Culture of Hoops

Who’s The Real MVP? Ranking The 2016-17 MVP Contenders

Image courtesy of TJ Macias/Hardwood&Hollywood.

Image courtesy of TJ Macias/Hardwood&Hollywood.

Praise the Sports Gods, the NBA is back. Football has been underwhelming, baseball is wrapping up, and the election has brought out the petty differences in us. Luckily there is one thing we can all agree on and that is that the NBA is the best. The 2016–17 season has kicked off with a bang this week and had no shortage of superstars making waves early. This years MVP pool is stacked with talent leaving us with a buffet of options. Which options are worth placing money on? I’m glad you asked.

All odds taken from Odds Shark

I. The Favorites

Russell Westbrook (+200)

Why you bet on him: Have you seen this guy play? He’s a true one man wrecking crew on the court stuff the stat sheet like a Thanksgiving plate. Kevin Durant’s departure had to piss him off and he should use that anger to channel his inner 2001 Allen Iverson. He’s the judge, jury, and executioner in Oklahoma City and right now their only viable threat on offense. His opening game versus the 76ers was a good indicator of what is in store for the season as he totaled 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists while shooting 52-percent from the field. He followed that up with the first 50-point triple double since 1975 in his home opener versus the Suns, totaling 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Want a safe bet, Westbrook is your guy.

Why you don’t bet on him: If there are no other viable threats to distract teams from focusing on Westbrook his numbers have to drop right? Not exactly, but the Thunder could lose a lot of games which never bodes well for a MVP case. Lost in Westbrook’s great season debut was the Thunder struggling to beat the 76ers. You can chalk that up to opening the season on the road or it could be something bigger. I think the Thunder will be fine, but it’s something to lookout for nonetheless.

LeBron James (+450)

Why you bet on him: If given the opportunity to bet on the greatest player of all time why wouldn’t you? Ignore that hot take and stay with me here. LeBron James is really fucking good at what he does and he seems reinvigorated by the Warriors adding Kevin Durant. Right now he’s sitting on four MVPs. The only guys who have more? Michael Jordan (5), Bill Russell (5), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), the same names of that make up NBA’s Mount Rushmore. LeBron knows how close he is to cementing himself as that fourth guy (if he hasn’t already) and that fifth MVP can do it. He opened the season with a triple double (27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) further hammering home that the GOAT has thrown his crown in the ring.

Why you don’t bet on him: The biggest worry for the Cavs is LeBron breaking down before the NBA Finals. He’s played 199 of a possible 199 playoff games and already played more minutes than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played in their careers. Cavs head coach Ty Lue is aware of this and has already said he plans to limit his captain’s minutes during the regular season. When asked if he thinks a minutes restriction would affect a MVP bid LeBron said “No, because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.” If you’re betting on MVP and don’t put a little money on LeBron you’ve already lost.

Stephen Curry (+450)

Why you bet on him: Coming off back to back MVPs you would assume Stephen Curry is still the talk of the town. But he’s not. A bad Finals showing plus the addition of Kevin Durant has pushed Curry back into the fray. He’s still the best shooter out league has ever seen and while the public may have forgotten that Vegas certainly hasn’t. He has the second best odds to win MVP (tied with LeBron) and for good reason. Durant’s arrival removes all the attention and physicality teams were starting to impose on him. That means more fast break threes and more one on one opportunities. Curry works best in space and he will have plenty of that with Durant on the floor.

Why you don’t bet on him: Aside from the fact that the last time someone three-peated the MVP it was Wilt Chamberlain in the late 1960s, Curry has one big problem. There’s only one basketball and four legitimate stars on the Warriors. Draymond Green can survive without the ball, but Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant need their shots. Other candidates (most notably Westbrook and James Harden) don’t have to share the ball and the ones that do (LeBron, Kawhi Leonard) make impacts in other ways. Curry is a scorer. He’s not a defender, he’s not a ferocious rebounder and not exactly Chris Paul. To do what he does best he needs the basketball and I’m still not sold on him getting it enough to take home his third straight MVP.

II. The Good Bets

James Harden (+1000)

Why you bet on him: James Harden was put on this planet to do one thing–score the basketball. Mike D’Antoni’s arrival as Rockets head coach will give Harden the freedom he needs to be a star and so far it looks like he is not going to waste it. In his point guard debut against the Lakers he tallied 14 assists in the first half and finished with 34 points, 17 assists and 8 rebounds. He’s essentially in the same scenario as his former teammate Westbrook with half the hype. Last season critics, analysts, and fans had no problem slandering him, but this season Harden seems poised to shut them all up.

Why don’t you bet on him: For the record he is the third best option to bet on in my opinion, falling after LeBron and tied with Westbrook. So why is someone like Curry ranked ahead of him? Popularity is a good guess followed by team success. The Rockets will struggle to land a top five seed in the West, but the sole reason they won’t be a lottery team is James Harden. He will be the candidate nitpicked the most and the one most likely to get screwed over by perception. Basketball wise this is a great pick, but sadly MVP voting isn’t always based solely on the game.

Kevin Durant (+1000)

Why you bet on him: Because he’s the second best basketball player on the planet contrary to Charles Barkley‘s dumbass belief. When he’s right there is no one–not even defensive saiyan Kawhi–that can stop him. He is in scoring range the minute he steps on the court and is a true seven-footer that handles the ball like a point guard. He has an unblockable jumper and savvy at getting to the line with his patented up-and-under. Now on the Warriors Durant will rarely see a double team and in the event he does there’s a 90-percent chance he’s getting an assist on the play. The pressure to win a title right away is hyped much like it was for LeBron in 2011, as long as KD does what he’s capable of he will have another phenomenal year.

