Unless there is a serious tectonic shift in the NBA’s World Order, we can be safely assume that for the next few years, the MVP award will continue to be shared among the two finest basketball players on the planet at the moment: LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Consider the facts for the moment: Over the last six years, LeBron has won four MVP awards and finished second once. Durant has won one MVP award and finished second three times. The top two in MVP voting for the last three years have been LeBron and Durant, and no one else has even been close. Both players are still in their prime (LeBron is 29, Durant is 25) and both will be playing for title contenders in the near future. Rest assured, the ‘duopoly’ of NBA dominance between the two Uber-talented small-forwards is sure to continue for several more years. The gulf of individual talent between the top two and the rest is simply way too vast. Oddsmakers wouldn’t be wrong in betting on the dominance to continue, and for either LeBron or Durant to continue lifting the Maurice Podoloff Trophy until 2017, at least.
But what happens next? Who is the most likely candidate to snag the MVP trophy away from the LeBron-Durant two-headed monster? I’m here to take a peer forward into the near future to identify the future stars of the league, and who among them will have the best chance of starting a new reign at the top of the league’s player standings.
Missing the cut
For reasons such as age, injury, or team situation, it is highly unlikely that some of these players – even if they are superstars right now – will become the first post-LeBron/Durant MVP. The first (and saddest) name in this list if Derrick Rose, the 2011 MVP and the player who seemed most likely to rule the NBA for this decade along with LeBron and Durant if it hadn’t been for all the injuries he’s suffered over the past two years. Rose will likely return and become an NBA star once more, but it is highly unlikely if he will ever have the explosiveness to play at an MVP level again.
Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard are all prodigious NBA talents, but I think they have already peeked in their careers, and especially by the time LeBron and Durant are done peeking, they would be too old to be MVP challengers.
The NBA draft ensured that the league’s future is in good hands, and many of the young new additions to the league will be hoping that their career pans out in a way that they eventually snag the ultimate individual reward. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins might definitely become MVPs one day, but it will take a lot longer for them than some of the candidates named below.
Close, but no trophy
As the following young players develop, I believe that they will be challenging for the MVP award for the next few years, but I realistically don’t see them rising to become the cream of the crop. This group of players include Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Joakim Noah, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and DeMarcus Cousins. All of them have the talent, but it is their team success that will eventually determine if they can be MVP contenders. They will come close and maybe even earn between the second to fifth place in the MVP voting, but ultimately, they won’t win the coveted award.
And here, in reverse order of lowest to the highest probability, are the players most likely to become the first new name to reign at the top and to finally end the LeBron-Durant dominance at the top.
5. Paul George
George came pretty close to ending the duopoly last season, at least early on. The Pacers began the season as the hottest team in the league and George was on fire. After the first six weeks of the season, the Pacers stood at a league-best 19-3 record with George averaging 25 points a night while pouring in rebounds, assists, and a strong load of defence, too. Unfortunately, the car crashed, spectacularly. The Pacers made a U-turn in form after the All-Star break and although George remained effective, he wasn’t playing at a superstar level anymore. Still, the flashes of greatness show that he has got potential for more in him, and if he can find consistency as he gets older (he’s still only 24), he might shock the world and become a future MVP.
4. Russell Westbrook
I understand that Westbrook currently plays alongside the league’s MVP and the man most likely to remain the most unstoppable force in basketball over the next few years. But, as Kevin Durant himself said in his MVP acceptance speech, Westbrook is an MVP-calibre player himself. Don’t be surprised if one of the two things happens in the near future: either Durant, after a couple more years as the MVP, decides to step back and let Westbrook carry the bulk of the team’s offense or the two are separated to play in different teams and Westbrook gets the chance to carry a team to success by himself.
3. Kawhi Leonard
Surprised? Don’t be. When Leonard was named Finals MVP after the Spurs beat the Heat, he ushered in a future where stars can exist beyond just the numbers and stats we see at face value, beyond high scoring or usage rates, beyond even All Star appearances that are based on a popularity contest. With NBA statistics getting smarter and more advanced, fans and media are beginning to see the influence of players like Leonard on a team, how they affect the team’s performance on the defensive end and how their presence on the court – even if they don’t score – lifts their team to greatness. Leonard is only 22 years old and plays for the NBA’s smartest team. It’s very likely that – even after the Duncan era – he and the Spurs will continue to be a winning team (at least in the regular season). And as he grows older and becomes more of an offensive force, it is very likely that his role as a crucial cog in a winning team gets rewarded with an MVP trophy.
2. Blake Griffin
Known for being one of the hardest workers in the league, Griffin has evolved from being just an athletic dunker to becoming an all-round offensive force with the ability to handle the ball, shoot the mid-range jumper, and of course, still remain one of the best finishers in the game. Griffin finished third in MVP voting this past season. Despite his talents though, he is still second to Chris Paul for the Clippers in the biggest moments; for the Clippers to rise to the next level, the baton for the team’s MVP has to be passed from Paul to Griffin. I think this will happen very soon and Griffin will continue to improve dramatically. The only reason he doesn’t have the number one spot is that he is 25 – the same age as Kevin Durant – and, for as long as Griffin is good, Durant will be better, and thus, Griffin could finish at second place to the OKC forward for many years.
1. Anthony Davis
There are great players, and then there are momentous players. Anthony Davis is the latter, a 6-foot-11 multi-talent with the potential of developing into a once-in-a-generation talent. Davis finished just his second NBA season averaging 20.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Those numbers should scare the rest of the league because he has many more years of dominance to go. Eventually, I see Davis creating a gulf of individual talent between himself and the rest of the players in the league as large as the gulf that LeBron and Durant enjoy right now. The only question for him will be team success: you don’t win MVP awards from outside the playoffs. But by the time the LeBron-Durant era ends, I predict that Davis will be playing for a winning team and challenging for a title. Thus, he leads my list of players most likely to start the next reign in the NBA.