With 4-time MVP LeBron James’ transition to Cleveland hitting a few bumps and last season’s MVP Kevin Durant missing big stretches due to injury, the NBA MVP race is wide open for the first time in years. Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki are the other active players with MVP trophies on shelves at home–but none are having career years. Who’s in the hunt then?
The most surprising name on the short list is Rose’s Chicago Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler. He’s joined by Steph Curry, the unstoppable Golden State guard, whose team has the best record in the NBA. Former Durant teammate and current Rockets scoring machine James Harden is a formidable candidate too, especially if Houston delivers on its promise. (The Rockets are loaded with talent, and just added Josh Smith.) People talk about LA playmaker Chris Paul too, a real consideration if his Clippers finally look ready to go deep in the playoffs. The Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trailblazers are the surprise teams of the year–their respective scoring guards Jeff Teague and Damian Lillard have legit shots at the trophy. But the NBA MVP hasn’t gone to a real center since Shaquille O’Neal won it in 2000. (People insist on calling Tim Duncan–MVP in 2002 and 2003–a forward.) If a center is due to win, it’s got to be the unique, all-around great big man Marc Gasol. Especially if his Grizzlies are as good as they seem to be so far. Then again this year’s MVP could be the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. He’s a beautiful monster out there. WIDE OPEN.