Why don’t you bet on him: Copy and paste what was said about Curry–sans the third straight MVP opportunity–and apply it to Durant. There is only one basketball to pass around four stars so there will be fewer opportunities for 50 point explosions. Don’t buy into the “Durant is replacing Harrison Barnes” narrative, the Warriors signed the second best player walking the earth to be their top guy not one of the guys.

Anthony Davis (+1000)

Why you bet on him: James Harden isn’t the only one on a redemption tour. Remember Anthony Davis? He was the Karl Anthony Towns hype before the Karl Anthony Towns hype. Injured for the majority of last season Davis reminded us all why he was being considered the best player in the league in 2014. Through two games Davis has 95 points, 32 rebounds, and 8 assists. There are few things Davis cannot do on the basketball court. He is essentially a seven-foot point guard that drive to the rim, pull up, or post up. The Pelicans will give AD the ball as much as they can mainly because there is no other option, but also because he is a top three player when he’s healthy.

Why you don’t bet on him: Which brings us why you wouldn’t put your money on Davis. You don’t know how many games he’s playing. The only thing—and I mean the only—Davis can’t do is stay on the floor consistently. Look at the variety of injuries he has suffered in just four seasons. He has not played 70 games in a season yet let alone 82. Until he proves he can play a full season he might not be worth the role of the dice.

Kawhi Leonard (+1000)

Why you bet on him: I’m still not sold on Kawhi Leonard being a human being and not a droid created in Gregg Popovich’s basement. I’ve never heard the guy speak or show emotion. Every season he gets considerably better to the point it doesn’t seem possible. In his first season as the top gun Kawhi has responded with two 30-point, 5-steal game wins and that’s what you just get from the stat sheet. When you watch him he is literally cutting off a portion of the court much like Darrelle Revis used to cut off half a football field. Whenever your best player is going up against him you naturally lower your expectations.

Why you don’t bet on him: Kawhi’s is already winning Defensive Player of the Year, you can put that money into your summer budget. He should absolutely finish high in MVP voting, but this year’s pool is too crowded. LeBron seems intent on capturing his fifth, Durant is fighting for his legacy, Westbrook and Harden will always have flashier games, and Davis looks like Tracy McGrady trapped in a center’s body. Kawhi is not just competing with numbers, but with presentation. The MVP is a mix of the valedictorian and the homecoming king. Kawhi fits the bill for the first criteria, but ranks considerably lower on the latter.

III. The Dark Horses

Paul George (+2200)

Why you bet on him: Since healing from that catastrophic leg injury with Team USA in 2014 Paul George is not just back, he’s better. He’s the engine of the Pacers and their lone star with second year big man Myles Turner being the next best player. In the first round of last year’s playoffs the newly christened PG13 destroyed the Raptors and almost took them down by himself. This season under new coach Nate McMillan George will have much more freedom to operate which should lead to more plays we saw in Rio with George getting loose for highlight dunks and maybe even transition threes. The pieces are there for him to have a year similar to what Carmelo Anthony had with the Knicks in 2013—more freedom to operate, no viable second option—it just comes down to execution.

Why you don’t bet on him: If you’ve watched the Pacers play this season you probably cooled off on George hype. Facing two favorable matchups against the Mavs and Nets George was unable to crack 30 points and actually lost to the Nets. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the rest of the field weren’t off to spectacular starts. But maybe this could be a sign of things to come. With no serious second option to worry about—Turner is coming alone, but he has to do it over the course of the year—the defense will focus solely on him.

Damian Lillard (+3300)

Why you bet on him: There are quite a few options in this bracket. Fellow stars Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, and Karl Anthony Towns all have the same odds to win MVP as Damian Lillard. But all of the players mentioned have not gotten off the start or are coming off the season Dame has. He helped carry a Trail Blazers team that was supposed to be rebuilding to the fifth seed in the West. In the playoffs he and C.J. McCollum got the Blazers past the Clippers and had the Warriors on their heels before being put to sleep. This season Lillard has carried all that momentum and translated it to a hot start. Through three games he’s averaging 35 points and more importantly he’s knocking down clutch shots. He constantly has a chip on his shoulder and has already proven that chip translates to wins and big performances.

Why you don’t bet on him: There isn’t much to nitpick about Lillard. He’s a scoring guard and will never be confused with Chris Paul which is perfectly fine. The Blazers are more than happy with Lillard, but just like George and Davis the question is can it last. McCollum is a legitimate second option and does not really effect Lillard’s opportunities, but instead maximizes it. The Blazers figure to be good again this year and if you want to throw your money on a reasonable dark horse Dame is your guy.

Kyrie Irving (+3300)

Why you bet on him: Kyrie Irving officially took the crown as best point guard in the East. John Wall was holding on to the title and Kyle Lowry even held it for a moment, but now the crown is Kyrie’s. The 2016 Finals cemented Kyrie as a superstar and just as good a sidekick to LeBron James as Dwyane Wade was. In case anyone thought the Finals performance was just a clutch performance and not a sign of what is to come you were wrong. LeBron and Kyrie are facing the same dynamic Curry and KD are in Golden State only LeBron’s planned rest days could make Kyrie the top option for the regular season. If that is indeed the case Kyrie has welcomed the responsibility averaging 25 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds through three games.

Why you don’t bet on him: As mentioned before LeBron seems intent on snagging his fifth MVP trophy. Kyrie shares the ball with LeBron so it seems unlikely that both will finish in the top five of MVP voting especially with Kevin Love looking ready to handle his portion of the load. Superstar teammates rarely have MVP caliber seasons. LeBron and Wade finished third and seventh when they were together. Blake and CP3 had a similar outing as did KD and Westbrook. Chances are LeBron will be the one that finishes inside the top five while Kyrie finishes inside the top ten.

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