In the lead-up to the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will be rolling out predictions for each end of season award.
Today, we're focusing on the biggest award of them all: Most Valuable Player.
Will Giannis Antetokounmpo repeat as MVP? Will someone new win the award, such Kawhi Leonard or Nikola Jokic? Or will someone repeat, such as LeBron James or James Harden?
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I think Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to repeat as MVP.
Similar to what I wrote in my argument for Nikola Jokic, who I think enters the season with the second-best case for MVP, there are four factors at play that make Antetokounmpo the favorite to me.
- The Bucks should still be one of the best teams in the NBA. Whether or not they will regret trading Malcolm Brogdon is a discussion for another day, but they are still built to win 50-plus games and finish with one of the top two seeds in the East. Team success matters.
- Other MVP candidates are now teammates. James Harden and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Being the clear No. 1 option in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo will get all the credit if the Bucks look like contenders again - and rightly so.
- Antetokounmpo is going to play a lot. Both because he's durable and the Bucks need him to. The likes of Leonard, James and and Davis could be on a load management program while Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid aren't exactly locks to play 70-plus games. Like team success, availability matters.
- Antetokounmpo is already one of the best players in the league. And arguably the best. He's also only 24-years-old with a lot of room still to grow, so there's a good chance last season was only a preview of what's to come.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I, too, think we'll see Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo win a second MVP this season.
To think of all he did in the 2018-19 season at just 24-years-old, I honestly don't see regression as a possibility at all. In each of his first six seasons, Giannis has shown substantial growth in at least one facet of his game, and I believe this season will be no different.
He's already said he's at 60% of his full potential, expressing a genuine understanding of his limitations and weaknesses as a player. It's more than reasonable to think that the slightest improvement in those areas of his game - whether it be the development of a threatening jumper or playing at different paces and speeds - the trend of his production steadily increasing will continue.
Considering the fact that he averaged nearly 28 and 13 a game last season, a production increase would make for monster figures for a team with a good shot at finishing with the league's best record again.
Above all, Giannis is motivated by how last season ended for him and the Bucks. In taking their shortcomings personally, we'll see an even hungrier player looking to erase the memories of last season.
Sounds like an MVP campaign to me.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): On some days, my heart leans towards Stephen Curry.
On others, it warms to the thought of Nikola Jokic.
There are times when I look in the mirror and think it's silly to suggest anyone other than LeBron James.
But maybe Anthony Davis?
Here's the thing with all of those guys ... the stars need to align. While certainly possible, there are external factors that simply need to hit one after the other.
You know who doesn't need to play dominoes? Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He's going to win a second straight MVP. His team is going to be awesome and in all likelihood will finish no worse than second in the East. If he's worked on any semblance of a jump shot, he'll be even more unguardable and have a chance to become the first player in NBA history to score 30 points per game while also shooting 60% from the field.
MVP fatigue doesn't happen until AFTER winning back-to-back awards. For all the talk of narratives, there's none more likely to happen than the Greek Freak once again plowing through the East and doing so amidst a historical statistical season. He's the only pick that doesn't need a "IF THIS HAPPENS" qualifier attached to his candidacy.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): As much as I'd love to throw another name into the mix, it's just going to be Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak was virtually unstoppable on his way to his first MVP award last season and you have to figure at 24-years-old, he's still only getting better each and every offseason. He led his team to 60 wins last season and I don't see why they can't flirt with 60 wins again this year. They're said to be in a two-man race for the top of the East with the Philadelphia 76ers, but if Antetokounmpo can replicate his production from last season, the Bucks should have no trouble retaining that top seed in the conference.
This is a player who averaged 27.7 points per game on 57.8% shooting from the field and he didn't even have a reliable jump shot yet. The idea that Antetokounmpo believes he's only reached 60% of his potential is nauseating for the rest of the NBA, and if he comes back this season knocking down even 35% of his 3-pointers, the other teams in the league are in trouble.
We saw Giannis begin to shoot a bit more confidently from the perimeter in the postseason - his 3-point percentage was up to 32.7% - and that's enough of a building block to believe he could come out after this offseason and at least force defenders to respect him from the 3-point line.
Even if he doesn't find his 3-point stroke, though, you can still book Antetokounmpo as my MVP this season.
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Stephen Curry
While the Warriors may have fallen back into the pack on paper for the 2019-20 season, Curry looks set for a monster campaign ... and the Warriors will need it if they're going to make a push in the Western Conference.
Kevin Durant's departure and Klay Thompson's injury have created the perfect storm for Curry to go on a scoring tear this season. And while D'Angelo Russell will help share the workload in the backcourt, Curry is the clear No.1 option on offence.
Flanked by Durant and Thompson last season, Curry still poured in 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game, shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from three, with a 29.2% usage rate. That number will rise and so will the rest of his stats across the board, with the ball in his hands way more.
The Warriors will still be good, but just how good depends on how Curry makes the transition back to being the undoubted "man" in Golden State.
If they finish in the top four and Curry is averaging 30-plus points a game, it will be hard to look past the two-time MVP for adding a third trophy to his cabinet.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Nikola Jokic.
Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the other realistic competitors for the award while the rest of the league's superstars are most likely to split votes with the other superstar on their roster, like Scott has already mentioned.
The MVP award is so much about narratives and storylines.
Antetokounmpo might be primed for another great season, however, if he has one with numbers similar to his 2018-19 campaign, it would be difficult to convince voters to pick him once again given that the East is quite easily the weaker conference, a gap that widened even further this past offseason.
Coming to Curry, the narrative might side with him as Benyam has already laid out. However, I do believe the burden on Curry is far too much, especially given the fact that his body is carrying all the miles from the five straight trips to the NBA Finals. There is quite a lot of inexperience on the roster around him and Draymond Green, the one member of the franchise's core that will suit up with him for a majority of this season, will also be carrying the load of the last five years.
For Jokic, on the other hand, the Denver Nuggets have more or less carried over the same roster and coaching staff. So, with respect to chemistry and familiarity, they have got a huge headstart over the rest of the conference. If they pick up from where they left off, Jokic, being the best player on possibly the league's best team in the tougher conference, would be an easy MVP pick.
If he does win the award, he would be only the fifth international player in league history after Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo to do so.
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