Steph Curry is the NBA MVP for the second straight season, our first ever unanimous winner. He’s only the 13th player ever to win multiple MVPs.
Only 31 humans in history have been NBA MVP over 61 years. It’s a very rare accomplishment to win an MVP- consider that superstars like Kobe, Shaq, and KG did it just once in their entire esteemed careers.
It’s amazing to see Steph and Kawhi Leonard finish 1st and 2nd in the 2016 MVP race. Just five seasons ago Kawhi finished 4th for Rookie of the Year, with just 4.4% of the votes behind Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, and Kenneth Faried. Curry averaged 15 ppg in just 26 games before reinjuring his right foot for the second straight year and undergoing another surgery, signing a 4-year $44 million extension that summer that most considered very risky.
Lebron was the MVP that year, and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul rounded out the top 3- all still top six this year. Also receiving votes that year were Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, Orlando’s Dwight Howard, and Boston’s Rajon Rondo. A lot changes in five years.
In May 2005 Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash won the NBA MVP, and he won it again the following season. We didn’t realize it at the time, but those years represented a huge shift in the way future MVPs would be awarded.
In 50 years prior to Nash’s win, just five guards ever had won MVP- MJ (x5), Magic (x3), Oscar, Iverson, and Cousy. Small forwards Larry Bird (x3) and Julius Erving won the award too. Remove them, and you’re left with an amazing 35 of the first 50 NBA MVPs were traditional big men- 70% of them!
Then Nash won the award and everything changed. In 12 years since, no traditional big man has won, unless you count Dirk Nowitzki. Instead, the award has gone to Curry (x2), Lebron (x4), Durant, Kobe, and Rose- guys that have the ball in their hands and create their own shot.
So that’s the NBA in 2016- you won’t find traditional big men anywhere on this year’s ballots unless you try to count Draymond Green. So expect to see a lot of ball handlers on the list below- but don’t rule out big men either. The game is constantly changing, and five years ago no one could have imagined a “shooter” like Curry winning an MVP either. If a big man is to win it, it’ll have to be a new “non-traditional” big changing the league once again. So who are our MVP contenders?
The Favorites: 50+% chance to win 1+ MVP the next 5 years
1. Steph Curry: 70% chance - You were expecting someone else? Barring injury or retirement, the most likely next MVP is pretty much always the guy that just won it. Were he to win it again next season, he would join Russell, Wilt, and Bird as the only players to win three straight MVPs. The craziest thing about Curry might be that he’s still improving- we may not even know what his peak is yet. Curry probably has a better chance of winning 2+ MVPs in the next five years than anyone else on this list save Durant has of winning one. I’d give him almost a 10% chance of being our first four-peat.
2. Kevin Durant: 55% chance - Durant is the only other player in the world that is better than 50–50 to win an MVP these next five years- and that’s assuming that his foot problems of last season do not recur. The biggest factor is where KD ends up playing a year or two from now. If it’s separate from Russ as a sole star of a team, he may become the MVP favorite. If it’s another cog in the Spurs or Warriors machines, he plummets in the ranks a la Kevin Love.
The Major Contenders: 30–40% chance each
3. Anthony Davis - It’s easy to forget, but Brow was everyone’s trendy pick for this year’s MVP just seven months ago. After an injury-plagued season for both him and his Pelicans, he’s fallen off the map a bit but is still a major contender. The biggest problem may be his teammates. In the West it’s hard to imagine the Pels contending for a top-4 seed anywhere in the near future and an MVP’s team has to win a lot- this isn’t baseball. But perhaps Davis is the new non-traditional big man mold that will break through as an MVP winner.
4. Karl-Anthony Towns - …Or maybe it’s KAT. Towns isn’t likely to win this coming year, but his odds should only keep going up. He appears pretty durable, has already proven steady and consistent on offense, and has a huge ceiling on defense, especially with Thibodeau. He’s got that Duncan/LMA midrange game and has already flashed 3-point range and terrific passing and hoops IQ. Most importantly he’s the centerpiece of the most talented young team in the league and is sure to grab attention as the Wolves make the playoffs next year and start contending for the 1-seed as soon as 2018.
5. Lebron James - Remember the question isn’t who should win MVP but who will win it. Lebron is old news, and voters love to vote for someone new and flashy. Plus Lebron seems to have moved on from regular season accolades. Each year he has just 4 wins that matter now, and his season is about getting his team ready for that. And cyborg or not, Lebron only gets less and less likely to win another MVP each passing year. At this point, he’d probably only win by default- if there just wasn’t another standout candidate any given year.
