Five new faces who could be in NBA MVP chase
BOSTON – When it comes to the NBA’s league MVP chase the past decade, there has been very little mystery to who the top contenders will be.
Since 2008, top-five finishers have been limited to just 18 players.
LeBron James, a four-time league MVP, has long since established himself as one of the all-time great players in NBA history in part because of his ability to seemingly be in the running for the league’s highest individual honor, every year.
In fact, the last time the NBA’s top-five MVP finishers did not include James, it was 2005 – his second year in the league.
And where did he finish that year?
He was sixth in the voting.
James has been a regular for years, but there’s often one non-regular in the top-five mix as well.
Last season it was Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who was fifth in the league MVP voting.
In 2015, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis was also fifth for league MVP which came a year after Los Angeles Clippers stud Blake Griffin was third, finishing behind Kevin Durant and James.
So, who will be this year’s new face to the MVP chase?
Here are five players who have never finished among the top-five for the league's MVP award, but have proven themselves to be above-average NBA talent that may find themselves in the MVP chase by the end of the season
5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York
Last season: 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists on 45.1 percent shooting from the field.
Porzingis is the lone member of this group who has yet to be named an All-Star, but don’t get it twisted. The 7-foot-3 Porzingis is a budding star in this league. And while no one expects him to play well enough to where he’ll be a serious contender for the league’s MVP award, there is the potential for him to have the kind of season to where a top-five finish isn’t that big a stretch, especially if the Knicks play well enough to where they contend for a playoff spot.
4. Gordon Hayward, Boston
Last season (in Utah): 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game.
The 6-8 Hayward left Utah after seven seasons in pursuit of making a deeper playoff run in what has been a diluted Eastern Conference that was ravaged by trades (Paul George; Jimmy Butler) and free agency defections (Paul Millsap, among others) to the West. For the Celtics, the next step in their growth is getting to the NBA Finals after having been eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals last season by Cleveland. If that were to happen, a good chunk of the credit would go to Hayward. Similar numbers to what he put up last season with the Jazz along with more wins in Boston, could easily make him a top-five MVP candidate similar to what we saw last season with Celtic guard Isaiah Thomas.
3. John Wall, Washington
Last season: 23.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 10.7 assists per game.
The Wizards are all-in with Wall, their four-time All-Star who signed a four-year, $170 million “super max” contract extension that kicks in for the 2019-2020 season. The seven-year veteran remains one of the fastest players from one end of the floor, to the other. Teammates Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. have both improved to give Washington legit hope of being among the last teams standing in the East. But it is the play of Wall that ultimately will determine just how far this franchise goes. And his play will be early and often when you consider he’s one of the league’s most durable players having played in all but 12 games the last four years. A deep playoff run and another strong season of strong play as a scorer and playmaker, could be just what it takes for Wall to be a top-five MVP candidate.
2. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota
Last season (in Chicago): 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
Butler was brought in to bring leadership and stability to a Timberwolves team that’s well short on experience but long on talent. Minnesota hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004, a span of 13 seasons. There’s no getting around that, more than anything else, is why Butler is in Minnesota. He has improved his scoring every year he has been in the NBA while establishing himself as an all-NBA defender. If he continues along those lines and leads the Timberwolves to the postseason for the first time in more than a decade, there’s a very good chance that he will be in the conversation as a top-five finisher in the league MVP race.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
Last season: 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists shooting 52.1 percent from the field.
A 6-11 point-forward, Antetokounmpo is a matchup nightmare for most teams. He has tremendous length that he uses to block shots or soars in for rebounds to jump-start Milwaukee’s transition game. And the Greek Freak is only getting better with time. His understanding of what his role is as the team’s leader, is becoming more pronounced. Drafted with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, he has easily exceeded where he fell into the draft to where he’s now viewed as one of the brightest rising stars in the NBA. Milwaukee hasn’t been getting much buzz this season which is somewhat surprising when you consider the talent they have on their roster. But as good as Milwaukee’s collective pool of players may be, Antetokounmpo remains the hub that keeps everything together. And if he can deliver as consistently as we saw a year ago while helping the Bucks improve upon last season and become one of the top teams in the NBA, that could catapult the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo into being more than just a top-five contender for the league’s MVP award.