This offseason, news concerning LeBron James and his offseason “decision” monopolized NBA headlines—and rightfully so. LeBron single-handedly carried the Heat, and even the most obtuse viewers could see that he was beset by a better team in the NBA Finals. As is his wont, James, for fleeting moments that grew fewer and farer between as the series progressed, looked like he would will the Heat to victory and carry that leaden Miami bandwagon (sorry, but c’est vrai!) But alas! the San Antonio Spurs emerged victorious.
Why this ostensibly frivolous blather? Well, the point is that LeBron James is getting bigger. A man who has already won a handful of MVP awards, who has done all that he could do for Miami, who has captured the imaginations of spiteful and vindictive fans, flying out of the hole he dug himself with his departure from Cleveland, is getting bigger—but not tumescent! There is no turgidity about King James, as his on-court play warrants all the hype.
Moving back home to Cleveland, back into the arms of his oh so gracious fans in Ohio, James will certainly reverse the tide for a team that has been floundering since his departure. At the vanguard of Cleveland’s imminent resurrection, James will certainly be a favourite to win MVP next season.
But do not turn your heads away from the rest of the NBA’s superstars. Here is a list of 5 players that could win the MVP award next season instead of King James. As per usual, feel free to discuss the picks and any selections that have been overlooked in the comments sections.
5. Anthony Davis—New Orleans Pelicans
Basketball fans are quickly taking note of Anthony Davis’ ascendance. As U.S.A. Basketball makes its final cuts and prepares to chase gold this offseason in the FIBA World Cup, many analysts have underscored Davis’ importance to the team. From being the last guy on the bench in the Olympics in 2012—he was fresh out of college—to being the key to victory for Team U.S.A., Anthony Davis will return to the NBA on everyone’s radar. But it would be unwise to bet on Davis folding under the pressure.
Last season, Davis averaged 20.8 points, 2.8 blocks, 10 rebounds, and 1.6 assists on a sub-par New Orleans squad that was young. The core group of players will return next season, looking to build on the small successes of last year. This stability should be a boon to Davis, who has yet to reach his prime. The Western Conference is indisputably the tougher conference to play in, a fact that should increase Davis’ chances of winning the MVP award. Indeed, spearheading a playoff team and increasing last season’s stats should be enough to make Davis a serious threat to win MVP.
Still on his rookie contract, Davis has the most incentive to go out and take home the MVP award. He will make $ 5.6 million next season, so his big payday is still to come. He may be on the outside looking in, but Davis is the biggest dark horse bet to win next season’s MVP.
4. Carmelo Anthony—New York Knicks
Before you flout at this selection, recognize that Anthony and the Knicks can only go one way and that’s up. Last season was abysmal for the Knicks; no one honestly expected them to play as badly as they did. Missing the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, after all, tends to be an exercise in ineptitude. That said, as a franchise, the Knicks have done well this offseason by bringing Phil Jackson on board and retaining Carmelo Anthony, the biggest financial winner this offseason.
Melo will make $22.4 million next season, and, ironically, he has done the right thing by chasing the paper. Respect in the NBA is earned by not jumping ship and swimming to fairer lands. If the Knicks vastly improve next season—again, in the East, you never know—Melo’s decision will pay dividends, and he will climb the ladder in the MVP discussion.
He also seems to be making the right improvements to his game. Last season, he averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game; his rebounding numbers were the best of his career. If he increases his amount of assists per game, and of course all other things remain the same, his averages will come eerily close to LeBron James’. Again, if the team improves, the spotlight will be focused on Melo (maybe Phil, too—after all, the NBA loves its legends).
3. Chris Paul—Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul is a player who has been in the MVP discussion for several years now. He is, undoubtedly, one of top 5 points guards in the game, if not the best. Though playoff success has eluded Chris Paul, his stats speak for themselves; last season, he averaged 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, 2.5 steals, and 4.3 rebounds per game, numbers that call attention to his potency on both ends of the court.
For Paul to win MVP, however, a few things need to happen. First, the Los Angeles Clippers need to be a top-3 team in the Western Conference, a feat that is not easy given the competitiveness of said conference. Second, the Los Angeles Clippers need to win the big games—for instance, the majority of their matchups with the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Cleveland Cavaliers—and Paul needs to dazzle in these games. Third, Blake Griffin cannot outshine Paul for stretches of time.
Paul will make $20 million next season, so he will definitely be paid like an MVP, but, as Derrick Rose comes back and Stephon Curry continues with his torrid shooting performances, the discussion has somewhat moved away from Paul as the point guard to pay attention to. Paul needs a big season, and a big one might earn him his first-ever MVP award, an award that he could have won in past years if it weren’t for other studs.
2. Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
A former standout at Memphis for John Calipari, Derrick Rose has had an NBA career full of wild fluctuations. He came to Chicago as a draft pick in high regard, and many thought he would lead the Bulls back to the top of the league. By his fourth season in the NBA, he had won the league’s MVP award and had led the Bulls’ reemergence. However, due to injuries, Derrick Rose has played just 10 games in the last two seasons.
As a result of his struggles with injury, D-Rose, as many affectionately know him as, will face tremendous expectations next season as he—hopefully—returns to form. The obverse side of these expectations, though, is a huge payoff, if he satisfies.
Next season, the former MVP will have all the tools to succeed, as the Bulls’ front office went fishing this offseason and came up with no small fish; they reeled in the Lochness Monster in Pau Gasol. Gasol, one of the league’s best big men at passing the ball, will pair nicely with Joakim Noah, another great passer. These leviathans down low will do a lot for the Bulls’ offense, and, in theory, Rose will not be forced to slash dangerously to the hoop as much. Dough McDermott, Creighton’s former sharpshooter, should fit nicely into this offense, providing Rose with a lethal kick-out option. The Bulls should look (and be) better on offense and defense.
Rose is set to make $18.8 million next season, so he needs to prove his worth to Chicago’s diehard fans. Given his stature, it is hard to predict what numbers would get the job done with regard to Rose winning the MVP. In his MVP season in 2010-2011, Rose averaged 25 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game, so he will need to put up similar numbers. However, the more important stat for Rose is the Bulls’ win-loss record in the regular season. If the Bulls win more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that looks to be their biggest competition, Rose will have a good shot at the hardware. If only for this storyline—Bulls vs Cavaliers—the Eastern Conference is looking like the conference to watch next season.
1. Kevin Durant—Oklahoma City Thunder
As the league’s incumbent MVP, Kevin Durant is the one player on this list who knows what it takes to win the MVP. Everyone holds the former standout at Texas in high esteem and thinks he is the quintessential basketball player—from love of the game to work ethic to drive—and that image will increase his chances of winning the award. Durant has moved into the ok-he’s-a-bona-fide-superstar-and-surefire-hall-of-famer category and will continue to play with something to prove until he has won at least one NBA Championship. That is to say, barring injury, Durant will not have a poor season in 2014-2015.
His stats last year also give him a good benchmark for chasing the MVP. He averaged 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists on over 50% shooting and just under 40% from behind the arc. Ok, maybe those numbers are a little herculean, but LeBron James will most certainly put up insane numbers and shoot a jaw-dropping percentage from the floor.
What is most important for Durant and his chances of winning MVP, though, is Oklahoma’s regular season record. Unlike Rose, Durant plays in the highly competitive Western Conference. Nevertheless, OKC will need to finish first or second in the Western Conference or Durant’s chances are shot. Win or lose, he’ll make $19 million next season…upward and onward!