Predicting NBA's Top 5 MVP Candidates In 5 Years

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 6, 2020

Predicting NBA's Top 5 MVP Candidates In 5 Years

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    MVP voting is an inexact science, but some key factors always come into consideration.

    Scoring: Individual production is a must, especially with the NBA almost universally adopting a faster pace and a greater volume of three-point shots, thus leading to more overall scoring. Four of the past six winners have averaged 30 points per game or more.

    Passing: Dirk Nowitzki is the only MVP winner in the past 15 years who didn't average at least five assists per game.

    Position: In the past 20 years, six MVPs have been won by point guards, three by shooting guards, five by small forwards and five by power forwards. Shaquille O'Neal was the last center to be named most valuable player, taking place 20 years ago during the 1999-00 season.

    Age: The average age of MVP winners over the last 20 years is 26.6, meaning we'll be looking at players primarily aged from 25 to 28. Steve Nash is the only player to win the award in his 30s since Karl Malone in 1998-99.

    With former MVP winners like LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry being aged out of MVP consideration five years from now, here are the players most likely to take their place.

Honorable Mentions

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    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG

    Just 21, Gilgeous-Alexander is the leading scorer (19.3 points per game) on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that's off to an impressive 40-24 start to the season.

    Being developed on a franchise that's already drafted three MVPs in the past decade, Gilgeous-Alexander has a fantastic mentor in Chris Paul and will only see his numbers go up when given complete control of the offense.


    Nikola Jokic, C

    While it's extremely rare for centers to win MVP, Jokic is far from a typical center.

    Now 25, he leads not only all centers with his 6.9 assists, but is first among all forwards as well (LeBron James is considered a point guard this season). Combined with his scoring (20.2 PPG this season) and rebounding (10.2) and great young Denver Nuggets core, Jokic will be in the MVP conversation for the next several years.


    Donovan Mitchell, SG

    A first-time All-Star this season at age 23, Mitchell's scoring and efficiency only continue to get better.

    Already up to 24.2 points per game, Mitchell has a great Jazz team around him that should continue to allow him to thrive.


    Ja Morant, PG

    Morant and Magic Johnson are the only rookie guards in history to average at least 17 points and six assists while shooting 49 percent or better from the field.

    While there are plenty of young, talented guards in the league, Morant has already shown immense value by leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.


    Ben Simmons, PG

    Simmons, 23, is already a two-time All-Star in his three pro seasons, and he's leading the NBA in steals this year while playing elite defense.

    Though he should continue to be a nightly triple-double threat, Simmons' scoring (16.4 points per game this season) will have to increase for him to garner serious MVP consideration. A split from Joel Embiid would likely help draw some extra votes as well.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF

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    While Antetokounmpo will be 30 five years from now, he's still on an upward trajectory that is perhaps a few years away from hitting its peak.

    The 2018-19 MVP, Antetokounmpo is almost guaranteed to win the award again this season behind his 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. He's already made more three-pointers this season (83) than any other year in his career, improving his accuracy from 25.6 percent a season ago to 30.7 percent now.

    Unlike others who have taken home the award, Antetokounmpo has become a yearly threat to win Defensive Player of the Year, a quality that should be taken into account when considering a player's value. His 6'11", 242-pound frame combines strength with athleticism, which helps him block shots and stop opponents from getting into the paint.

    Besides age, one factor that could hurt Antetokounmpo is voter fatigue. LeBron James has arguably been the best player in the NBA for the past 13 years, yet he has just four MVP awards to his name.

    With Antetokounmpo likely winning his second this season, voters will naturally be looking for new, interesting storylines when it comes to picking an MVP. While not fair, it's become a common trend.

    There's also the factor of where Antetokounmpo will be playing and who will surround him, as he's set to hit unrestricted free agency next year.

4. Jayson Tatum, F

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    The blueprint is there for Tatum to win an MVP.

    The 22-year-old has the size and skills to become one of the top scorers in the league from the wing position and already has 28 games of playoff experience.

    Tatum has made tremendous strides as both a scorer and playmaker this season. He's already up to 23.6 points per game (16th-best in NBA), dropping the frequency of his mid-range shots down to just 8.5 percent while a career-high 37.7 percent of his shots are coming from three.