6. Russell Westbrook - It’s tough to imagine Russ putting up much better numbers than this year, with 18 triple-doubles and leading the league in assists. For every Russ game that you love, there’s the next that makes you hold back your vote- and that’s really the essence of the Westbrook experience anyway. Still he’ll be in the mix as long as his freakish athleticism stays around, and he has even higher MVP upside if he and Durant ever separate.
7. James Harden - The Harden backlash has gone far enough, who was pretty heavily in the mix for MVP just a year ago until he finished runner-up to Curry- and remember was the actual MVP winner as named by the players’ awards. Harden put up 27, 7, and 6 this year, something only MJ and Lebron have done in the past three decades. He’s still just 26 with his full prime ahead and he put up plenty of stellar numbers this year despite being the focal point of the toxic Houston Rockets effort. A new season without Howard, Lawson, and McHale should put Harden back on the radar just fine.
8. Kawhi Leonard - On the one hand, it may look silly to rank the 24-year-old MVP runner-up so far down the list. On the other hand, it’s easy to make the case that this may well have been Kawhi’s best chance to win it. He was the defensive player of the year and the best player on a 67-win team Spurs team that may not win this much again for awhile, if ever. Kawhi should become even more important but have less sexy efficiency stats as Duncan, Parker, and Manu head out to pasture soon. Kawhi will always be a name to consider, and he probably makes every ballot, but it’s difficult to imagine him having a better chance to win than a year like this.
In the Mix: 10–15% chance, at least 1 season heavily contending
9. Andrew Wiggins - I was surprised at Wiggins coming out this high too. But this is a kid that just turned 21 and shot his age with 21 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists per game. He’s got terrific athleticism and an absurd spin move- yet he’s nowhere even near contention right now. This is a bet on Wiggins being something of a super-Butler for new coach Tom Thibodeau. Wiggins needs to harness all that athleticism, particularly on defense but also on the boards and in creation for teammates. But if Thibs can get him to play All-NBA defense and add that to 25+ ppg and 50+ wins…
10. Blake Griffin - Blake took a precipitous fall this year, when many like myself thought him perhaps the 3rd best player in the entire league a year ago at this time. The question now is what this year was… just the perfect storm of everything bad happening at once? The end of his time with L.A.? Or does it signal more to come, the end of his peak athleticism, and a future of recurring injuries? Unfortunately, I’m betting on the latter. Griffin is still only 27 but he could be off to another team soon- which admittedly could help his MVP case- but looks like a guy that we’ll always wonder “what if” about.
11. Paul George - PG13 has a month or two each season where he looks like a real MVP candidate and he played the part against Toronto in April, but he still needs to prove he can do it for a whole season. Playing for a small market team like Indiana that’s not really a contender doesn’t help his cause either.
12. John Wall - Wall is one of those guys we all forgot about this year as everything around him went wrong, but he just put up 20 points, 10 assists, and 5 boards a game and is only 25 years old. He’s still as fast end-to-end as anyone in the game, and his shot is improving. He fits the Derrick Rose MVP mold, though his case is hurt by the analytics focus of current NBA fans.
13. Giannis Antetokounmpo - The Greek Freak, or as the experiment near the end of this season began calling him: Point Giannis. Freak belongs in the top 15 ahead of other established stars because he breaks the mold of what we can imagine a player to be. Barely 21, Freak is 6'11, weighs 215, and averaged 19 points, 9 boards, 7 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal after the All-Star break. What even is this dude? He’s part Durant, part Brow, part Kidd… part alien? And he can’t even shoot yet and still hasn’t grown into his body or harnessed his defensive abilities. Buy Greek Freak stock while you can.
14. Boogie Cousins - Who knows what to make of this guy? I gave him a 7% chance at MVP for one of the upcoming seasons and a 0% chance in another. He’s your best bet for a traditional big man to grab an MVP, and he certainly looks the part of a Shaq-type dominant big- about once every five games. The Kings are a mess, no one knows where Boogie will be next year, and it’s going to take a mental transformation to really put him in the mix.
15. Chris Paul - CP3 would be a sentimental pick at this point, and he probably only has one, maybe two years of potential still to win what would be a very deserved award. Maybe if Blake is traded, CP3 puts up something like 22/12/4, and a few other guys stumble, Paul will finally get a major award next year. It’s probably his last chance.
