NBA Predictions: Top 10 MVP Candidates for the 2010-11 Season
When LeBron James announced his intention to take his talents to South Beach, the landscape of the NBA inevitably shifted, for better or worse.
As Charles Barkley said: "If you're the two-time defending NBA MVP, you don't leave anywhere. They come to you. That's ridiculous. I like LeBron. He's a great player. But I don't think in the history of sports you can find a two-time defending MVP leaving to go play with other people."
Well, what happens now that the League's two-time defending MVP has decided to jump ship in Cleveland and head down to Miami?
One thing's for certain: The MVP race just got a lot more interesting. With Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh taking away shots and possession from LBJ, he's no lock for an MVP three-peat. In fact, he can't even be considered the favorite anymore.
Check out these 10 most likely candidates for regular season MVP in the 2010-11 season.
10. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
This pick may surprise you—in fact, fellow B/R writer Ryan Marshall would disagree heartily, having recently called Rose one of the most overrated players in the NBA—but given the additions the Bulls made to their team this summer, Rose's MVP candidacy isn't as much of a longshot as you'd think.
No, the Bulls couldn't land LeBron, D-Wade, or Chris Bosh. But Carlos Boozer is one heck of a consolation prize, especially for a team that needed a low-post scoring presence to slot alongside the ever-energetic Joakim Noah.
In Boozer, the Bulls suddenly have a 20-10 guy who should take some of the scoring load off Rose. Throw in Kyle Korver, one of the NBA's premiere three-point shooters, and you've got two legitimate offensive options that the Bulls lacked last season.
It's not like Rose was that much worse for the wear last season—he averaged 20.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6 assists per game in the regular season, before boosting his averages to 26.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game in the Bulls' five-game series against Cleveland in the playoffs.
Given that Rose keeps mentioning his improving three-point range, it's not a stretch to imagine him continuing his 20 ppg averages while increasing his scoring efficiency. With Boozer, Korver, and Ronnie Brewer now in the lineup, Rose should also see a boost in his assist totals.
Why, then, couldn't Rose be a dark horse for the MVP?
9. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
Deron Williams may have been the breakout star of the first two rounds of the playoffs this past season. After averaging a more than respectable 18.7 points and 10.5 assists per game during the regular season, Williams jumped to the next level, averaging 24.3 points and 10.2 assists against Denver and the Lakers.
Keep in mind: During Steve Nash's two MVP seasons, he averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 assists per game in 2005 and 18.6 points and 11.6 assists in 2006.
Yes, Nash exceeded the vaunted 50-40-90 line in '05 (FG%/3FG%/FT%) and flirted with it in 2006 (he finished the season shooting 89.9 percent from the line). And yes, it's true that Williams has only averaged above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three once in his five-year career.
Still, what the Jazz lost in Carlos Boozer, they gained in Al Jefferson, who's two seasons removed from putting up 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. If Jefferson proves to be fully recovered from ACL surgery—which usually takes two years to fully recover from—the combo of Williams and Jefferson could put the Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire duo to shame.
If Williams can elevate his game to playoff levels throughout the regular season next year, he's got an outside shot to take home the regular season MVP hardware.
8. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade is no stranger to MVP voting—he's finished third in 2008-09, fifth in 2009-10, and he was named NBA Finals MVP in 2006 after raining a parade of free throws down on Dallas.
With that said, the addition of Chris Bosh and LeBron James to his team, among others, means that Wade finally won't have to shoulder so much of the load for Miami. With James and Bosh in the starting lineup alongside him, it's tough to imagine Wade matching the 26.6-point, 6.5-assist, 4.8-rebound per game averages he put up last season.
While the Heat may still be D-Wade's team, and he may still be called upon in the most late-game situations, he simply won't have as many opportunities to score.
That's not even to mention the possibility of injury, as Wade hasn't necessarily been the picture of health since entering the league. He's played in virtually every regular season game the past two seasons; however, he missed 30 games in each of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. (Championship hangover, much?)
There are too many uncertainties surrounding Wade and his role on the Heat to call him a prohibitive favorite for the MVP award. It'd be foolish to totally discount Wade, but he's nothing more than a longshot for league MVP as we enter the 2010 season.
7. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
Recently, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh dissected the career of Carmelo Anthony and explained why 'Melo wasn't worth a maximum contract next summer.
This argument for an MVP-for-Melo gets a bit tougher when you consider this juicy point from Haberstroh's: Anthony is a 45.9 percent career shooter from the field. The league average, this past season, was 46.3 percent.
Basically, Melo can pour in the points—after all, he averaged 28.2 points per game this past season—but his shooting efficiency leaves much to be desired.
Still, most MVP voters don't have time to trouble themselves with complicated statistics like "shooting efficiency" and "shot attempts." In the words of Chad OchoCinco…child, please.
Anyone who averages 28.2 points per game has a semi-legitimate shot at MVP. If Anthony could improve upon his rebounding numbers or his defensive effort, he'd likely be considered a real MVP contender for the first time in his career.
6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki makes for the first of a few former MVP winners on this list, as Nowitzki took home the hardware in 2007.
Nowitzki, like Steve Nash the two years before him, cracked the 50-40-90 line by shooting .502/.416/.904 in that 2007 season, although his per game point averages slightly dropped from the Mavericks' 2006 NBA Finals season.
Ever since, Nowitzki's per game averages have hovered around the same place—he's been around a 25-point, 8-rebound, 2.5-assist per game type of guy, shooting in the high .400s from the floor, the high .300's from downtown, and flirting with shooting .900 from the free-throw line. Somehow, his MVP stock has plummeted, as he hasn't finished in the top 10 of the voting since his 2007 award.
