NBA 2016-17: Regular Season MVP Candidates

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One of the many questions that enters the minds of NBA fans as the regular season draws closer and closer is: “Who will win MVP?” Before I give you a list of possible candidates for the regular season MVP title we must discuss what exactly makes a player worthy of receiving the award. Some believe that it is those players who carry their teams to unimaginable (and almost improbable) heights are deserving of the award. 

Others believe that players whose addition to a team transforms the organization from a rebuild in progress to a playoff contender in a single season are deserving. I believe that both sides are correct. Statistically, when trying to figure out a trend you examine the events that occurred in the last five years. So, to have a good idea of who would win you'd just have to look at the last five winners, right? Wrong. This year will be entirely different from the last five years. The NBA is changing.

In a single offseason, the Western Conference nearly swapped balances with the Eastern Conference. Last post-season Lebron and the Cavaliers basically steamrolled their competition in the East, sweeping ⅔ of their series and then defeating the second seed Raptors in 6 games. Meanwhile the 73-9 Warriors lost at least one game to the opposing team in each series and nearly faced elimination by the Thunder. In short, the 2015-16 season consisted of a one-sided Eastern Conference with a highly competitive Western Conference and now the opposite is true. The Warriors rule the West and now the Cavaliers could have some threatening competitors in the playoffs. With these ‘outside the box’ changes we have to think outside the box when considering who may win Kia’s Most Valuable Player Award and how.

Before I begin, I wanna explain how each bullet point (player) will be presented. For #6-10 I will explain why they may be considered for the award during this upcoming season and follow it up with why it may also be unlikely that they win. For #1-5 I will explain my reasoning as to why their chances are very strong. I also want to avoid any questions right off the bat and say I will not be including any Warrior on this list. 

This is because I believe that, with a team that stacked and with limited touches to go around, no one, not even Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry, could possibly win Most Valuable Player when the number one scoring option on the Warriors, whoever that may be, will only shoot 14 shots a game. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let us begin:

#10: Hassan Whiteside (MIA - C)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

I did say we’d have to think outside the box didn’t I? The young big man who averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and a whopping 3.7 blocks per game alongside Chris Bosh (SF) and Dwayne Wade (SG) is evidence that the center position is not anywhere close to becoming obsolete. With Wade signing with the Bulls during the off-season and Bosh’s questionable health, Hassan Whiteside and his teammate Goran Dragic (PG) become the number one and two scoring options on the team. 

Currently projected to barely miss the playoffs, I truly believe that if the Heat and Pat Riley realize the talent that Hassan Whiteside has and equates that with the amount of touches he gets on the offensive side of the ball we could see Whiteside carry the Heat to the eighth seed in the East (dependant on Bosh’s health) while averaging 23.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. You never know, right? The reason he is so low on the list is because of the Heat’s current unpredictability and the numerous questions revolving around the players. For example, when will Bosh return if at all? Is Whiteside capable of carrying a team? 

Can he be taught to stay out of foul trouble? Can Dragic take up a leadership role if Whiteside is ever injured? Too many if’s for Whiteside to be higher up on this list.

#9: Jimmy Butler (CHI - SG)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Here is another guy I don’t usually see on these top ten lists, so I decided to throw him into the mix because I think this will be his breakout season. Last season we witnessed Butler average 20.9 points, 4.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game and I still don’t believe we’ve even skimmed the surface of what he is capable of. Most are quick to dismiss the Bulls because they take one look at the East and see it as the Lebron show, but this year they could be insanely deadly. In fact, I’m projecting them to at least reach the second round of the playoffs this upcoming season. 

Now, you may be wondering why I chose Butler to win the MVP award on a team where Dwayne Wade (SG) and Rajon Rondo (PG) are also members and I’ll tell you: it’s because it’s Jimmy’s team. Dwayne Wade said in an interview, “Myself and Rondo are here to bring what we bring as athletes to this team and to this city. He’s (referring to Jimmy Butler) a young Bull on this team. He’s a 26-year-old that can play 40 minutes if coach wants him to and maybe more. I ain’t trying to do all that.” With the addition of Rondo, the league’s leader in assists during the 2015-16 season who will be sure that the young man gets the ball, Jimmy’s average is sure to go up. I’m predicting that he will average at least 26.7 points, 3.4 assists and 6.1 rebounds this upcoming season. I’m very positive that Butler will improve on his overall performance next year, but in this day and age his expected average may not be enough to earn him the award. 

