LBJ won his third MVP trophy last season.
The top players in the NBA all have areas that can be further solidified to aid their quest towards an MVP award. Last season, LeBron James silenced doubters and came away with his first NBA championship. Who will change the critics mind this year?
Will any players emerge as dark horse MVP candidates, or will it go to the favored James or Kevin Durant?
The MVP trophy doesn't always coincide with an NBA title, since it is decided by the media's vote before the NBA Playoffs have even run their course. It is regular season dominance that wins the MVP award, whereas there is no MVP for the postseason, save the Finals MVP award.
That said, it's an award very heavily weighted towards players on teams whose rosters are built for regular season greatness. Steve Nash was a prime example of the principle in practice in Phoenix, and all the guys that put up great numbers while winning a lot of games seem to take home the MVP title. Does that sound like an over simplification?
The award doesn't truly reward greatness always, and so often the players with the absolute best seasons receive no reward, save a first All-NBA selection.
Nonetheless, this slide show focuses on both the player's chances of winning the award and what he will need to do, or have happen, for the MVP award to fall into his lap.
For comparison's sake, I've included the Vegas odds on each player winning the award. Odds are taken from Covers.com
Tony Parker is still only 29.
Really, there is an award Tony Parker can win to substantiate his greatness: another Finals MVP award.
The Spurs are built for postseason success, and Parker is a key component there, but with age creeping up, the Spurs will likely rest their starters even more in the regular season. Tim Duncan already often takes the second night of back-to-backs off, and keeping he and shooting guard Manu Ginobili fully healthy for when it counts most should be Gregg Popovich's plan.
With Duncan and Ginobili resting more, it seems quite possible that Parker takes a seat next to them. Last season, Parker saw just over 32 minutes per game, which was down from 2007-08 and 08-09, when Parker saw closer to 34 minutes per night.
Parker can still win this award, though, as he is only getting better. He averaged a career high 7.7 assists per game last year and had his highest scoring average since the 2008-09 season. Parker is still only 29, after all, so he should have a good number of high level seasons left, even after Ginobili and Duncan hang it up.
Parker isn't a favorite, but he's not a horrible long shot, if he just continues to step his game up and keep the Spurs atop the Western Conference standings.
Could Nash win an MVP at age 38?
Steve Nash actually has an outside shot at this award, even at age 38. And maybe it is partly because he is 38. Nash has the experience and media lovability to make a great story by winning the award in his final years in the league. He's still capable of big numbers (10.7 assists per game), and was even dropping dimes on a mediocre Phoenix team.
How much more so will he thrive with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the lineup?
If Nash could average 14 points per game and 11-12 assists per game, he could make a reasonable run at his third career MVP award. That would be pretty legendary, which is why Vegas oddsmakers have set the line so heavily stacked against Nash. But legendary doesn't by any means mean impossible.
Wade's scoring average has dropped every year since LBJ and Bosh came.
Dwyane Wade is not the alpha dog on the Miami Heat, and thus I give him little chance of winning the award. Like the next guy in this slide show, it would take an injury to the top player for them to emerge with the kind of usage rate that MVP voters look for in a player.
Wade's usage rate is high, but that No. 6 fella on his team keeps his stats in check.
Last year, Wade averaged the lowest of his career since his rookie season, with only 22.1 per game last year (his rookie year was 16.2 points per game, for reference).
His stats have gone down every season since LeBron and Chris Bosh arrived, and he led the league in scoring the year before the free agent tandem came to town. That season (2008-09), Wade averaged 30.2 points per game for the 42-40 Heat.
We won't see that Wade anymore.
If Wade were to be traded, that could do it, but that is a highly almost impossibly unlikely proposition. So, there is nothing Wade can do to win this award, save an LBJ injury pushing him into the limelight.
Westbrook and Wade face the same "problem."
This is a highly unlikely candidate to win the award. He is option 1B in Oklahoma City, a team with two number one options, essentially. But he is still the "B" to option one, and that renders Westbrook the underdog to win the award compared to his teammate Kevin Durant.
Unless Durant just completely yields to Westbrook and takes on some unknown facilitating role (how unlikely is that?), there is no way that Westbrook wins this award.
Oh, there is one other way: Durant has a season ending injury before December and the Thunder still win a championship.
See my point? It's almost as silly as taking Wade, except for the fact that Wade isn't as selfish with the basketball as Westbrook is. Either way, it takes more than gaudy numbers to win the award, and the Thunder will always be looked at as Durant's team.
Dwight Howard hopes to be ready for the regular season opener.
The main issue with Dwight Howard and winning this award lies in his back—specifically in the two herniated disks that required surgery in the offseason. If Howard really were damaged goods, it would be the third time Orlando has managed to dump off an injured superstar in return for a package (other examples include Anfernee Hardaway to Phoenix and Tracy McGrady to Houston).
Howard really should worry first about being healthy, and secondly about keeping his body in the top form it has been. It's hard to anticipate that being a problem, because Howard has strong work ethic, but backs are funny. Ask Larry Bird; ask T-Mac; ask Larry Johnson—and so on. They don't heal up quite right, and Howard is playing with a precarious situation that he can't ever fully control.
But beyond his back? Just dominate. Be Dwight Howard. Go out and grab 20 rebounds, couple it with 20 points. Howard has 46 career 20/20 games and 497 double-doubles.
If he continues to do that on a team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the result will be an over .800 winning percentage and a clash against the Eastern Conference champs.
