16 players who could take home the NBA MVP, ranked

  • The 2019-20 NBA season is here.
  • After a wild summer of player movement, the MVP race feels wide open, as the circumstances have changed for many of the league's best players.
  • We took a look at 16 players who can take home the MVP, based on their odds, projected seasons, and narratives.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The NBA season is upon us and it feels like, more than ever, this is something of a fresh start for the league.

After a wild summer of player movement and trades, there are many familiar faces in new places and fewer teams that stayed the same. Along with a seemingly wide-open title race, one of the more interesting races should be who takes home 2019-20 MVP.

We ranked 16 candidates to win MVP based on their odds, projected years, and, narrative, because let's face it — it plays a part in the MVP race every year.

Here are 16 stars who could take home the league's Most Valuable Players trophy.

16 PHOTOS
The top contenders for 2019-20 NBA MVP
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The top contenders for 2019-20 NBA MVP
16. Ben Simmons, F

Team: Philadelphia 76ers

2018-19 stats: 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 56.3% FG

Vegas odds: 50/1

How he could win MVP: Ben Simmons has been handed the keys to the 76ers offense this year. Gone is Jimmy Butler, who did a lot of ball-handling in the playoffs last year. Now it'll be up to Simmons to orchestrate a talented Sixers lineup that is also a bit light on shooting. Of course, Simmons could also help the team if the jumper he showed off over the summer is a real thing. If Joel Embiid misses time or rests more often this season, and if the Sixers compete for the No. 1 seed in the East, Simmons has a shot at MVP, so long as he makes the leap expected of a franchise star.

(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
15. Russell Westbrook, G

Team: Houston Rockets

2018-19 stats: 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 42.8% FG

Vegas odds: 25/1

How he could win MVP: By playing next to James Harden, Russell Westbrook's streak of averaging triple-doubles is likely to end. While Westbrook may see reduced numbers this year, he could win over some voters by putting together a more well-rounded season — shooting more efficiently, defending more vigorously, and moving off the ball to fit into the Rockets system. The odds are still stacked against him, but the 2016-17 MVP is simply too talented to leave off this list entirely.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
14. Donovan Mitchell, G

Team: Utah Jazz

2018-19 stats: 23.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 43.2% FG, 36.2% 3FG

Vegas odds: 30/1

How he could win MVP: The additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic should make life easier on Donovan Mitchell this year. Mitchell should be able to focus more on scoring, spreading the floor, and acting as a secondary ball-handler. He's also coming off a strong showing with Team USA at the World Cup (despite the team's early exit from the tournament), which in years past has led to breakout seasons for young players. The Jazz will be competing for a top-four seed in the West, and if Mitchell is their best player, he'll receive some buzz.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
13. Luka Doncic, G

Team: Dallas Mavericks

2018-19 stats: 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 42.7% FG, 32.7% 3FG

Vegas odds: 40/1

How he could win MVP: Already a beloved player in the basketball world, Luka Doncic will be looking to take a step forward after an impressive rookie campaign. If Doncic makes the leap and averages a LeBron James-esque 27-7-7 (not so far-fetched) while leading the Mavs to a playoff seed, he'll certainly receive some buzz. But how good can these Mavs be? It's tough to imagine them fighting for a top-five seed in the West, making Doncic a long-shot.

(AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
12. Paul George, F

Team: Los Angeles Clippers

2018-19 stats: 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 43.8% FG, 38.6% 3FG

Vegas odds: 50/1

How he could win MVP: Paul George will miss the beginning of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Depending on how long he's out, that missed will be a knock against him in the eyes of some MVP voters. George also figures to play second fiddle to Kawhi Leonard, a role more suited for George, though it will likely lower his numbers. He finished third in MVP voting last year. It's tough to imagine George ending up back there, barring an injury to Leonard or some kind of role reversal on the Clippers.

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
11. Jimmy Butler, G/F

Team: Miami Heat

2018-19 stats: 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 46.2% FG, 34.7% 3FG

Vegas odds: 100/1

How he could win MVP: Jimmy Butler has the benefit of being the lone star player on a team that should contend for a playoff spot. It's unclear just how good the Heat will be, but the East is wide open after the top two seeds. If the Heat fight for a top-four seed and Butler averages something like 25-5-5 while playing his usual rugged defense, why can't he be in the race?

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
10. Kyrie Irving, G

Team: Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 stats: 23.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 48.7% FG, 40.1% 3FG

Vegas odds: 60/1

How he could win MVP: Like Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving is also the lone star on a good team, at least for a year, while Kevin Durant rehabs his torn Achilles. Irving had one of his best on-court seasons last year while simultaneously having his worst off-court season, tanking the Celtics chemistry with what he admitted was poor leadership. This year, he has the benefit of a redemption arc. If Irving can boost his numbers a bit and help the Nets fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs, he could truly be in the running for MVP.

