2012 NBA Preview: Ranking the Favorites to Win MVP

David DeRyderCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2011

2012 NBA Preview: Ranking the Favorites to Win MVP

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    With the NBA season set to get underway in a week, it's time to take a look at who could win the game's most prestigious individual award: the MVP. This list is based on who has the best chance to win the award, not who should win or who is the best player.

    This year, the award is really wide open. The league is in the midst of talent boom. As a result, there are plenty of challengers to take the award from last season's MVP, Derrick Rose. Here's who has the best shot...

Bonus: Blake Griffin

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    Last year's Rookie of the Year, Blake Griffin, should continue to improve. If he can hit his medium range jumper more consistently, he will be close to unstoppable on the offensive end.

    The biggest factor in his potential MVP contention is that he should be on a good team. Winning plays an important role in other sports' MVP awards, but it is the most essential in basketball. With only five guys representing the team at a time, can someone who is the most valuable lead a team to a losing record?

    With the addition of Chris Paul (and Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups), the Clippers should make the playoffs quite easily. That should be enough to earn fan favorite and slam dunk champion Blake Griffin some MVP buzz.

    What he has going for him:

    Two great passers to feed him the ball from the perimeter; a chance to prove he's more than a dunker; rising popularity.

    What he has going against him:

    Chris Paul will likely receive a lot of the credit for the Clippers' expected turn around (Paul is their best player, at least for now).

10. Amare Stoudemire & 9. Carmelo Anthony

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    The Knicks should earn a top four seed in the East this year. The resurgence of professional basketball in Madison Square Garden is primarily due to New Yorker's superstar duo. If the Knicks have a great season, except both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to get plenty of MVP consideration.

    Of course, since both players are superstars, it will be difficult for voters to distinguish between them. Even if the Knicks end up with the best record in the NBA, they will still steal votes from each other. Unless an injury causes one player to have to carry the scoring load, playing together prevents them from being higher on the list.

    Carmelo Anthony is ranked higher because he has the potential to take over fourth quarters in close games. Clutch scoring is always appealing to voters.

    What they have going for them:

    Playing in the biggest market for a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 last year; a chance for the team to improve with addition of Tyson Chandler (who will earn plenty of credit, but not MVP votes).

    What they having going against them:

    They play together and are viewed as 1A and 1B, it will hard for either of them to get enough votes without establishing himself as the clear leader of the team.

8. Dwyane Wade & 7. LeBron James

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    Dwyane Wade and LeBron James suffer from the same blessing/curse as Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony: they play together. It is will be hard for voters to single one of them out as the most important for their team's success.

    They rank above the Knicks' duo because the Heat should be a better team and LeBron and Wade are better players individually.

    Although Wade is the Heat's leader, LeBron gets the nod over him because he should put up better statistics. There is always the chance (small as it may be) that LeBron puts up insane numbers and wins the award due to them.

    What they have going for them:

    They're two of the top five players in the game; the Heat should be even better this year.

    What they having going against them:

    They play together, so unless one of them goes down due to injury, voters will be less likely to award either of them.

6. Dirk Nowitzki

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    The reigning Finals MVP is entering the season with a lot of momentum. Last year's championship gave many journalists who cover the NBA (and vote on the MVP) a new appreciation of Dirk Nowitzki.

    Nowitzki's high kick fade away bails the Mavericks out on multiple possessions every game. There may not be a better player to give the ball to when the shot clock creeps under five seconds. He is also one of the best clutch performers in the game.

    Originally, I had Dirk higher; however, like many contenders, the Mavericks' primary concern is to get to the playoffs healthy. The acquisition of Lamar Odom will almost certainly mean less minutes for Dirk. This is good for Dallas' championship bid, but could cost Nowitzki the MVP.

    What he has going for him:

    An outpouring of support from NBA writers and fans; a nearly unguardable go-to move.

    What he has going against him:

    The potential to play less minutes; no room for the Mavericks to improve (and MVP voters love team improvement).

5. Derrick Rose

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    This isn't a knock on the reigning MVP. I think Derrick Rose will be better this year than he was last year. Unfortunately, his improvements are unlikely to be in areas that catch voters' eyes. He should continue to become a better defender and progress as a point guard who controls the flow of the offense.

    Richard Hamilton is past his prime, but he will still take some of the scoring load off of Rose. Rose will also contribute less scoring if Noah and Boozer stay healthy for the entire season.

    The Bulls should be able to improve upon a season that saw them grab the best regular season record in the NBA. If Chicago continues to get better, it will probably mean less reliance on Rose to carry the offense.

    It will be difficult for Rose to repeat unless he puts up the same numbers as last season. His stats may take a step backward, but the Bulls should not.

    What he has going for him:

    he's the undisputed best player on a team that could post the best regular-season record again; he will only get better.

    What he has going against him:

    high expectations for an encore; more help on offense; Noah and Boozer can't miss as much time as they did last season, can they?

