Last year, we saw a center win the MVP for the first time since 2003. Can Nikola Jokic repeat and become the first center to do so since Tim Duncan? He is going to have a very competitive field that looks to prevent that from happening. The best part is that it’s not just a guard-orientated league anymore. The combination of all five positions is going to have some sort of representation in the MVP talks.
Expect to see the top-3 vote-getters from last year’s race in Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Steph Curry in these rankings. The Brooklyn Nets have at least two MVP candidates, three if Kyrie Irving decides to get vaccinated. The Lakers are going to heavily rely on a healthy Anthony Davis, while LeBron James is just outside the top-10 rankings.
Who is a favorite to win, and who was snubbed from our list? Take a look at the 10 biggest favorites for the 2021-2022 MVP Award.
10. James Harden
When James Harden took over as the team’s primary point guard, he was a triple-double machine in the early going. That was also with Harden coming to town halfway out of shape. Everything was all a part of the plan to get out of Houston and onto a contender. Now, Harden has had a full offseason to prepare for the year. He is ready to compete for a title just like his glory days in Houston, which featured three straight scoring titles with an MVP Award himself.
When Harden was scoring over 30.0 points per game, he wasn’t playing next to a shooter the caliber of Kevin Durant, so his overall scoring numbers might take a hit. That won’t matter when it comes to voting by the end of the year if Harden is averaging close to the triple-double that he was when he first came to Brooklyn. Harden averaged 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10.9 assists with the Nets last season. Those are dangerously close to Oscar Robertson’s 1961 totals.
Playing with Durant also hurts Harden’s chances of winning because everyone knows that this is KD’s team. Heck, if Kyrie Irving comes back that could also hurt. With that said, Irving might be retiring, while Durant is a yearly health risk. If Durant has to miss significant time for the third straight season, Harden will have to carry the load like he did when he was in Houston. This team is very well put together for Harden to be “the man” if he has to step up as the team’s alpha.
9. Devin Booker
The way Booker talks, acts, and plays, we often forget he is just 24 years old. Booker has averaged over 25.0 points per game for three years in a row. With the year the Suns had last season, it just feels like Booker is ready to break out and average over 30 points per game. We have seen some All-Stars like Harden and Bradley Beal make a jump into superstar territory. Booker is on the trajectory to make that jump this year.
When the Suns made the NBA Finals, there were many comparing Booker to the likes of Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry. The comparison came from the offensive talents that all three display. Booker is the lone name in that mix without an MVP but could be in the mix this season as he looks to lead the Suns back to the top of the Western Conference standings.
Last year, the Suns were the No. 2 seed. With a healthy Lakers regime, the Jazz reloading, the Nuggets being the Nuggets, and the West is loaded in general, it’s going to be hard getting back to being the No. 1 seed. If the Suns can pull this off, it will have a lot to do with Booker’s production, which makes him a prime MVP candidate.
8. Damian Lillard
As long as Lillard continues to do what he does, he will always be an MVP candidate. Lillard led the league in clutch points last year. The Trail Blazers would be nothing without Lillard on the team. The current structure of the team is precisely why Lillard is rumored to be traded out because Lillard is the only true superstar on the squad.
When the Trail Blazers played in the bubble in 2020, Lillard won the Bubble MVP by averaging 37.6 points over eight seeding games to carry Portland to a 6-2 record and a playoff berth. Then, he followed that up with a season of 28.8 points and 7.5 assists. There is no place on the court that is safe when Lillard is pulling up.
How far can Portland go? That rests completely on Lillard’s shoulders. Last year, the team was the No. 6 seed. Before that, the team was the No. 8 seed after two straight seasons of being the No. 3 seed in the West. Getting back to the top-3 spots in the conference will be difficult, but if Lillard can lead this team back there, he could get some MVP consideration.
7. Steph Curry
The reigning scoring champion did everything he could to get the Warriors back to the postseason. Now, he might be able to revert to his role where he doesn’t have to do everything. With Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both healthy, the Warriors finally appear ready to get the dynasty back in motion. The Warriors have been two years removed from the NBA Finals after a five-year streak. With the bulk of the core in their 30s, this next chapter feels like the final attempt by Curry, Thompson, and Green.
We have to remember that this core saw Curry win an MVP twice. Curry was named MVP in 2015, as well as a unanimous choice in 2016. Curry is also coming off a season where he led the league in scoring with 32.0 points per game. That also included shooting 96 three-point shots in April, which shattered the record by James Harden, 83, for three-pointers in a month.
The Warriors have missed the playoffs the last two years if you exclude the play-in game. The team finally appears healthy, which means the team could be a contender for a top spot in the conference. Questions are surrounding how Thompson will be after a two-year hiatus. Can Green stay healthy for a full season? There are no signs of Curry slowing down, so this team will go as far as Curry takes them. If it feels like the old days of 2014-2015, then you would be correct.
6. Nikola Jokic
Jokic and Lillard are peas in a pod, at least for this season. Lillard is going to carry the Trail Blazers as far as he can. Jokic is in a similar position this season, especially with Jamal Murray sidelined for a long period. The reigning MVP is going to have some competition this year with the rise of some superstars and the health of others.
