Who Will Win the 2017-18 NBA MVP?
From year to year, there’s constant debate over the NBA’s most coveted regular season award: the MVP. With a little help from Vegas, here’s a look at who could walk away with the hardware this season. (all odds according to Bovada)
Kawhi Leonard, SA (+350)
After the trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder, Leonard overtook Russell Westbrook as the 2018 MVP favorite. The case for Leonard is clear: He’s arguably a top 3-5 player in the league playing for the league’s most consistent franchise. No matter how much doubt surrounds the Spurs and their roster heading into a given season, they always come out with 50+ wins. Leonard is also regarded as the best two-way player in the league as he’s made strides to become an elite scorer in addition to his ability to lock down any position on the court. The biggest aid to Leonard’s case is that he doesn’t play on a “superteam” that has multiple all-stars, unlike Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, or James Harden, his top competition for the award. Leonard’s teammates have a combined 3 All-Star game appearances in the last 3 seasons (most recently Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2016). If Leonard can carry San Antonio to a top-3 record in a loaded Western Conference he’ll deserve heavy consideration for the award. Improving his playmaking and assist numbers would also help his case.
LeBron James, CLE (+450)
It’s strange to think that it’s been over 4 years since the league’s best player won the MVP award. The fact that James doesn’t exude the same effort as he does in the postseason and has sat out games for rest are main factors that have hurt his case in recent years. This year, however, could be different. With Kyrie gone and Isaiah Thomas likely to miss significant time, James will have to carry an even larger load for Cleveland. Last season James put up one of the best statistical lines of his career, averaging 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.7 assists but the Cavaliers didn’t meet expectations on their way to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. If he can put up similar numbers and take a deeper Cavs team to the best record in the East, he’ll stand a good chance of bringing home his fifth career NBA MVP.
Kevin Durant, GS (+550)
Coming off an NBA Finals MVP performance and his first title with Golden State, some may wonder why KD isn’t the outright favorite for this year’s MVP award. Well, look no further than his team, which has three other players who are arguably among the NBA’s best 15-20. With that much talent, one might argue that the team would be just fine without him and Durant might end up just splitting votes with his teammate Steph Curry, a two-time MVP himself. On the other side of things, narrative often plays a key role in deciding the MVP and many might see the MVP as the best player on the league’s best team. Durant will likely qualify as just that this season. Add in the fact that he is now comfortable with the Warriors and his teammates and Durant could be primed for a monster season. The Warriors’ offense provides a the spacing, freedom, and opportunities for Durant to reach peak efficiency. If he can be near the top or even lead the league in scoring while producing 50-40-90 efficiency in a 60+ win season for Golden State, the MVP award might be as good as his.
Russell Westbrook, OKC (+600)
The defending MVP, Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 season was phenomenal and his feat of averaging the first triple-double since 1962 will go down in history books. How could he possibly follow that up? With the arrival of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook won’t need to be the one-man wrecking crew he was last year but that could ultimately be great for his development as a player and championship aspirations. Last year, Westbrook’s detractors looked to the Thunder’s record (they finished 47-35, sixth in the West) as one of the reasons he shouldn’t be MVP. With two more stars in tow, the Thunder should surely build on last season’s success. With his historic usage rate set to decrease Westbrook could earn another MVP by improving two facets of his game: efficiency and playmaking. With improved spacing and the offensive threats of George and Anthony, Westbrook should have even more room to operate, leading to even easier shots and drives to the rim. Additionally, the catch-and-shoot and scoring abilities of his new teammates should lead to a rise in assists for Westbrook and could help him lead the league in that category. If Westbrook can reach new levels of efficiency from the field (his career-high is 45.7%) and lead the Thunder to a top three or four record in the West he could become the 12th player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (+1000)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, commonly referred to as the Greek Freak, took a major leap last season, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.6 steals on his way to earning the Most Improved Player award. Giannis is a truly special talent to watch, long enough to block shots in help defense, finish in traffic, and perform a eurostep dunk from the free throw line. What’s even more is that at 6’11” Giannis can run the Bucks offense as a point forward. The Greek Freak’s talent and versatility are so apparent that many NBA fans are saying it’s a matter of when, not if, he wins an MVP award. His game might be the closest thing we’ve seen to LeBron James and if he and the Bucks take another leap after finishing 6th in the East last season, Antetokounmpo could end up with an MVP award sooner than anyone expected.
James Harden, HOU (+1000)
Harden might have missed his best shot at an MVP award. Last season, the Rockets gave Harden the keys to the franchise and he delivered with a phenomenal season that saw him average 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds on his way to a 2nd-place finish in MVP voting. On top of that, Harden’s Rockets finished 3rd in the West at 55-27. Houston made a splash this offseason, giving Harden a new backcourt mate in a trade for superstar point guard Chris Paul. The move means Harden will spend less time with the ball in his hands but like Westbrook, a tweaked role provides a path for Harden to MVP production. With Paul taking on more of the playmaking duties, Harden can focus more on the spot-up shooting and cutting efficiency that made him so dangerous in his OKC days with Durant and Westbrook. If he can stay near the 29 ppg marks he’s achieved the past few seasons with 50-40-90 splits and lead the Rockets to one of the best 3 records in the West, Harden will once again be in the thick of the MVP conversation.