There’s also the small fact that he has two other explosive players on his team capable of taking the lead on the day’s where he’s just off his game. At times, it is very difficult to push your performance to the next level when you have others to fall back on and that will be very important the further up we go on the list.

#8: Paul George (IND - SF)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

You’re either shocked at how low Paul George is on the list or surprised at the fact that he is on here at all. Well, let me explain my reasoning. PG-13 is a man on a mission. Ever since he’s returned from his thought-to-be career ending injury he’s improved in ways no one could have imagined. Last season, he managed to average 23.1 points, 4.1 assists and 7.0 rebounds with a sub-par team, but after this offseason, he’s now part of an evolving Pacers franchise that is, without a doubt, a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Unlike the two contenders listed above, Paul George’s position and role on the team has not changed. He was used to being the first scoring option and the leader of the team and can continue to improve on that as soon as next season is underway. 

Just like Jimmy Butler, I believe this will be an outstanding season for Paul George as he averages somewhere in the range of 28.5 points, 6.7 assists and 6.8 rebounds next regular season. He’s definitely the dark horse for the award this upcoming season. The only reason he’s this low on the list is because of the talent his team possesses. With Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner (with Al Jefferson coming off the bench) all alongside him, there are many instances where they can each have their own explosive games. He is essentially in a Warrior-esque situation where too much talent on one team hinders development, but with him being the outspoken leader of the team there is a chance.

#7: Derrick Rose (NYK - PG)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Whoa! Whoa! Don’t click away just yet! Let me pitch you my reasoning real quick! I know your doubtfulness of this article probably just increased ten-fold, but I do not take back this pick. In fact, I believe Rose might be a little too low on this list. The 2010-11 MVP’s performance has undoubtedly decreased as he’s aged and has become more injury prone throughout his career. However, I have a feeling that this will be his year and, on his back, he will take the Knicks to their first post-season since 2013. He will go from averaging 16.4 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game to, at least, 22.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. That’s just my own personal belief though. 

The reason for him being so low on the list is because of his consistency for injury and because of how difficult it is for a player on a team that may not be playoff-bound to win MVP. Although, I still have a lingering light of hope. Ever since I saw Rose’s interview where he was asked how he’d respond to the Bulls after being traded and, with a smile on his face, followed by a scoffing laugh he said that he’d like to thank them is the first time in a long time I had gotten chills from watching an NBA player’s interview after a drastic offseason. At that very moment I felt as if Derrick Rose was vintage once again, which very well may happen. As cheesy as it sounds, Rose could bloom once again in the Garden.

#6: Damian Lillard (POR - PG)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Do I even need to make a case for Lillard? After a single off-season he was the only one of five starters who was traded away. The team, where he was now the unquestioned leader, with the newly obtained CJ McCollum was projected to have a losing record during the 2015-16 season and, as we all know, that was not the case. In fact, the near opposite was true. They went 44-38 in the regular season behind Lillard’s 25.1 points, 6.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. They then proceeded to the playoffs to knock out the Clippers (who were injury riddled) and then were eliminated by the Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals. I don’t know about you, but I believe Lillard should have won MVP last season. 

This is the perfect case of a team succeeding against all odds under fantastic leadership. Sadly, they managed to decimate their projected regular season record the same season where the Warriors decide to go 73-9 so their achievement went by silently. With how highly I’ve been speaking of Lillard you’d think I’d have him higher on the list, but I believe his 2015-16 regular season stats are the best he can do with his current team. Especially with a team member who averaged 20.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds last season, who takes nearly as many shots as Lillard does and who interchanges with who has the bigger game with him. Good news is if the NBA ever decides to make a Best Duo award, Lillard and McCollum will be under serious consideration.

#5: Kawhi Leonard (SAS - SF)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

There’s a valid argument to be had here for the two-time defensive player of the year. Last season Kawhi averaged 21.2 points, 2.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game on the Spurs who pretty much clinched the second seed in the Western Conference early on in the season. With the retirement of Tim Duncan this offseason and the recruitment of Pau Gasol I would say Kawhi Leonard also faces an interesting Warrior-esque situation. However, there is a chance for Leonard to have an even more intense breakout season and that is if Popovich realizes that he is the best and youngest option on the team. 

