The MVP award is as much about team success as it is about individual success. To win the award it is imperative that a candidate pile up impressive stats. But those stats mean little if his team is perceived to have underachieved by the voters. More often than not the MVP goes to a player whose team is a top seed or has experienced improvement.
In grading the MVP candidates for 2013, I look first for players who are the best of the best. I’m talking about the elite, the superstars, etc. Next I look at team situations. If a team doesn’t win the top seed or at last exceed expectations, none of the players on that team are likely to win the MVP.
Players are listed in order of what I feel their chances are going into the season. I mention a lot of players here. Just keep in mind that anyone listed below the top 3 should be considered a long shot. Below the top 7, a crazy long shot.
- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City looks ready to emerge as the league’s best team. They won the West last year and are young enough that significant improvement can be expected. I feel this group, more than any other, has the potential to roll through the regular season with a win total in the high 60s. If that happens, Kevin Durant will walk away with his first MVP.
- LeBron James, Miami: Want to know how often a player on the reigning champion has won the MVP since Wilt did it 1968? Only 6 times in 44 seasons. The last one was Jordan in ’97. Jordan also accomplished this in ’92. The others were Magic ’89, Bird ’85, Walton ’78 and Kareem ’72. LeBron is the best player in the game at the zenith of his career. That’s usually an MVP favorite. I have him behind Durant because Miami has been a disappointing regular season team during the Superfriends era and because defending champs just haven’t won that often. For whatever reason LeBron’s Heat haven’t been the type of team that’s going to blow the drawers off the league and approach 70 wins. That could certainly change this year, with the pressure of winning a title gone. I just think it’s more likely they’re a mild disappointment and reach a win total around 60 again, while winning the East’s top seed. Combined with another typical LeBron season, that could be enough to get LeBron his 4th MVP.
- Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers: The 2013 season would seem to be Kobe’s last best chance at winning a 2nd MVP. He has a great supporting cast in place. There’s a smart veteran PG, the best center in the league and a strong #2. Mike Brown had a solid record of racking up high win totals and top seeds while coaching a talented roster in Cleveland. It isn’t a reach at all to think the Lakers will post the best record in the league. The thing with Kobe is even in his prime he was rarely considered the league’s best player. He’s 34 and his stats have slid a bit from his peak of a few years ago. It’s also possible that the Lakers’ statistical distribution will look something like that of the Spurs, where no one player has impressive enough stats to compete for the MVP despite being the top seed. He is in the best situation to win the MVP he’s seen in years. Added incentive will be that Shaq only won 1 MVP. Snagging another would give Kobe that much more ammunition in their personal feud.
- Carmelo Anthony, New York: After a year where he took some heat for his role in getting a coach fired and criticized the contract of a departing teammate, ‘Melo really needs a “shut up and deliver” type of season. He is a better player than most give him credit for, if something short of a superstar. What he has going for him is he’s in a great situation. The Knicks have enough talent that 60 wins and a top seed is possible if everything goes right. Like Kobe, Carmelo has a supporting cast that includes a smart veteran PG, a defensive monster in the middle and a strong #2. In addition the Knicks have a nice group of grinders and gunners who make things easier for a star. Playing in New York won’t hurt his cause either.
- Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia: The Sixers are another talented Eastern team that’s ready for big improvement and lurking should the Heat fade a little. Bynum is the new addition most likely to reap the credit should his team win a top seed. Bynum is still improving and only turns 25 at the start of the season. He would probably need to up his PPG to 20+, which is something he seems capable of doing.
- Dwight Howard, LA Lakers: Kobe is the leader of the Lakers and is likely to reap most of the hardware should the Lakers reach the top seed. If Kobe has some struggles, but the team keeps winning, the narrative could switch to Howard as the top Laker MVP candidate. One thing both Bynum and Howard are fighting is inside players rarely win the MVP any more. This is a seismic shift that began in 1984. Before that 25 of the 28 MVP awards went to centers. Beginning with Larry Bird’s first MVP in 1984, only 9 of the subsequent 29 MVPs have gone to inside players. Only 3 of those have gone to true centers, with David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal winning one apiece. While players like Bynum and Howard are extremely valuable, neither fits the mold of a typical MVP in the modern NBA.
- 7. Chris Paul, LA Clippers: Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson were the only 2 PGs to score an MVP before Magic won his 3. In the new millennium, PGs have won 4 MVPs, so we might be seeing something of a trend here. Paul is the best pure PG in the game. He’s leading a good young team that has championship aspirations. I have my doubts about the Clippers being much more than a lower seed, which is why Paul is down at #7. Should the Clippers challenge for a top seed, Paul has a chance to win his first MVP.
- 8. Kevin Love, Minnesota: Love is one of the most productive players in the league. He’ll be 24 this year, so he can be expected to improve. A couple of factors put Love up against it though. The Timberwolves remain a mess of a franchise that will struggle to make the playoffs and he’s out for the first month or so with a hand injury. Should Love return and lead Minnesota to 50 wins, while leading the league in both scoring and rebounding—he was top 5 in both last year—he’ll be in the discussion.
- 9. Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets: Now we’re getting into the longest shots. Why Iguodala? The biggest reason is I feel the Nuggets are a sleeper in the West. I love the talent on this team and feel they’ll be running out front with the Thunder and Lakers for most of the year. Iguodala is the new guy on the roster who seems likely to get any credit that would come with the Nuggets shocking the world and winning the West.
- The Field: A lot of scenarios to consider here. The first is a 2nd banana taking over when the star is injured or falters. I already mentioned Howard as such a candidate, but Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Blake Griffin come to mind as players who could move into the forefront should the star struggle. Then there are the real long shot candidates. Think Steve Nash going into the ’05 season. This would have to be a player who emerges as a difference maker on a team that shocks league by taking the top seed. Iguodala is the most obvious example as a candidate in such a scenario. Others include Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. I also have to mention the Spurs. They have won consecutive top seeds, but their big 3 have been so even that none has stood out as a candidate. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginoboli all deserve a mention. San Antonio should be back as a regular season force again this year, so their stars have to be considered. Finally I’ll toss out the remote possibility that rookies Anthony Davis or Jonas Valanciunas step right in and impact the league in such a way that the voters will have no choice but to add one of the two to Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld’s exclusive club of rookie MVP winners. But I’m really reaching for candidates now. The 2013 MVP award is almost certainly going to come down to Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. The player with the edge will be the one with great stats and is on the team with the best record. Going in I give the edge to Durant.