NBA MVP Odds 2013-14: Top Contenders to LeBron's Throne Entering Opening Week

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 28, 2013

NBA MVP Odds 2013-14: Top Contenders to LeBron's Throne Entering Opening Week

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    Admit it: You have no idea who Maurice Podoloff is.

    Don't be ashamed. LeBron James has four statues named after the guy in his trophy case, but even he might not be sure. Podoloff was the NBA's first president, and he's the man after whom the league's Most Valuable Player award is named.

    Having dispensed with history, it's time to look toward the future.

    We're sticking with the same general topic, though, as it's time to put together the first official MVP odds of the 2013-14 NBA season.

    James will be on the hunt for his fifth trophy, while Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul are all primed to make a race of it. And let's not forget Carmelo Anthony, the man who earned the lone first-place vote that didn't go to James a year ago.

    Only one man will hoist the Podoloff at the end of the year. So, who's it gonna be?

10. Kyrie Irving

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    The man on everybody's 2013-14 breakout list checks in at No. 10 in our initial MVP odds. Kyrie Irving has the game to belong here, but the real key to his chances will be the Cleveland Cavaliers' overall performance. 

    If he enjoys modest statistical increases in his third year, perhaps getting his averages up to something like 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game, it will still be tough to take him seriously as a candidate if the Cavs don't wind up in the playoffs.

    Defensively, Irving still has work to do, but he has said repeatedly over the summer that he's fully prepared to make a major commitment to playing both ends. He's in the best shape of his career, has a coach in Mike Brown who has experience mentoring a young star and the most talented supporting case he's ever had.

    There's a lot to like here, and if Cleveland gets off to a hot start, Irving's chances could improve in a hurry.

    MVP Odds: 30-1

9. Stephen Curry

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    If the MVP was awarded based on popular vote, Stephen Curry might be worthy of top-five positioning here.

    After capturing the attention of casual fans across the world with his postseason shooting exhibition, Curry became the playoffs' most exciting story. As a result, the man who still hasn't made an All-Star team is on the fringes of the MVP race.

    Like Irving, Curry's fate is tied to that of his team. The Golden State Warriors are sure to be a League Pass must this year, and if they can win upward of 50 games (in style, of course), it's going to be extremely tough for voters to ignore the Dubs' best player.

    Expect Curry to threaten the 50-40-90 club, make his first All-Star appearance and continue to stretch the definition of "deep range." He's something of a long shot to win the award, but if there's anyone who's comfortable with that term, it's Curry.

    MVP Odds: 25-1

8. James Harden

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    James Harden broke out in a big way last year, finishing the season with averages of 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists. Due largely to the fact that he had to carry such a heavy load in the Houston Rockets' go-go attack, Harden's shooting percentages and defense were actually worse than they'd been in his days as a reserve with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Overall, the Beard's 2012-13 resume was good enough to earn him seven fourth-place votes and 12 fifth-place votes on last year's MVP ballot.

    And now that the Rockets are deeper, more talented and in possession of a certain superstar center, there's reason to believe that Harden will enjoy a resurgence in the areas of his game that slipped last year.

    The high-volume scoring will continue, but Harden should also be a more efficient, well-rounded player in 2013-14. Voters will love that.

    MVP Odds: 20-1

7. Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker, who is still somehow just 31 years old, finished sixth in MVP voting last season. That distinction was well deserved, as the San Antonio Spurs point guard put together what was probably his best campaign as a pro.

    It wasn't just the 20.3 points, 7.6 assists and 52 percent shooting that impressed voters; it was the way that Parker functioned as the most important piece of a Spurs team that won a whopping 58 games. When he sat, San Antonio's brilliant offense was 5.3 points per 100 possessions less efficient, per

    There's no reason to believe he'll be less valuable this year. If anything, the advancing age of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili could result in more minutes and greater production for Parker.

    Until he does something to warrant his removal from this list, he'll remain a consistent top-10 candidate for MVP honors. 

    MVP Odds: 15-1

6. Dwight Howard

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    Love him or hate him, Dwight Howard certainly seems like a guy ready to enjoy a major resurgence.

    Surrounded by tons of talent in Houston, D12 will have every opportunity to expand his offensive game while also reasserting his position as the league's most dominant defender. If the Howard we see this year looks like the man who led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals a few years ago, look out.

    Everyone loves a redemption story, even when the protagonist is largely responsible for his own downfall. So if Howard can return to the form that made him, arguably, the league's second-best player as recently as 2011, the MVP votes are going to pour in.