4. Kobe Bryant

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    For the first time since the Lakers landed Pau Gasol, their status as a contender is in question. Of course, they still start two seven-footers and have one of the best players in the league: Kobe Bryant.

    Kobe has the alpha dog mentality and competitive fire that fans of old school basketball love. However, because the Lakers have had so much talent in the past few years, it has been to single out Kobe as the most valuable in the league. This year with the uncertainty facing Los Angeles, he will have the opportunity to lead them to a great record and demonstrate his value.

    The biggest concern facing Kobe's MVP bid is that he is not the same the player he once was. He has constantly adjusted his game to compensate for his decreasing athleticism. Recent surgery in German seems to have helped him regain some of his bounce. Yet, there is still a chance that Kobe doesn't have enough in the tank to lead the Lakers to the promise land.

    Personally, I think he's aware of the doubters and will set out to prove everyone wrong. If he does, he will be rewarded with serious MVP consideration.

    What he has going for him:

    lower expectations than in previous years; a chip on his shoulder; the Lakers will need him more than ever with the departure of Odom; an amazing career with only one MVP award (if there's no stand out, don' think that Kobe won't receive a few votes as a career achievement award).

    What he has going against him:

    father time; the Lakers might not have a great season.

3. Chris Paul

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    The Clippers are going to be much better this year than they were last. Expect Chris Paul to receive a lot of the credit for the turnaround. 

    Paul is the best player on the team. Griffin is a rising star, but unless he takes a gigantic leap this season, he doesn't come close to CP3.

    Los Angeles has plenty of scoring options. Paul should put up some eye popping assist numbers. Aside from initiating "Lob City" with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Paul will be able to dish to Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups.

    Chris Paul has always excelled at making his teammates better. Now that he is in a big market with great offensive teammates expect him to receive a good, hard look from voters.

    What he has going for him:

    the chance to take the Clippers from missing the playoffs to becoming contenders; teammates who can make the most of his pinpoint passes; a bigger market to showcase the talents that make him the best pure point guard in basketball.

    What he has going against him:

    as he showed last year, he has learned to pace himself through the regular season (good for the playoffs and extending his career, bad for winning awards); if Billups starts at two guard, Paul will handle the ball at little less; is his knee 100 percent?

2. Dwight Howard

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    Obviously this ranking won't hold up if Dwight Howard is traded. Assuming he ends the season in Orlando, he has a great chance to win his first MVP.

    No one in basketball has a greater effect on their team's defense than Howard. His presence discourages opposing guards from driving to the rim. He plays dominant on the ball defense against big men. He grabs rebounds and blocks shots with abundance.

    Unfortunately, defense usually takes a backseat to offense—not just in the NBA, when was the last time a defensive player won the NFL MVP (Lawrence Taylor, 1986)? While many basketball fans believe Howard is an underachiever on the offensive end (named another dominant center playing today), he has steadily improved. If he continues to score more in the paint, he will make a serious MVP push.

    Howard does not have a strong supporting cast. If he can take them back to the playoffs, voters will take note of efforts.

    What he has going for him:

    the title of best defensive player; an improving game on offense; a weak supporting cast should lead to plenty of touches; did I mention that he's the league's only dominant center?

    What he has going against him:

    defense has historically been a factor in MVP voting, not a reason to win; the Magic could be worse this year; a mid-season trade would make winning the award near impossible.

1. Kevin Durant

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    When I ranked the contenders for the 2012 championship, I argued that the Thunder were the ideal team for the lockout shortened season. They have youth, continuity, and experience. All signs point to a fantastic season that could earn Kevin Durant the MVP.

    Durant already has two scoring titles to his name. He is as popular as anyone in the league. Basketball has flourished in Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant is largely responsible.

    The biggest question facing the Thunder and Durant is Russell Westbrook's continuing evolution as a point guard. He was criticized in the playoffs last year for holding the ball too long and taking too many possessions away from Oklahoma City's leader.

    I expect Westbrook to improve his decision making and embrace his role as the second option on offense. While James Harden and Serge Ibaka will continue to get better on offense (and thus demand more touches), I see this as an advantage for Durant's MVP campaign. With more players for opposing defenses to worry about, Durant should have more opportunities to score against a single defender. He might take a couple less shots per game, but his percentages should improve.

    The Thunder could very easily have the best regular-season record this year. Derrick Rose can attest to how much voters value someone who is the best player on the best team.

    What he has going for him:

    he is the leader of a team built for the lockout shortened season; a great chance to three-peat as scoring champ; he is coming off a extremely successful and well publicized off season (who can forget Rucker Park? I know these things aren't supposed to effect NBA awards, but it never hurts to stay on voters' minds year round).

    What he has going against him:

    Westbrook might develop into a superstar rather than a sidekick (causing the alpha dog clash some members of the media foresee); he will most likely get a couple less shots per game; there's no room for him to lead the Thunder to huge improvement, at least not in the regular season.