(AP Photo/Sarah Stier)
9. James Harden, G

Team: Houston Rockets

2018-19 stats: 36.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 44.2% FG, 36.8% 3FG

Vegas odds: 7/1

How he could win MVP: Perhaps we're too low on James Harden, but things aren't necessarily stacking up in his favor. He won't repeat his monster 2018-19 season because he now has Russell Westbrook alongside of him and because the Rockets will look to lessen the load he has to carry in the regular season. Harden, who has finished in the top three in MVP voting the last three years (winning it in 2017-18), may also be subject to some voter fatigue, especially after he and the Rockets publicly griped about him not winning the award last year. For Harden to take home a second MVP, he may have to produce big numbers with better efficiency while the Rockets nab the No. 1 seed. It just doesn't seem likely.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
8. Damian Lillard, G

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

2018-19 stats: 25.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 44.4% FG, 36.9% 3FG

Vegas odds: 20/1

How he could win MVP: Over the last four seasons, only three players have averaged 25-4-6 or better on 36% three-point shooting — Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Damian Lillard. The Blazers star guard has some of the best counting stats in the league, and he has the chance to garner votes as the clear-cut superstar on a perennial playoff team. If Lillard aims for the scoring title (certainly possible) and the Blazers win 50-plus games, he's got a shot at MVP.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
7. Nikola Jokic, C

Team: Denver Nuggets

2018-19 stats: 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 51.1% FG, 30.7% 3FG 

Vegas odds: 10/1

How he could win MVP: Nikola Jokic could climb this list quickly if he and the Nuggets take the proverbial next step. For Jokic to take home MVP, he'll have to boost his scoring a bit and play better defense (even if the perception of him on defense is a bit worse than the reality). But Jokic is the lone star on a traditionally built team that opted to run things back. If Jokic and the Nuggets continue to grow, the stars could all align for him to win MVP. Unfortunately, the Western Conference is stacked, and there will be competition.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
6. Kawhi Leonard, F

Team: Los Angeles Clippers

2018-19 stats: 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 49.6% FG, 37.1% 3FG

Vegas odds: 12/1

How he could win MVP:  Kawhi Leonard figures to be the go-to guy on the Clippers: he's their best scorer and their best lock-down defender. After he was mostly excluded from last year's MVP race due to "load management," Leonard has said he won't be resting as often this year. Leonard could top last year's numbers (the best of his career) and lead the Clippers to the No. 1 seed in the West, making him a true favorite for the award. The only drawbacks are if his numbers are impacted by sharing the ball with George and the Clippers' deep roster and if he decides to hold back a bit until the postseason begins.

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
5. Joel Embiid, C

Team: Philadelphia 76ers

2018-19 stats: 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 48.4% FG, 30.0% 3FG

Vegas odds: 25/1

How he could win MVP: Joel Embiid put up prime-Shaq numbers last year in the healthiest season of his career so far. He said he worked on his body and conditioning this summer to better handle the rigors of the season. With the Sixers positioned to fight for the top seed in the East and Embiid dominating both sides of the court, he has a clear path to MVP. The only concern is Embiid playing too few games because of injury or rest.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
4. LeBron James, F

Team: Los Angeles Lakers

2018-19 stats: 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 51.0% FG, 33.9% 3FG

Vegas odds: 10/1

How he could win MVP: Make no mistake: even with Anthony Davis alongside him, LeBron James could easily get some buzz if he has a typical LeBron season. Last year was James' worst season in a decade, and he still averaged 27-8-8. James will cede some of the workload to Davis, but he will still have to be an elite playmaker for this Lakers team. If James can stay healthy, shoot efficiently, and defend with a bit more gusto while the Lakers win around 55 games, he will have a true case for MVP. He'll also own an emotional appeal over some voters who would love to see James prove he's still an elite force in the league.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
3. Anthony Davis, F/C

Team: Los Angeles Lakers

2018-19 stats: 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks, 51.7% FG, 33.1% 3FG

Vegas odds: 6/1

How he could win MVP: While LeBron James could steal some MVP buzz with a vintage season, this year will be all about Anthony Davis in Lakerland. After forcing his way out of New Orleans, all eyes will be on Davis to redeem what was an ugly ending with the Pelicans. Perhaps the most talented all-around player in the league, Davis continues to add more and more to his repertoire each year. He averaged a career-high in assists last season. This year, he said he wants to win Defensive Player of the Year. If Davis averages something like 28-12-4 with elite defense on a good Lakers team, he'll earn a lot of votes.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
2. Stephen Curry, G

Team: Golden State Warriors

2018-19 stats: 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 47.2% FG, 43.7% 3FG

Vegas odds: 5/1

How he could win MVP: The Warriors are once again Stephen Curry's show. Kevin Durant is gone and Klay Thompson is out (possible for the year) with a torn ACL. Expect to see Curry as aggressive as he was in 2015-16 when he lit up the league for 30 points per game and broke the record for three-pointers made in a season. There is some concern the Warriors won't be good enough for Curry to win MVP. If Curry replicates his 2015-16 season, and the Warriors are healthy and playing well in the stretch run of the season, look out.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F

Team: Milwaukee Bucks

2018-19 stats: 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 57.8% FG

Vegas odds: 7/2

How he could win MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo has the clearest path to winning MVP for a second straight year: the Bucks should walk into the No. 1 or 2 seed in the East, he's the lone superstar on a title contender, and there is obvious room for growth in his game. Antetokounmpo is the game's most unstoppable force going to the basket, but all eyes will be on whether he can hit three-pointers at a consistent clip. He showed a bit of that in the playoffs last year, hitting 32.7% of his attempts and occasionally making opponents who sagged off of him pay. That's all he needs. If he can do that a bit more this season — the Bucks insist he can — it will be a noticeable development. What would the Greek Freak look like if he's averaging something like 28-12-6 on 50% shooting, 33% from three, while playing elite defense on a No. 1 seed? The MVP favorite.

(AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
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