Now, surrounded by Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry, and Roddy Beaubois, Dirk and the Mavericks have no shortage of options on offense. Their stacked roster has them being mentioned as one of the preseason favorites in the West, for good reason.
If Nowitzki can lead this uber-talented Mavericks team past some of the strongest Western contenders in the regular season, all-the-while averaging close to his 2006-07 statistics (not that far of a stretch), there's no reason to believe Nowitzki couldn't pull out a regular season MVP this season.
5. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
Besides "The Decision," Chris Paul's sudden trade request provided the most Jersey Shore-esque drama the NBA could offer in the summer of 2010.
What's the best way to boost your trade value and convince your team to cash in? Isn't it having a career season and breaking all of your single-season personal records?
Now that the Hornets firesaled Darren Collison just to get rid of James Posey's bloated contract, New Orleans doesn't have a CP3 backup plan anymore. Granted, that doesn't mean they won't trade Paul…it just means New Orleans will almost definitely demand a point guard in return.
Paul, who led the league in assists and steals in both 2008 and 2009, struggled through an injury-plagued season last year, yet still averaged a more than respectable 18.7 points and 10.7 assists per game.
Assuming Paul can return this season and stay 100 percent healthy, he'll absolutely be on a season-long mission to prove that he, not Deron Williams, is the best point guard in the NBA. If Paul can resurrect the Hornets and lead them to a respectable playoff seed while shattering his career averages, he'd be the first legitimate MVP contender on this list.
4. LeBron James, Miami Heat
How can the two-time defending MVP not be the prohibitive favorite to win the award a third time?
He can leave his band of merry misfits and join a superpower with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
By sacrificing money, his adopted hometown's loyalty, and likely, his personal stats, LeBron James provided himself an unbelievably legitimate chance to win multiple NBA championships.
It's that last part that will concern the MVP voters. Sure, an LBJ averaging 28-7-7 every night makes for solid MVP material, but what happens when he's averaging 22-6-5 instead? That's right: He turns into Brandon Roy.
With all of that said, James appears like he'll be the de facto point guard of the Heat—which opens the door to the first triple-double season average since Oscar Robertson. If LBJ could average a 20-10-10 with the Heat, he wins the MVP running away.
If you're making odds on these two possibilities, though, which do you call more likely? I'm thinking it's the "LBJ as Brandon Roy" scenario.
Barring a triple-double season, King James appears on the way to being dethroned as MVP. Here's guessing that if the Heat consummate the season with a championship, LBJ couldn't care less.
3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
A few weeks back, in a slideshow of 25 bold predictions for the upcoming season, I called myself a sucker, then predicted that Dwight Howard would emerge as the MVP this season.
I pointed to his 2008-09 season averages (his best statistical season), where he averaged 20.4 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game, and made a whole lot of noise about how D-Ho could land the MVP by increasing his scoring totals by five points and keeping his rebounding and blocking totals consistent, at worst.
Now, one could argue that the Defensive Player of the Year award exists for categories like rebounding and shot-blocking, and it's a valid point. Then again, if Howard makes such an impact on defense that he legitimately disrupts the course of every other team's offense, it's hard to ignore in the MVP voting.
Howard's best chance to help his candidacy will be to have developed more advanced offensive skills in the offseason. Given that he's reportedly been working with Hakeem Olajuwon, and that he's got Patrick Ewing as an assistant coach, Howard's had plenty of opportunities to improve his game this summer.
If Howard's hard work pays off and he starts converting some of the easy chippies he misses in the post—averaging somewhere around 25 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 or 4 blocks per game—he'll have a real shot at bringing home not just the D-POY for the third straight year, but his first MVP award as well.
2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Anyone who says Kobe Bryant isn't one of the most legitimate MVP candidates heading into the season is either lying to themselves or completely ignorant of the past decade's worth of MVP votes.
Since the 2001-2002 season, Kobe finished fifth, third, fifth, N/R, fourth, third, first, second, and third in MVP voting. That's right: In the past nine years, Bryant only finished outside the top five in MVP voting once.
Coming off back-to-back NBA championships, are you really going to discount the potential for an encore from the league's most competitive player?
His biggest rival from the past few seasons, LeBron James, just damaged his own MVP chances by heading to the Miami Heat. And with Heat fans ready to preemptively crown their team as 2011 NBA champions (heck, the Heat players are stoking those flames), who's to say Bryant isn't about to unleash an 82-game salvo of, "Hey, We're the Damn Champions Here!"
After keeping busy with Team USA the past few summers, Bryant took the summer off and gave himself three full months to recover from the wear-and-tear on his body.
Now, with Bryant entering the 2010 season as presumably healthy as he's been in the past few seasons, there's an extremely solid chance that the Black Mamba walks out of the season as the league MVP.
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
With LeBron and his talents down in South Beach, the biggest threat to Kobe Bryant's MVP chances unbelievably comes in the lanky form of a 21-year-old from the Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant.
Durant became the youngest scoring champion in league history this past season by being the only NBA player to average more than 30 points per game. This past season was only his third season.
Can we really say we know the limit for Durant yet? He's already emerging as the reluctant face of Team USA, due to the absence of the Redeem Team on this year's squad. The fact he's leading other All-Stars at all of 21 years of age speaks largely to Durant's freakish abilities.
Durant has substantially increased his shooting percentages each season of his career, and given his 6'9" frame, lightning quick release, and smooth-as-butter stroke, there's no reason to think he can't continue boosting his averages.
Given that Durant finished second in MVP voting last year, only behind LeBron James, it stands to reason that now, with LBJ down in Miami, Durant should be considered the prohibitive MVP favorite heading into the 2010-11 season.