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San Antonio Spurs: Top 5 NBA MVP contenders to Kawhi Leonard

By Rob Wolkenbrod
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in 2017. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in 2017. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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San Antonio Spurs, SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 9: Kawhi Leonard
San Antonio Spurs, SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 9: Kawhi Leonard

If San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is in for another MVP-caliber season, who will be his biggest challengers?

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard lost out on the 2016-17 NBA MVP Award to Russell Westbrook, who won it for the first time. James Harden of the Houston Rockets placed second.

The opportunity will be there for Leonard to win the award in 2017-18. With him as the team’s best player and a likely top-three or four spot in the Western Conference, he should remain in the award picture for this season.

There will be contenders to Leonard, however. Some could be recent names, while others might be new to the top of the league. Who will be Klaw’s competition?

OAKLAND, CA – MAY 30: Russell Westbrook
OAKLAND, CA – MAY 30: Russell Westbrook

5. Russell Westbrook

Westbrook had a historic season in 2016-17, which was well documented throughout. He became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double, putting up 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. It gave him the 2016-17 NBA MVP Award, the first of his career and after Kevin Durant departed for the Golden State Warriors.

Westbrook will have an opportunity at a second consecutive award. This time, it will be with Paul George at his side. That may dampen expectations for Westbrook to be a back-to-back winner, however, as having a talented player sharing the load won’t earn the UCLA product extra votes.

It’s difficult to think Westbrook can replicate the triple-double average, but he should still be in line for another terrific season. Look for him to stay just on the outside of the MVP voting.

Next: Giannis and CP3

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Kobe Bryant challenged Giannis Antetokounmpo to win the 2017-18 NBA MVP. Given the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t known as a glamorous franchise that wins big awards, an MVP award isn’t exactly expected in the modern-day NBA. That may change, though.

Antetokounmpo will look to add to his terrific 2016-17 season that saw him average career-highs across the boards (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks). If his career trajectory continues to ascend, along with players around him on the Nucks improving, it could be a historic season for the Greek Freak.

Conference placement will make or break Antetokounmpo’s chances of being the MVP. If the Bucks can get into the top three — maybe even the top four — it will give him the chance to at least be in the mix. It won’t guarantee a win, but recognition as one of the league’s best players.

3. Chris Paul

This could have been about San Antonio Spurs point guard Chris Paul. Instead, it’s about Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul.

James Harden nearly won the 2016-17 MVP but fell short to Russell Westbrook. With Paul in town, it will dampen Harden’s attempt at winning this award. However, if the Rockets climb up the Western Conference standings, all eyes will be on CP3 and the work he does to move the needle.

Paul may also get MVP votes for the “this is a great veteran player that’s been through a lot, so we’re going to reward him” factor. It only adds to his legacy, as he looks to win a title.

Next: Irving and LeBron

2. Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving is one Isaiah Thomas hip away from joining the Boston Celtics. If this team remains at the top of the Eastern Conference, with Irving as its leading scorer, it will make him a top contender for the MVP award.

Irving will get his opportunity to be the lead man in Boston. He’ll play with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Hayward was the best player on the Utah Jazz, but the team couldn’t go over the top. Horford was the Atlanta Hawks’ top player for a time, but can’t lead a franchise to the NBA Finals as the best on his squad. It’s unknown if Irving can even do this, but he’ll get every opportunity to do so.

This had the chance to be different, as Irving had interest in the San Antonio Spurs. Would he have been a MVP candidate, playing next to Kawhi Leonard?

1. LeBron James

Without Irving, eyes will be on LeBron James and how he fares in what potentially is his final season on the Cleveland Cavaliers (again). The gap between him and the second-best player will be drastic, as Isaiah Thomas’ health is in question and Kevin Love can be hot or cold for the Cavs.

Next: Top 25 players in Spurs history

With James’ annual production, his case for winning the MVP award can be made in any season. A season-long battle between his Cavs and Irving’s Celtics could make this not only for the Eastern Conference, but the NBA MVP Award. If it’s enough of a media circus, that might get him back into the picture for more hardware.

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