Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Is the MVP race over before it begins? Give me two players who could really challenge LeBron and what they’d have to do to make it close.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. Three second-place MVP finishes in the past four years (and one fifth) have Durant poised to benefit one of these seasons from voter fatigue, boredom or the slightest slippage in James’ game or results. Besides, Durant still is improving and has a scenario now – extended Russell Westbrook injury absence, still no James Harden replacement – where heavy lifting truly is required. As for Rose, if he were to snap back to his pre-ACL surgery, 2011 MVP form and the Bulls ripped through the East for the No. 1 seed again, his impact on Chicago’s team would be hard to deny.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The prime reason it’s never over is how high LeBron has now set the bar for himself. There will be voters who will look for the slightest sign of slippage, any chink in the armor, if for no other reason than the sheer boredom of simply acknowledging greatness. It’s why Kobe Bryant has only one MVP. Kevin Durant will always be right there nipping at James’ heels and in his second year without James Harden and with a recovering Russell Westbrook, if Durant can lead the Thunder to the best record in the league, he’d be a threat. My other candidate is in Houston. If a healthy Dwight Howard can put the past two years of injuries and nonsense behind him to become a dominant force in the middle at both ends of the floor and lead the Rockets to a top 2 seed in the West — and make them look like real championship contenders — he’s in the race.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously Kevin Durant has to be 1A. He, like LeBron, has put the league on notice that he’ll be even better than last season. At the Thunder’s Media Day last week he declared that he’s taking his leadership to a new phase, and they’ll need it with Tuesday’s news that Russell Westbrook will miss the first four to six weeks of the season. If they roll early, Durant’s MVP stock will never be higher. Here’s my No. 2: Chris Paul. We all know he’s fantastic, but there’s been something missing. He’s now 28 and entering his ninth season, yet he’s never gotten out of the second round. Somehow, unlike other superstars, he doesn’t seem to get saddled with the “when’s-he-gonna-win-a-title?” business. Durant got roasted after losing to Memphis in the second round without Westbrook. CP3′s Clips lost to Memphis in the first round after going up 2-0. He skated as blame landed on lame-duck coach Vinny Del Negro. Doc Rivers is in charge now and that brings a new level of credibility and accountability. It’s Paul’s time to raise his game even higher.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No, the race is not close to over. LeBron will set the pace at the start of the season, but voters will be looking for someone else, just to not pick James every year. Kevin Durant, obviously. Chris Paul is the second nomination. If the Thunder remain among the elite despite the absence of Russell Westbrook, KD’s campaign with have a unique twist. And the Clippers at that level would be the platform of the Paul candidacy. Both are leaders.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant can keep the Thunder in the West’s top four with Russell Westbrook out, it certainly enhances his candidacy. But he’s just not the defender that LeBron James is. With the upgrades that the Clippers made, Chris Paul is the other guy who should be a part of the conversation. But he will need help from his frontline, which needs to improve defensively for L.A. to truly contend for a title. If LeBron is LeBron, he’s the MVP, unless we get a narrative vote like we did in 2011.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Theoretically, yes, the race is really the field chasing LeBron James. But technically, he has to stay healthy to win a third straight MVP. And you never know how things will play out. That said, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have the best chances to make things interesting in the MVP race this season. They’ll have to do what they’ve always done and that’s not only put up wicked stat lines on a nightly basis but also lead their respective teams to the top of the standings opposite LeBron’s Miami Heat. A third player who could make this race interesting this season is Carmelo Anthony in New York, if he can locate that groove he was in late last season.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player right behind Bron is Kevin Durant. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 27.7 points per game over the last four seasons, and last season he finished with that ridiculous and historic 40-50-90 percentage line. With Westbrook out at least for the beginning of this season, Durant has a chance to carry the Thunder early and remind everyone that he’s the best scorer in the NBA. The other guy I’d think of is Derrick Rose, which may be wishful thinking considering he hasn’t played in an NBA game in over a year. But Rose was the last player other than LeBron to win an MVP, and since he can be such a dominant part of what the Bulls do, if Rose is healthy, I don’t see how he can be overlooked.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: The two players that I think can challenge LeBron in the MVP race this season are the same two who finished second and third in MVP voting to him last season: Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. For Durant, who will be starting the season without Russell Westbrook, increased responsibilities could equal increased efforts and better all-around play, more rebounds, and more assists. If he can keep the Thunder among the league’s elite as well, he could be a serious MVP challenger. For Anthony, who is New York’s only consistent scoring option, an MVP award could be in sights if he matches his offensive efforts from last season but with more focus on defence and leadership, and once again helps the Knicks peak near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are perennial MVP contenders and should not be discounted. Durant did get in the 50-40-90 club last year, and it still wasn’t enough to win the award, but since the East is stronger than last season, LeBron and the Heat could get a harder time shining as brightly as last season, and that could help KD. As for Rose, if he can get the 5th-seeded Bulls from last season up to the 1st seed in the East, that should probably do it to show that he is the MVP.