Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
At 35 years old, Kobe Bryant may be running out of time to add a second MVP award to his mantle. The Mamba missed all but six games last season, sidelined first by the torn Achilles he suffered in April 2013 and later by a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
With so many miles already on his NBA odometer—1,245 career regular-season games, plus another 220 playoff contests—it's hard to imagine his body fully recovering from the damage already done.
"In terms of explosiveness and athleticism, the smart money is probably on a major reduction in both," wrote Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes. "Bryant will be 36 before the season starts, and nobody retains all of his bounce at that age."
Fueled by the motivation to prove his doubters wrong, Bryant is smart enough to prevent his physical limitations from completely sapping his stat sheet. Even if his numbers show signs of life, though, they could ring empty to the voters if the Los Angeles Lakers put another dismal entry in the win column.
Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis' ceiling isn't measured in heights, it's tracked by superlatives. Only, there's nothing hyperbolic about the rave reviews the former top pick has drawn from his NBA peers.
"In my 16 years, I’ve never seen anyone like him," former MVP Dirk Nowitzki said of Davis, per Grantland's Zach Lowe.
The hype is either real with Davis, or it simply shouldn't be considered as hype any longer. The lanky cornerstone of the New Orleans Pelicans finished the 2013-14 season ranked 15th in points (20.8), 10th in rebounds (10.0), first in blocks (2.8) and fourth in player efficiency rating (26.5), per Basketball-Reference.com.
Davis won't turn 22 until March. He might need multiple shelves to store his MVP awards when it's all said and done.
However, his collection won't start yet if the Pelicans can't make serious noise in the fully loaded Western Conference. It's quite possible that Davis' MVP campaign may stop in the same place as his franchise's playoff hopes—just on the outside looking in.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Explosive, wildly productive and confident almost to a fault, Russell Westbrook has the physical gifts and overstuffed stat sheets needed to pull off an MVP heist. The fact that his Oklahoma City Thunder have averaged 54 victories over the past five seasons only adds to his allure.
Except, there's a big problem—these aren't his Thunder.
As good as Westbrook was last season (21.8 points, 6.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 24.7 PER), he led the Thunder in only assists and steals (1.9). Durant led the way in scoring (32.0) and efficiency (29.8), while Serge Ibaka snagged a team-high 8.8 boards.
Westbrook is an immense talent, particularly if he can put his knee problems behind him, and he would be his team's best player on a number of different clubs. But the Thunder aren't one of them, and voters won't hand the MVP award to someone who isn't even the most valuable player in his own locker room.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul's MVP resume speaks for itself.
Last season, he poured in 19.1 points a night while tossing out a league-best 10.7 assists and pacing the NBA with 2.5 steals. Throw in his 46.7 field-goal percentage and 25.9 PER, and it's easy to see why his point guard throne still hasn't really been challenged by his peers.
So, why isn't the game's top floor general on the actual list? Because his teammate, Blake Griffin, is higher up here, and it's hard for two players from the same team to both be considered among the league's most valuable individuals.
Last season, Griffin and Paul became the fourth set of teammates in the last 10 years to each finish in the top seven of the MVP voting (third and seventh, respectively), per ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi. Assuming the ballot isn't big enough for both Clippers, Griffin gets the nod over Paul since the former is four years younger and the latter has lost 32 games to injuries the past two seasons.