As NBA All-Star weekend approaches in Houston's Toyota Center, the anticipation builds for Sunday's epic game between the best players from each pro basketball conference. With so much talent on the floor at once, it's anyone's guess as to who will win the Most Valuable Player.
But let's take a deeper dive, and instead of analyzing the very elite, here is a breakdown of four other viable contenders to take home the individual hardware—with odds listed courtesy of Bovada.
West: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Between his thunderous dunks and the fact that he's starting alongside typical teammate Chris Paul, there is plenty of reason to believe Griffin could win the MVP.
His odds are only bested by Durant and James, and he and Bryant have identical odds of winning according to the betting powers that be.
Griffin is simply too strong and too athletic for most power forwards to handle. He will likely be matched up with Carmelo Anthony at least to start the game—unless he can't go due to an arm injury. As physical as Melo can be on the offensive end, he tends not to be as hard-nosed defensively.
Considering this is an All-Star game, that is even more likely to be the case. There should be no issues for Griffin when he goes into the post, and he is liable to throw down at least one dunk that will leave an East player or two posterized.
Last year, Griffin was extremely efficient in making nine of his 12 shots from the floor. But look for him to rebound better and be even more assertive with another year of experience both as a player and with Paul under his belt.
East: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
As brilliant as James has been recently, it might be time for D-Wade to take center stage in Houston and remind people just how dominant he can be.
Wade to date has posted a career-best shooting percentage of 50.7 and has increasingly deferred to James in favor of being more efficient and focusing more on the defensive end.
Nevertheless, this is still one of the best attackers of the rim in the NBA, and he should be able to get to the hole with ease. Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard hasn't exactly been the force he traditionally has been in the paint, which should allow Wade more room to finish at the hoop.
The only problem is that Howard's teammate, the Black Mamba, plays his position and will likely be guarding him—barring a strategic shift to contain James.
There are so many weapons on the East to account for, though, as every player in the prospective starting five is capable of lighting up the scoreboard. That should open up a lot of open looks for Wade.
West: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
In last year's game, Westbrook was the first man off the bench. It shouldn't be any different this time around, especially based on how well he played in that role.
Howard isn't likely to play big minutes in this one due to his shoulder issues, which opens the door for Westbrook to, well, explode through like only he can.
No one can stay in front of the mind-bogglingly athletic point guard—it's just a matter of whether he can control himself.
Frequently criticized for taking bad shots, there is no reason for Westbrook to pull up from 15 feet in this one unless he's really feeling it. None of the opposing point guards will be able to even remotely check him in isolation situations, and he can essentially score at will.
At times, Westbrook will get overexcited and not be able to finish once he gets inside. But if he can just remain relaxed and composed, get into the exhibition mindset and play his relentlessly aggressive style, he has a great chance to steal the MVP.
East: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
It isn't a lock that Carmelo Anthony will start, and combined with Rajon Rondo's season-ending ACL tear, the odds of Irving getting the nod seem to be increasing by the day.
Whether the East decides to go with a small lineup or insert another big man at tip-off to combat Anthony's potential absence, Irving is a great fit. Not only is he an exceptional passer, but he is perhaps best at scoring, which is ultimately what gets rewarded in consideration for MVP.
This is a rare opportunity for the rest of the country to see what they've likely been missing as the 20-year-old has been toiling away for a putrid Cleveland team all year long.
Irving will already be a headliner in the three-point shootout, but could suddenly find himself as a marquee player lined up opposite Paul to start things off.
Given Irving's ability to finish at the rim with both hands, his outstanding ball-handling skills and sweet jumper that easily extends beyond the arc, the sky is the limit for his future. As for the impending weekend, don't be surprised if Irving dazzles the Toyota Center, leads the East to a win and takes home MVP honors.