Maybe in a Perfect Storm: 5–10%, probably always a bridesmaid
16. Kyrie Irving
17. Andre Drummond
18. Damian Lillard
19. Klay Thompson
20. Draymond Green
21. Jimmy Butler
Put these guys in any order you like. All of them are probably in the conversation at the start of any given year, but I didn’t project any with even a 5% chance of winning it any given year. The perfect storm for a few of them is an injury- Lebron or Steph missing a couple months might open the door for a huge spotlight season for Kyrie or Klay. Draymond probably just had his perfect storm, Lillard as well, and Butler may have had his already too. Drummond’s perfect storm involves a Hack-a rule change.
You can imagine an MVP scenario for each of these guys but in the end, that’s probably all it really is: a dream.
Worth noting: this is probably the section Steph Curry gets listed in 5 years ago. If any.
So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance: 5–10% shot
22. Ben Simmons - Simmons will be the #1 pick in June. He should be the featured player on a team likely to improve a lot in the next few years, most likely the 76ers of course. As an 18-year-old from Australia this year, Simmons “disappointed” everyone by averaging 19 points, 12 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block as a 6'10 forward for LSU. Is it weird and a bit disconcerting that his team lost so much and didn’t even make the NIT? Yes, yes it is. But this is a younger, more polished version of Greek Freak and if he can put up anything remotely like his college numbers in the pros, he’ll be in the mix by years 4 and 5. I’d put him around #16 on this list actually.
23. D’Angelo Russell - The cell phone guy that broke the bro code?! Ohh you mean the rookie point guard that averaged 16 points, 4 assists, and 3 boards in February and March while shooting over 40% from downtown! DAR has the superstar gene, and he gets a new shot at a rookie season with Kobe out of the way this year. The Lakers will always be in the spotlight, and Russell will be the centerpiece of this talented young team moving forward.
24. Eric Bledsoe - Any time a guy gets called Mini Lebron, you should probably include him in your MVP discussion. Bledsoe averaged 21 points, 7 assists, 4 boards, and 2 steals a game but his season ended prematurely to injury and we all forgot about him. He’s actually 26 already and has only played one real full season, so that’s the biggest thing holding him back.
25. Hassan Whiteside - Maybe no player on this list (or in the NBA?) has more variance than Whiteside. On the right team, you could easily see him putting up 18/13 with 4+ blocks a game- something only Hakeem, Kareem, and the Admiral have done. Of course, it’s just as easy to guess that he’s riding the pine or out of the league in five years. He’ll be a fun one to watch.
26. Kristaps Porzingis - Zinger makes this list more out of New York media hype than a belief that he’ll actually win an MVP. I can see him garnering a few 5th place votes, but he’s got a lot of developing to do before he’s anything close to an MVP candidate. He needs to redefine the big man position.
27. Jabari Parker - Jabari quietly put up 19 points, 6 boards, and 2 assists for the Bucks after the All-Star break. He increased his free throw rate and introduced a three-point shot, and he just turned 21. It’s easy to see him evolving into the Melo-type player everyone expected, leading a talented young Bucks team and maybe contending for a scoring title.
28. Zach LaVine - There’s still something raw and undefined and enticing about this guy. He’s not Russ but he does have the absurd athleticism and ability to do things that few other humans can, at warp speed. He also shot 44% threes after the All-Star break, and there’s still the chance that he and not Wiggins becomes the #2 guy on this uber-talented Wolves team.
29. Buddy Hield - We’ve reached the absurd now, but we’re gambling on the future. We just entered a brave new world where the 3 reigns. Buddy is a lot more likely to be the first of many failed Next Steph’s than he is to be anything like the real deal, but there’s still a shot- Hield took 12 threes a game and made 46% of them. You never know.
30. Harry Giles - Harry Giles will be a 6'10 freshman for Duke this year, and he’s going to be the #1 pick in the 2017 draft. Many compare him to a young Chris Webber- and imagine CWebb in today’s open NBA. He’ll be a dominant scorer and rebounder, and he’ll be in MVP contention by 2021.
8 veteran All-Stars that won’t win an MVP:
Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, Mike Conley
8 intriguing up and comers that didn’t make the cut:
CJ McCollum, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram, Rodney Hood, Devin Booker, Evan Fournier, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon
Special thanks for Mr. Brandon Andersonfor his contribution.
Writer and Consultant. Follow @wheatonbrando for sports, humor, pop culture, and life musings.
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