmaker on a strong Celtics arsenal, expect Rondo to average 12 or 13 assists a game.
Rondo's strong defense will continue to put him in the running for All NBA defensive team consideration as well.
Rondo's infamous Achilles heel in the past has been his jump shot. However, his performance in the 2011-12 playoffs indicate that his jumper is showing some signs of improvement. Rondo averaged a career-high 17.3 points in the 2012 playoffs on 47 percent field-goal shooting.
If Rondo's scoring game can develop further in 2012-13, the aging Celtics will have a shot at supplanting the reigning Miami Heat as Eastern Conference Champions next season, and Rondo may earn some serious MVP buzz.
Love will be the leader of upstart Minnesota Timberwolves, who should find their young, very well constructed and talented squad as sixth or seventh seed in the Western Conference come playoff time.
With a healthy Ricky Rubio (8.2 APG in 2011-12) feeding Love the ball, expect Love to duplicate his 26 PPG, 13 RPG performance from last season.
Love may actually increase his scoring output as opposing defenses will be forced to spread the floor to take account for Minnesota's recent offseason acquisitions Brandon Roy and stretch forward Andre Kirilenko.
Because the still relatively inexperienced Minnesota squad probably won't break 50 wins, don't expect Love to break the Top 3 in MVP votes next spring. In 2013-14, however, Love may win the award for what could very well be a championship contending T-Wolves squad.
Although there will be a lot of preseason drama about whether veterans Steve Nash and Bryant can play together, once the season starts, expect these two guards to saddle up alongside one another for one last championship run.
The Lakers should be salty and focused after early round eliminations from the playoffs over the last two seasons. As a result, Kobe and Co. will experience little distracting drama and a high-50-win season for the Lakers.
At 34 years old, Bryant will still be the Lakers' No. 1 scoring option. While his scoring will diminish a little due to his age and a Lakers offense that will often generate around Nash distributing the ball to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum off pick 'n' rolls, Bryant will still average 24-25 points a game and attain his usual MVP consideration.
An NBA Cinderella MVP candidate.
Williams' comeback as perhaps the best point guard in the NBA will be one of the signature stories of the year. Armed with an arsenal of pass targets to choose from, Williams' assists average will once again surpass 10 a game.
Williams will also be an effective No 1 scoring option for the Brooklyn Nets. Because opposing teams will have to spread their defenses to cover 2-guard Joe Johnson lurking the corners and Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez in the paint, the fluid Williams will exploit one-on-one defensive coverage all season.
Except Williams to lead the Nets to the second or third seed in the Eastern Conference on about 22 points and 11 assists a game. Those numbers, plus the MVP-voting sports media's fascination with a great comeback story, will be enough for Williams to crack the top three next spring.
If award considerations didn't include the "overdue" factor, James would win his fourth MVP next year. His game shows no signs of letting down.
With Ray Allen serving as yet another Heat threat on offense, and the emergence of Mario Chalmers as a viable option on offense, expect LeBron to record the most season triple-doubles of his career.
With the Heat now confident and relaxed after winning their first championship ring, expect them to a have a ferocious 2012-13 regular season campaign. However, the Thunder will be right with the Heat record-wise, and the media will give Durant his due.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will dominate the Western Conference en route to winning more than 60 games. The Thunder's success will be due to their best player, Durant, who should score at least 28 points a game for his third consecutive season.
The only 23-year-old Durant—who is a relentless perfectionist— should continue to improve his rebounding and assist averages as well (both were career bests last season).
While LeBron James will still be considered the best player in the game, Durant's overall excellence will no longer remain unsung in the MVP ballot. Durant finished second to James last season with 73 percent of the total MVP votes.
Barring any surprise performances from other players on this list, the sports media will remember how close Durant was in 2011-12 and give him his overdue award.