The 2020-2021 NBA season is only days away.
Coming off the shortest off-season in league history and staged amidst the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, it will be far from a normal situation.
Adding to that, Brooklyn star Kevin Durant should be the MVP favourite coming off a torn Achilles, something that has never happened in league history.
The torn Achilles is often described as the worst injury you can have in basketball, given the damage done to lateral movement and explosiveness.
Few players ever come back the same. DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Wesley Matthews are recent examples of this.
It’s a small sample size, but Durant in his Nets pre-season debut looks like he hadn’t missed a beat.
Assuming this Brooklyn team lives up to the hype as a dominant offensive team, led by Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving, they should be a top contender in the Eastern Conference.
Durant’s path to the MVP is simple. The Nets need to be a top four seed in the East and he needs to lead the team offensively while staying healthy. From there, the narrative coming off the serious injury should see him get over the line.
Remember, the MVP is voted on by the media and it is often swayed by storylines. Russell Westbrook’s year winning the award when he led an average Oklahoma City team to the playoffs the year after Durant departed is a perfect example.
By process of elimination, Durant is one of three players who project as potential MVPs this year, along with Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.
Anthony Davis and LeBron James by definition can’t win the MVP given they’re two top five players in the league on the same team.
James was edging into the MVP picture last year before the postponement of the season, but was never going to overcome Giannis Antetokounmpo as the lone star of his team.
On the back-to-back MVP, the award is voted on by the media and is influenced heavily by narratives as mentioned above, which will likely see Antetokounmpo eliminated from the race before it begins.
Only Celtics legend Larry Bird has won three consecutive MVP trophies since the 1980s. Even Michael Jordan was unable to pull it off, despite being the logical pick for his third straight in 1993, Charles Barkley took it home.
Antetokounmpo is yet to prove himself in the playoffs, which will also contribute to the narratives, regardless of the numbers he puts up. This is just how the league works.
James Harden, as a player requesting a trade and likely to be moved, is also out of the picture. It’s hard to be the MVP of a team when you’re actively trying to be traded.
Even once he is traded, it’s hard to see the narrative swinging so dramatically in his favour.
Steph Curry needs the Warriors to be a top contender in the West, which will be difficult without Klay Thompson. The team lacks depth and Curry would need historic numbers to carry them deep into the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard will likely continue to be rested and won’t play enough games to win the MVP, as we’ve seen the last two seasons. Especially coming off a short pre-season.
That leaves a few fringe candidates like Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, as well as Durant, Doncic and Lillard.
Of them, Tatum and Booker have MVP potential and loom as dark-horse options if things go their way.
Lillard may find himself in the same boat as Curry and Golden State, but the Trail Blazers appear to have a stronger team on paper.
Doncic meanwhile goes into the 2021 season as the favourite for the award.
The Slovenian star guard will dominate the offence for the Mavericks, who are expected to make the leap towards the top of the Western Conference.
Doncic’s path to the award is identical to Durant’s, but the latter is in a weaker conference, has the pedigree and a better team around him.
By process of elimination, Durant is the logical candidate to win this year’s MVP and a nice value if you’re a betting type.
The stars have aligned for the award winner to either be a third-year rising superstar out of Europe or a veteran current superstar coming off a career-threatening injury.