For the last five years, a single name has been stamped atop the NBA’s player rankings, year after year: LeBron James. Barring Derrick Rose’s impressive 2011 campaign, LeBron James has won four Most Valuable Player trophies in the last five years. He has done it with the Cavaliers and with the Heat. He has done it with sub-standard teammates and with All-Star teammates. He has done it as a champion, twice. He has done it as a hero and as a villain.
And once more, at the start of the new season, LeBron starts the season as the consensus top player in the NBA, and his Heat – despite an early season hiccup – are favourites to complete a championship three-peat. LeBron will be aiming to become the first player to win five MVP awards in six seasons. He is coming off of yet another impressive season and dominating playoff run. He is sure to be one of the league’s best in PER once more this year, be amongst the league’s leading scorers, threaten triple doubles on a regular basis, and continue to bloom as an elite perimeter defender. It will take a mammoth effort by another superstar to end LeBron’s MVP streak.
But as Rose proved in 2011, however difficult it may seem to dethrone The NBA’s King, it is certainly not impossible. Chasing a three-peat more than a personal accolade, LeBron may take his foot off the pedal a little this season, and give an opening to more motivated players. His lead at the head of the pack isn’t secured, and if he has any missteps, there are a horde of capable and motivated players hungry to shoot for the top spot.
Here are the top contenders for LeBron James’ MVP crown this season:
1. Kevin Durant: “I’m tired of being second,” Durant told Sports Illustrated, “I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.” And if there’s any player capable of matching LeBron in pure other-worldly talent, it’s the Oklahoma State forward. Durant is capable of scoring 30 points a game effortlessly, and after another disappointing finish to the season last playoffs, you can be assured that there will be very few ‘effortless’ nights from him. With Westbrook back, Durant again has someone to defer the pressure of opposing defences away from him. He is improving as a rebounder, creator, defender, and leader every day. And he’s still only 25.
2. Chris Paul: The best point guard – or Point God – has been immense early in the season, and it seems that the Doc Rivers influence is already working wonders for him and the Clippers. Paul can score and assist at a high level every night, and is one of the most-clutch finishers in the league. If he can lead the Clippers to one of the top seeds in the West, he could walk away with his first MVP trophy.
3. Derrick Rose: Yes, he’s had a slow start from his return to injury, but once Rose and the Bulls smoothen the creases, expect some dominant basketball out of Chicago. Rose will be motivated to return to his best again. He’s the only player to have stopped LeBron’s regular season dominance over the past five years – can he do it again?
4. Paul George: There is definitely an outside shot for an MVP award for the Indiana Pacer, especially after his hot start to the season. George has been immense so far, averaging 27 points and 8.8 rebounds per game as the Pacers started 4-0 and were the only undefeated team in the league. If they can continue their hot start, George can certainly dream of following up his Most Improved Player campaign with an MVP one.
5. Kevin Love: Love is back from injury, and within the first week, showed how happy he exactly is to take the court again. He was the Western Conference Player of the Week for his t dominating play and led the Timberwolves to a 3-0 start to the season. If he’s healthy, there is no doubt that Love will drop big numbers nightly; but to be an MVP, he has to achieve team success. If he can lead Minnesota back to the playoffs, he could do just that.
6. Tony Parker: Parker has long been one of the NBA’s most overlooked players, but year after year, he plays at a high level for one of the NBA’s top teams. With Duncan aging, expect even more of San Antonio’s ‘alpha-dog’ responsibilities to fall Parker’s way. And the best player in one of the league’s best teams will always be in MVP consideration.
7. Carmelo Anthony: Last season, a lone first-place MVP vote robbed LeBron of becoming the first unanimous MVP. That vote went to Carmelo Anthony, who led the league in scoring and helped the surprising Knicks finish at second place in the conference. The Knicks have started slow this season and Anthony has been in a major shooting slump. But he is still one of the NBA’s most gifted offensive players in the prime of his career and has time to repeat or improve on his best-ever season last year.
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