    Of course, it's also possible that he starts whining about running pick-and-rolls, undermining coach Kevin McHale and generally continuing to act like a clown.

    Either way, it's going to be an interesting year in Houston.

    MVP Odds: 12-1

5. Carmelo Anthony

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    Two players received first-place votes on last year's MVP ballot, and Carmelo Anthony was one of them.

    Granted, 'Melo secured just a single vote. But he led the league in scoring at 28.7 points per game and finished third overall in the MVP race. Playing in a big market certainly helped, as did the perception that the New York Knicks would have completely fallen apart without Anthony generating a huge percentage of the team's offense.

    All of those elements are in place again this year, which should give 'Melo just as good a chance at the award as he had in theory.

    The problem is that there's an overwhelming amount of skepticism surrounding the Knicks this season, and as analytics become more widely accepted, Anthony's one-dimensional scoring attack might not look as appealing as it once did.

    If 'Melo can carry the Knicks to another top-four seed in the East, he should still get plenty of love on the ballot. But if things go awry the way so many Knicks watchers suspect, he might slip a few notches down the list.

    MVP Odds: 10-1

4. Chris Paul

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    Now we're really getting somewhere. Chris Paul is the first player on this list with a serious chance to snag the 2013-14 MVP award.

    After finishing fourth in voting last season, CP3 watched as the Los Angeles Clippers spent the summer surrounding him with the best supporting cast he's ever had. Doc Rivers will take over on the sidelines this year, giving Paul a coach who'll do more than roll the ball out and beg him to find a way to score.

    Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick will provide excellent secondary options when Paul orchestrates the pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin, which could easily result in CP3 posting some seriously gaudy assist totals.

    Basically, the Clips are primed to have the league's best offense, one of the top records in the West and now that the Lakers are a lottery team, they've got LA all to themselves.

    Paul is ready to shine under a truly ideal set of circumstances.

    MVP Odds: 5-1

3. Derrick Rose

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    Who doesn't love a good comeback story?

    Derrick Rose showed everyone during preseason play that he's fully recovered from his torn ACL and might also be a more complete player than he ever was. If he makes it through a full season without losing too many games to the inevitable nicks and bruises that come along with his hard-charging style, there's a real chance that Rose will threaten the two players ahead of him on this list.

    The fact that the Chicago Bulls are a near-unanimous favorite as the team most likely to unseat the Miami Heat certainly doesn't hurt his chances, either. Chicago is practically a lock to finish as a top-three defensive team, and with Rose back in the fold, a top-10 offensive ranking is very much a possibility.

    Perhaps most importantly, Rose has one thing that none of the other candidates we've mentioned have: an MVP award in his trophy case.

    He's got a great shot to double down.

    MVP Odds: 4-1

2. Kevin Durant

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    If we learned anything from last year's MVP voting, it's that almost everyone agrees on Kevin Durant's status as the second-most valuable player in the NBA. Of the 120 second-place votes awarded in 2012-13, 93 of them went to KD.

    Something tells me second place isn't what Durant is shooting for this season.

    With Russell Westbrook slated to miss a chunk of the early season, Durant is going to get a chance to function as OKC's singular offensive threat. That was a tall order against the Memphis Grizzlies in last season's playoffs, but KD has come back as a more complete, hungrier player this year.

    He's dishing like a madman, piling up 12 assists in a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Don't worry, though; he'll also continue to be the league's most efficient high-volume scorer. Getting buckets is like breathing for him.

    With a bit more defensive growth, we might see voters start to seriously question whether or not KD is right on par with the league's reigning MVP. The gap is narrowing, but Durant will have to take another significant step to close it for good.

    MVP Odds: 3/1

1. LeBron James

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    As strong as many of the preceding candidates' MVP cases are, the only thing that really stands in the way of LeBron James' third consecutive and fifth overall award is voter fatigue.

    It happened to Michael Jordan more than once, as MJ led the league in win shares every year from 1986-87 to 1992-93, yet wound up with only three MVPs in that seven-year span. And James himself knows how reluctant voters have been to award three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards, as Derrick Rose snatched what should have been LBJ's third straight win in 2010-11.

    If James somehow puts together another season as utterly dominant as his 2012-13 campaign, it's going to be almost impossible for anyone to justify denying him yet another trophy.

    Durant, Rose and Paul are all hoping to make a race of it, but the truth is that James is in a class by himself. He's easily the favorite to collect another Podoloff.

    The championship prediction James made when he joined the Miami Heat has become something of a joke. Maybe he was actually enumerating how many MVPs he was going to win. Not four, not five, not six...

    MVP Odds: 3-2