    Tatum has also increased his assist percentage from 8.3 percent as a rookie to 14.0 percent now. He's growing closer to hitting the 5.0-assist-per-game mark that 14 of the last 15 winners have reached.

    There's also the likelihood of a growing role, with teammate Kemba Walker entering his 30s next month and Gordon Hayward having just one year left on his deal. While Jaylen Brown is also developing into a star, his ceiling doesn't appear to be quite as high as that of Tatum's.

    With the Boston Celtics looking like one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come, don't be surprised to see Tatum in the MVP conversation soon with his continual development.

3. Trae Young, PG

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    Young's production is already MVP-worthy, even in his second year at age 21.

    He ranks fourth in points per game (29.6) and second in assists (9.3). When combining points scored and points created through assists, only James Harden generates more offense for his team per night than Young.

    His game matches perfectly with the modern NBA, as Young has unlimited range and only needs a single screen to get to his spots or find an open shooter or cutter. He's already a better passer than Stephen Curry and may one day get close to his level of accuracy from the outside.

    While Curry won two MVPs without ever being a great defender, Young still has a ways to go to even reach an average level. His limited size (6'1", 180 pounds) and short wingspan (6'2") likely mean he'll struggle as a defender throughout his career, so giving consistent effort on that side of the ball will be a must.

    Unfortunately, the Atlanta Hawks have a long way to go before Young gains serious MVP consideration. At 20-47, they're tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers at 34 games back in the Eastern Conference standings.

    Of course, Atlanta should be quite good in a few years. Clint Capela gives Young an experienced lob target, and John Collins has played at an All-Star level for months. If De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish can continue their development and the Hawks gravitate toward the top of the East in a few years, Young's MVP stock will certainly rise.

2. Zion Williamson, PF

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    Williamson has played just 19 games in his NBA career, but it's clear he's going to be a major problem for opposing defenses.

    With averages of 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.8 steals and a 58.9 field-goal percentage in just 29.7 minutes, Williamson has improved the New Orleans Pelicans by a whopping 13.6 points per 100 possessions.

    While his outside game has looked good in a small sample size (6-of-13 on threes, 46.2 percent), Williamson is going to be nearly unstoppable in the paint.

    He already leads the NBA in shots made (8.3) and attempted (13.1) in the restricted area, finishing at a 63.1 percent clip. Although just 6'6", his muscular 285-pound frame bumps defenders off balance before he uses an incredible vertical to finish around the rim in a variety of ways.

    Already a gifted ball-handler and passer for someone his size, Williamson will have to continue to round out his overall game before coming close to winning an MVP. Losing some weight, even if it means sacrificing a little strength, would also be a good idea to help protect the long-term durability of his joints.

    The foundation is there for one of the best players in the league to develop—and possibly one of the most uncommon talents we've ever seen from the power forward position.

No. 1: Luka Doncic, G

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    Saying Doncic is going to win an MVP award would be a disservice to him. He's good enough to win far more than one.

    Arguably the best player the NBA has seen since LeBron James at this stage in his career, Doncic is already matching production with team success in his second season.

    The Rookie of the Year last season, Doncic was voted in as an All-Star starter at age 20. He's averaging a near-triple-double of 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 46.1 percent from the field in 33.3 minutes.

    In his sophomore season, James was putting up 34.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 9.1 assists per 100 possessions. In the same amount of time, Doncic is registering 41.7 points, 13.5 rebounds and 12.7 assists. James' Cleveland Cavaliers went 42-40 overall, missing the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks are 40-27, a lock to make the West playoffs and own the NBA's best offense (116.7 rating).

    While the Mavericks will likely have to make the jump toward the top of the West for Doncic to actually win an MVP, they've put themselves in a good position. Kristaps Porzingis is under contract for the next four years, there's plenty of good role players already in place, and max cap space appears likely for 2021 when several superstars will become free agents.

    Doncic's efficiency as a scorer will only improve as he becomes more familiar with defenders' tendencies, and his step-back has the potential to be one of best moves in NBA history. He also has room to grow as a defender and could add muscle to his 6'7", 218-pound physique.

    Expect Doncic to have at least one MVP in the next few years and to finish an eventual Hall of Fame career with three or four. 


    Stats via Basketball Reference and unless otherwise noted.