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The NBA’s New Class Of MVP Contenders

The NBA’s list of MVP Award winners over the course of the last decade tells a relatively clear story about the league.

From the 2009-10 season through 2012-13, LeBron James won four of five MVPs as he rose to his prime; Kevin Durant won in 2013-14 as the heir apparent and representative of the ascendant Oklahoma City Thunder; Stephen Curry took back-to-back MVPs as the Warriors established their dynasty.

In 2016-17, Russell Westbrook won in a season win which his divorce from Kevin Durant was arguably the league’s biggest narrative, and the following year James Harden took the award as the Rockets famously looked to structure an offense designed to take down the Warriors.  Last year, Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP in a season in which most everyone expected him to do so.

There are of course some outliers (like Derrick Rose’s 2010-11 win), but for the most part, the recent history of the league – in terms of contenders, teams on the rise, and even trends in playing style – can be traced through those MVP winners.

And when we consider this, perhaps it’s fitting that in what looks like the most unpredictable and hottest NBA season in years, the league’s crop of MVP contenders appears to be both larger and more surprising.

Now, the season has only just begun, and we’ll, of course, see the usual favorites in the running. Antetokounmpo is the betting favorite to repeat, James Harden will be in the mix, and many even believe LeBron James could win again, or that Kawhi Leonard could win for the first time. However, in the early going, we’ve also seen a somewhat unexpected new class of MVP contenders emerge, and it’s making the fresh season all the more exciting.

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid is perhaps the least surprising player to list here because he’s been in MVP chatter before. In the past, however – most notably early last season – he was largely thought of as a “best of the rest” sort of player.

He was clearly the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference but hadn’t quite reached the level of pure impact we expect from an MVP. This could well change, and may in fact already be changing, in 2019-20.

Not only does Embiid look fitter and better than ever, but for the first time he’s leading a 76ers team that people think should win the East – not one that could.

If Embiid posts the numbers he can post at his best, doesn’t sit out too many games and carries his team to the top of the East, there’s every reason to believe this could be his year.

Anthony Davis

We mentioned above that Antetokounmpo is the betting favorite for MVP this season, and that’s true at virtually all of the New Jersey sportsbooks providing a U.S.-based perspective on the current season.

However, you’ll find most of those sportsbooks are also listing Davis with only marginally lower odds than the Greek Freak. Davis may not seem like a newcomer to this conversation, because he’s long been viewed as a potential MVP.

But believe it or not, he’s still only 26 years old – likely just reaching his prime. That, plus the fact that he’s healthy and in the best situation of his career playing for the Lakers alongside LeBron James, puts him near the top of this new class of contenders.

Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic came into the NBA last season as the most promising international prospect in history. He won Rookie of the Year with ease and convinced many people he could be an MVP candidate in the future.

But it’s a surprise to see him putting himself in the mix already. Doncic has exploded out of the gate, effortlessly notching triple-doubles, pouring in buckets and making highlight passes, and even going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in Los Angeles.

He’s been an absolute phenom in the early going, to the point that it’s not crazy to imagine him winning MVP in a season during which he’ll turn 21.

Pascal Siakam

It seems just about every NBA analyst out there had an eye on Pascal Siakam heading into this season – but not as a likely MVP contender. Rather, the curiosity about Siakam was whether or not he could keep the Raptors afloat following the departure of Kawhi Leonard.

No one’s saying the Raptors are bound for another Finals appearance, but so far Siakam has vastly exceeded most expectations in this regard. He has frankly been Kawhi-esque through a few early games, and his usage is so high there’s no reason to expect his stats to tail off.

If he can keep his scoring average over 25 points per game, assert himself as an elite defender, and lead the Raptors to a top-three seed, he’ll be in the conversation all season.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns finally seems to be putting all the pieces together. He’s shown flashes of MVP-level ability fairly frequently in the past – but not quite like this. Through a few early games, he’s arguably been the best player in the league. And he’s so clearly the best on his own team, by such a wide margin, that one could imagine him taking over even more from here on out. Towns’ problem in any MVP conversation is likely going to be that the Timberwolves are going to struggle to make the playoffs. But right now he belongs in said conversation regardless.