With everyone on the Spurs starting lineup over the age of 30 (Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol) with only two players still in their 20s (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green) it only makes sense to play through the best/youngest player. Especially if your best/youngest player can be as threatening as Leonard on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. If Popovich decides to give Leonard the touches he deserves (preferably by taking touches away from Tony Parker and from Gasol’s average shots while he was on the Bulls) then we could have an MVP in the making and we know that if the Spurs want a chance to dethrone the Warriors in the west, they’ll need an MVP on their team. If the stars aline to make Leonard the main scoring option and give him the most shots then I wouldn’t be surprised to see him averaging 29.8 points, 2.4 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game this upcoming season.

#4: Chris Paul (LAC - PG) / Blake Griffin (LAC - PF)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

That’s right. There are two contenders here from the Clippers, but I put them at an equal level because either one could have an extremely explosive season. Let’s start with Chris Paul who, last season, averaged an insane 19.5 points, 10.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. Call it a hunch, but I believe we have still yet to see what Chris Paul is truly capable of. The spots for the top four seeds in the Western Conference just got that more competitive and I’m sure the Clippers would love to be the second or even the first seed of that Conference, but for that to happen they will need some MVP-like performances out of their starters. 

With the Clippers failing to sign Kevin Durant in the offseason and with Chris Paul’s and Blake Griffin’s (21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game) contracts with the Clippers almost at an end, it’s safe to say that they both want to average higher numbers than last season to make them look like top prospects. Not to mention this, but I’m sure Paul and Griffin have both realized what they have in Los Angeles is special and that the Clippers are serious contenders for an NBA Finals spot this upcoming season. Expect nearly all the touches to go toward Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this season as I expect them to average 24.2 points, 12.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 26.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game respectively.

#3: James Harden (HOU - SG)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

And now we’ve reached the top three contenders for the Most Valuable Player Award and first up is none other than the one man rocket, James Harden a.k.a The Beard. There really isn’t an argument against Harden here except for the fact that the two people above him are just simply more likely to win because of their expected performance during the upcoming regular season and playoffs. I mean, last season Harden averaged a whopping 29.0 points, 7.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game. That’s absolutely insane! 

Now with Dwight Howard gone to the Hawks and everyone else on the Rockets being a subpar option, Harden will, without a doubt, receive all the touches he can handle. I wouldn’t be surprised to witness Harden throwing up 30-35 shot attempts per game. With those amount of shots in his arsenal every game, expect Harden to average somewhere on the side of 34.1 points, 8.6 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. Nearly averaging a triple double, Harden could really solidify his chances at winning MVP by taking his subpar Rockets team to yet again the 8th seed in the West. I’m not saying it’s possible, but I’m also not saying it’s impossible.

#2: Lebron James (CLE - SF)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Never count out The King. As was stated at the beginning of the article, last season was a breeze for the Cavaliers. There were no real contenders in the East for a chance in the NBA finals, but that’s all changed this year. Lebron, who went through last season pretty lackadaisically, averaged 25.3 points, 6.8 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game and that looked like Lebron was hardly trying. I mean during the Finals, Lebron exploded to average 29.7 points, 11.3 assists and 8.9 rebounds against the Warriors. 

With his new 3-year, $100 million contract with the Cavaliers and goliaths to take out in the NBA like the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Raptors, Pacers, Celtics, Bulls, etc. I think we’ll see a new Lebron next season. Because what’s better than winning an NBA championship for a city had been in a ‘drought’ for 52 years? Winning two NBA championships for that city. What’s better than that? Winning them back-to-back. Which is, without a doubt, Lebron’s goal this season. Expect to see The King average somewhere in the realm of 30.2 points, 8.6 assists and 9.9 rebounds per game.

#1: Russell Westbrook (OKC - PG)

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

Andy Puente/Fadeaway World

And here we are! My number one pick for the regular season MVP is none other than Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. You’d have to be foolish to pick anyone else right? I mean, the man averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds ALONGSIDE his former teammate Kevin Durant. Without Durant around to take his usual 15-20 shots a game, those all transfer over to Westbrook, who is now the unquestionable number one scoring option on the Thunder. Many are quick to dismiss the Thunder now that they are without Durant, but they’re still an amazing team. 

Under the right leadership, this team could easily make the playoffs and what better leader is there than Russell Westbrook? The man, who Michael Jordan said, plays with the same skill and determination as he once did. I fully expect Westbrook to claim the MVP regular season award with his 35.2 points, 11.4 assists and 10.3 rebounds per game. Honestly, the only thing that could stop Westbrook from averaging a triple double next season is if he suddenly gets injured and has to sit out for 6-10 weeks. Otherwise, this man right here is your next regular season MVP who, I believe, could take the Thunder as far, or even farther than, the Western Conference Semi-Finals.