Who will surprise us for NBA MVP this year?
The NBA MVP race is always fun to watch. Yes, someone occasionally runs away with the award, and sometimes a media narrative can basically propel one player up the list as well. But more often than not there are a few players in contention, and reasonable arguments that can be made for each of them.
For this coming season, conventional wisdom (and betting odds) suggest five or six players in the lead for MVP consideration. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Anthony Davis would seem to be at the top of the list, and many would also pick Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, or Russell Westbrook. Together, these seven players comprise a group of guys whose individual production is likely to be worthy of MVP honors.
But what about the dark horses? Every now and then someone just takes over a season, the way Derrick Rose did when he became the league’s youngest ever MVP winner. Naturally, these guys coming out of nowhere basically means we didn’t see it coming. But there’s no fun in that, so here’s my look at five guys who could steal the MVP for 2018-19. Mind you, none of these guys are going to knock your socks off – they’re all great players. But they’re not quite in that top tier listed above for MVP consideration, and I believe any of them could get into the mix.
1. Kyrie Irving
There’s actually another piece that explored MVP dark horses from more of a bookmakers’ odds standpoint that put the Kyrie Irving situation perfectly: he’s been gone so long it’s easy to forget just how good he was in his first season with the Celtics. Irving is injury-prone, and he’s now playing on a roster loaded with offensive talent. But he’s still the point guard and the alpha on a team that most are picking to make it all the way to the NBA Finals. If he’s able to put together his most complete season to date – scoring, facilitating, and building on his improving defense – he may well put himself in consideration for the award.
2. Kawhi Leonard
There’s been so much drama surrounding Kawhi Leonard we almost forget how good he can be also. Granted he’s been hurt and we don’t know if he can get back to 100 percent yet, but the mere possibility should put him on the MVP long list. He’ll be the new leader of a Raptors team that can contend in the East, and he could well be the best player in the conference if he’s back to his peak abilities. Plus, keep in mind that the media loves a narrative, and Leonard returning to an MVP level after his ugly exit from San Antonio fits the bill.
3. DeMar DeRozan
The man who headlined the Raptors’ trade package for Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, feels like a sneaky MVP candidate. The downside is that he’s heading to a Western Conference in which some people wouldn’t even list him as one of the 10 best players. The upside however is that he gets to be the go-to scorer and possibly best overall player on a San Antonio Spurs team that will likely be better than anyone expects, because that’s what the Spurs do. If DeRozan averages something like 25 points per game with good efficiency and the Spurs somehow manage something along the lines of a 3-seed, he could well be in the MVP talk.
4. Victor Oladipo
Oladipo had a major breakout season in 2017-18, and is striving to get even better. His candidacy would depend on how people judge the concept of an MVP, which always seems to shift. There’s probably no one who would argue that Oladipo can be the best player in the NBA, even if he were to pull a 30-point scoring average out of nowhere and make the All-Defense team. He’s just not quite on that top tier of talent. But if we judge MVP literally as the player most valuable to his team – and if Oladipo keeps the Pacers among the East’s contenders – he may have a viable case.
5. Kevin Love
It’s easy to forget just how well Kevin Love can produce. But back in 2012 when he put up numbers that you’d believe came from Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, there were arguments that he deserved the MVP. It’s been six years since then and a lot has changed, but Love has his own team for the first time since leaving Minnesota, and his game has diversified. He still feels like a long shot, but if he reverts to Minnesota numbers or better and keeps the Cavaliers in the playoff hunt when many expect them to tank, he’ll start to turn some heads.