Kobe can tie MJ in rings this year.
It doesn't seem likely that Kobe Bryant gets his second MVP award of his career. Yes, you read that right. Kobe has only won the award once, in 2008, despite a career that has included five championships and two Finals MVP awards. Though the 14-time All NBA Team selections prove he has been elite his entire career, this just isn't an award Kobe seems to win.
This year won't be any different, but any outside shot Kobe had of winning the award would hinge on the Lakers doing something spectacular. By that, I mean a 65-plus win season, while Kobe puts up ultra-efficient numbers and closes out games. He piggybacks on the brilliance of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, and plays an entirely different (reduced) role.
That is how Kobe wins the award.
The thing is, that may be a far fetched hope. Howard is only a slight underdog to Bryant to win the award, and because he is younger, he actually may have a better chance. It will be Bryant's job to pull late game heroics coupled with selfless play that will win him this award, in the unlikely event it happens.
Kevin Durant led team USA in scoring in 2012.
Kevin Durant has now led the league in scoring for the past three seasons, but he has not won an MVP award. Durant can continue to win scoring titles and not win an MVP; the two are mutually exclusive honors, for the most part.
What Durant must do to be the MVP and not just the scoring champ is diversify his game. Last year, he averaged a career high 3.5 assists per game, but he is capable of more. He averaged eight rebounds a game.
But he is capable of even more still.
Durant can be a guy to average 30 points per game, nine rebounds per night, and record five-plus assists. And if he does that, it is his award to lose. Yes, that is asking a lot. It is a big increase from 3.5 assists and eight rebounds. But Kevin Durant has elite player potential, and his likeness in many eyes is George Gervin.
Gervin said that Durant is a better player than he was, so that is high praise. But the Ice Man was a scorer. The next step for Durant is becoming more than a scorer, but rather the type of player that can lead a team to multiple championships.
He's taken the Thunder to the Finals in just his fifth NBA season, and to the Conference Finals in 2011, but he must secure rings.
It's very early in Durantula's career, but the tone is set for something legendary.
LeBron stands heads and shoulders above the other contenders according to Vegas.
Many see this as LeBron James' award to lose. He won it last year, and in no way does the repetition involved in selecting him again negate his chances of winning it. The Miami Heat are the premier team in the game, until the L.A. Lakers prove otherwise. And LeBron James is the key that makes that engine run.
All he has to do to win this award is what is likely going to happen: lead the Heat to the league's best record while remaining healthy. Really, an injury is all that prevents LeBron from winning it, but those are unpredictable—and LBJ is durable.
He's versatile, able to guard multiple positions. He's able to play varying roles within an offense, from point-forward to power forward.
James has already secured three MVP awards and is just getting into his prime. His defense has become nearly as good as his offense. And his involvement of teammates is superb—mixed with just the right amount of selfishness.
James needs to continue to realize how unstoppable he can be. With a full head of steam, there basically is no stopping him; he's either scoring or getting to the line—or both, for the three point play.
So, the imperative "remain healthy" and the self-realization that he is the best player of his generation should be enough to win James this one again.
Chris Paul may be the best long shot bet to win it.
Kevin Love (+1800)
Kevin Love can't be slept on. The Minnesota Timberwolves have serious sleeper status and will be a favorite to watch for many on NBA League Pass this season. Love has a huge following around the NBA now, and he is continuing to grow in popularity. He's highly likely to win an MVP before his career is over, and it's plausible it happens this season.
Carmelo Anthony (+2000)
If Carmelo Anthony is really as good as his fans say he is, then this award is his to lose. Anthony has the game to flourish on the same level as the elite players in the NBA, but his offensive attack still needs diversification and versatility. It's really something that sounds oversimplified, because that can take years to occur, and Melo has already been in the league for nine seasons. Soon he's going to hear about how he's played a decade without winning a ring.
Deron Williams (+2000)
Deron Williams is part of a very talented Nets roster, but the time isn't now for their emergence. It will take a season or two of gelling before the Nets can do what Mikhail Prokhorov said they would and win an NBA title. For the meantime, Williams can develop chemistry with Joe Johnson, while the front line matures as a unit, with both Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez yet to reach their primes.
Chris Paul (+2500)
The Clippers could make some noise this year. They made a lot last year, for that matter, before a Chauncey Billups injury derailed their championship aspirations. With Billups healthy and a host of new additions, the Clippers pack one of the most talented and deepest rosters in the Association. CP3 needs only to maximize the talent around him to do something no other NBA star has done: bring a title to the Clippers organization.
Rajon Rondo (+2500)
Rajon Rondo is on a team built for postseason success. But the Celtics aren't so much about posting the best regular season record, and that hurts Rondo's chances for the award. He's also lacking the one thing that most feel would make him an MVP: a jump shot. He worked hard on improving his shooting this summer, but it's likely the results won't be any better.
Derrick Rose (+3300)
Derrick Rose is out for an undetermined length due to his ACL tear, but it would be more than a miracle to see him come back healthy and win the award this year. He really should take the entire year off, and come back fully charged in 2013-14.
Blake Griffin (+3300)
Blake Griffin's excitement make him an interesting choice for an MVP award, but it's too soon in Griffin's career and path of his development to win the award now, unless he really had a huge breakout season.
Dirk Nowitzki (+3300)
Dirk Nowitzki's days of MVP seasons are done. Barring a return to former glory, he has no chance at winning this award on a Mavericks team that features three new starters and a new sixth man.