With another NBA season starting this week, in what always feels like the shortest offseason in major sports, numerous storylines will be front and center, including who can take down the defending champs, LeBron vs. Kyrie and the many new big-name faces in new places. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook showed what he can do on his own last year, but the individual success didn’t translate to team results. With Carmelo Anthony and Paul George as new additions this year, the success of the Thunder will turn toward the team, but will it impact Westbrook’s shot at winning back-to-back MVP awards?
Here are seven guys who have a shot to knock him off his perch.
James Harden – It should come as no surprise, really, that Harden is on the list after he had an equally compelling case last year to walk home with the hardware. He’s coming off a season where he set career highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. Chris Paul is there, which will take away from his league-leading 11.2 assists per game, but expect Harden to be as dominating as ever.
Kawhi Leonard – Defense matters … except last year … and the year before that, when Leonard finished third and second in MVP voting, respectively. With the new toys at Westbrook and Harden’s disposal, this could be the year that Leonard finally walks away with the trophy if he can maintain his scoring surge from last season to add to his elite defense.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – He’s surged to the top of draft boards in Fantasy Basketball, and he could soon be the top player in all of basketball. It’s crazy that Antetokounmpo is only 22. With Jabari Parker taking his time coming back from his second ACL injury in three years, expect Antetokounmpo’s role and usage to continue to increase. The versatile Antetokounmpo can play any position on the floor, and he’s only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.
Kevin Durant – Even with a 27.8 usage – the lowest of his career – Durant didn’t play second fiddle to anyone in Golden State, as he continued to put up MVP-like numbers last year. While Harden and Westbrook have elite guys to contend with on their respective teams, too, Durant’s situation is more crowded with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, which could hurt him in the voting.
LeBron James – You can’t have MVP talk without including the best player in the game. With Kyrie Irving out of town and Isaiah Thomas likely to miss at least two months, James may need to up his regular season efforts to keep Cleveland as the team to beat in the East. James could lock up his first MVP since 2013.
Kyrie Irving – Irving has his chance to do it on his own … well, kind of. He goes to the second-best team in the East with an elite-level cast that could challenge the Cavaliers for the top spot in the conference. If Boston can make that a reality, Irving has to be considered for the MVP.
Anthony Davis – Look, health is the only thing that keeps Davis from being one of the Top 5 players in the league. Yes, he has DeMarcus Cousins with him. No, it won’t hurt his chances. Only his health can get in his way. He’s the NBA’s version of Giancarlo Stanton.
Others with a shot if everything goes right: