The reigning NBA MVP, Kevin Durant, is out until at least December, but there are plenty of exciting MVP candidates to monitor this season – including Durant, if he can play 60-65 games at the same historic level as he did in 2013-14.
Here are five preseason favorites to take home the 2014-15 MVP award:
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
James probably would have entered the season as the favorite regardless of Durant’s health. As good as KD was in 2013-14, James remains the best overall player in the game, and his Cleveland homecoming will no doubt dominate storylines over the next eight months.
The Cavaliers have plenty of talent around James, and the addition of Kevin Love was paramount. But if James plays to his usual legendary standards while leading Cleveland to more than 55 wins and a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference after a 33-win season without him, the award will likely be his for the fifth time in seven years.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
For years, NBA fans have wondered how Russell Westbrook would fare as the clear cut No. 1 option, with a team to call his own. The circumstances surrounding his new role are unfortunate, and he’ll only have it for a couple of months, but we’re finally going to get an answer to that question.
For as much criticism as Westbrook gets for failing to defer enough to Durant and his sometimes questionable shot selection, the fact remains that the 25-year-old is one of the most explosive and talented players in the Association, who’s averaged 20.1 points, 6.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 steals over his six-year career.
The only other players to average at least 20, six, four, and one in their careers (minimum 400 games played): LeBron, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade.
With an even bigger offensive burden on his shoulders, Westbrook should post career numbers this season. If he keeps the Thunder near the top of the West without Durant and plays to his usual standards when Durant returns, he’ll absolutely be in the MVP discussion.