Last year, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and led the Nuggets to a second-round berth in the playoffs. When Murray was healthy, this team was a title contender. Now, Jokic will have to carry the load again until he gets back. Regardless, Jokic was the most efficient player in the league last year as a center.
The Nuggets will be depending on Jokic again. At just 26 years old, he is the best passing center we have potentially ever seen. He is also entering his prime years, which means that we could see a center average triple-double, which is unheard of when you look back in history. Russell Westbrook is the only player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. Could Jokic etch his name on the list this year?
5. Anthony Davis
Davis gets some extra votes because of his chances of making a run for Defensive Player of the Year. Davis is also healthy and has the possibility of playing as the team’s center at times. The role that Davis is given, feels similar to the style of play he was asked to do in New Orleans. His last season in New Orleans saw a stat line of 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
Given that Joel Embiid averaged a similar stat line last year for the 76ers, and was the runner-up, Davis has a shot to make a very similar line. Here’s the deal. The MVP depends on individual production and the status of the team. That is why players like Jerami Grant or Zion Williamson, who averaged amazing stat lines last year, don’t get consideration because their teams were out of the playoffs.
The Lakers are a title favorite and have the potential to land the No. 1 seed in the West. It’s going to take a similar state line from his old New Orleans days and a No. 1 seed to get the MVP. With that said, Davis hasn’t averaged double-digit rebounds in either season with the Lakers. With the Lakers going smaller in their lineups, Davis could average a double-double for the first time since 2018-2019.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
After winning two straight MVPs in 2019 and 2020, Giannis failed to become the first player since Larry Bird to win the MVP three consecutive seasons. Granted, when you use the word failed, we use that lightly. Giannis averaged 28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks in a season that eventually saw him become the Finals MVP.
At just 26 years old, expect Giannis to be a top-5 contender for the MVP every season. We are seeing a future Hall of Famer right in front of us. A year ago, Giannis was the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. As we head into this season, he is an early contender to win that award this season.
The Bucks should be in contention for winning the East with the bulk of their championship squad back. Last year, the team finished with the No. 3 seed, finishing behind the Nets and 76ers. All three teams should factor in contending for the top spot in the conference standings. If the Bucks can get back to the No. 1 seed, we will see Giannis win his third MVP in four years.
3. Joel Embiid
Had Joel Embiid not been injured and played 20 fewer games than Nikola Jokic, then Embiid would have likely won the MVPs In 51 games, Embiid averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.4 blocks. His defense improved overall, while his outside shooting bumped up to 37.7%. Embiid is a threat to all aspects of the court.
What was working in Embiid’s favor was that the 76ers won the East for the first time since 2001. Embiid is the first true Philly basketball icon since the days of Allen Iverson, who won the MVP that same season. The future of Ben Simmons makes the overall team success in question, but let’s just pretend that Simmons doesn’t play.
When Simmons played, Embiid was an MVP candidate when on the floor. If Simmons doesn’t play, Embiid will have more responsibility. That could mean better stats as an individual. From a team aspect, all eyes will be on how he carries this team. The divorce between Simmons and Embiid seemed imminent for a moment. If it truly happens, this will be Embiid’s chance to show that he can lead a team himself.
2. Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic is going to average a triple-double this season. You read it here first. The way that Doncic has improved every season, all signs point to Doncic joining the list of Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. Last year, Doncic averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. If Doncic continues this trend of edging closer to triple-double land, that will be hard to pass over in the MVP voting.
One might ask why Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double last year, didn’t get any MVP consideration. The difference between Westbrook and Doncic is that Doncic is on a true playoff team. The Wizards were the last team to get into the playoffs. Last year, the Mavericks were the No. 5 seed in the loaded Western Conference.
The Mavericks have a chance to contend for a top-3 seed in the West. Let’s say that Doncic leads Dallas to the three seed and averages a triple-double. If he does that, it might be enough to take the MVP away from the favorite. One major question looming is how much of an effect, good or bad, will first-year head coach Jason Kidd has on him?
1. Kevin Durant
The overwhelming favorite to win the MVP has to be Kevin Durant. For starters, the Nets are projected as the favorites to finish with the best record in the NBA. Durant has the best supporting cast with the likes of James Harden, Blake Griffin, Joe Harris, Patty Mills, and Paul Millsap on the team. The potential loss of Kyrie Irving opens up the door for Durant even more. With that said, Durant was favored to win MVP this season even with Irving playing.
Durant caught the injury bug in the season and played just 35 games. Before Durant was injured, he was averaging over 30 points per game and looked like the early favorite to win. Instead, he finished the year with 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks. Due to not playing enough games, he was not considered.
This should be the first time in two years that Durant is 100% healthy with no setbacks. The year before last year, Durant missed the entire year with an Achilles injury. By the end of Game 7 of the semifinals against Milwaukee, Durant looked like the vintage version of himself that once won an MVP in 2014. If that version is back and ready to go, the Nets will not only win the East, and win the NBA Finals, but Durant will win his second MVP Award.