The NBA season is right around the corner after an abbreviated offseason. The first tip-off will come on December 22, and then we'll be off to the races. This season will be shorter than normal, with only 72 games and only the first half of the season has been officially scheduled as the NBA attempts to be as flexible as possible with the coronavirus ever-looming.
"A season unlike any other" will be a sentence written by dozens of publications. You know it, I know it. So let's get to the normal discussion here: who should be considered the frontrunners for the MVP award?
Jay Williams expressed his belief that Luka Doncic will earn his first MVP trophy in this odd season on Keyshawn, JWill, and Zubin this morning. Specifically, Williams believes he'll win it over LeBron James.
There are three predominant factors that go into winning an MVP trophy: statistics, winning, and narrative. Doncic, if some things go right for him, could have a stranglehold on all three by the time the season is all said and done.
I don't think anyone is worried about Doncic reaching the appropriate statistical milestones required for an MVP run. He averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists last season. Given that he only just became old enough to legally purchase an alcoholic beverage in the United States, it's reasonable to assume he'll find ways to improve that will be reflected in his nightly box score.
Doncic did all that statistical work despite actually being a rather poor 3-point shooter for someone with his volume (31.4 percent on 7.1 attempts per game) and even a marginal bump in that area could get him up to 30 points per game, a mark only three players surpassed in last year's abbreviated season. If absolutely none of that happens and Doncic remains a near triple-double guy, that's more than enough to qualify in this race.
Next is the winning part, the hardest aspect for MVP candidates of Doncic's age to acquire. Trae Young puts up ridiculous numbers but won't be seriously considered for such an award until his team's record matches those stats. It's part of the reason Doncic didn't get more votes in the MVP race last year. Dallas finished with a 43-32 record last season, which is good, but not great. Unless the competition is weak, Doncic isn't going to win Most Valuable Player by leading his team to a seven-seed in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks could be much better this year, thus boosting Doncic's MVP candidacy. Kristaps Porzingis will finally start the season healthy for the Mavs and, should he stay that way, will give Doncic a great No. 2 that will go a long way towards winning those mid-week, local broadcast games that the best teams win regularly and everybody else splits.
The Mavs finally loaded up on two-way players to surround Doncic with by acquiring Josh Richardson and Josh Green on draft night, giving them a more balanced lineup than when Seth Curry was playing 30 minutes a night. If Doncic averages a near triple-double and his teammates can hold down the fort on defense, Dallas could easily be a top-three seed in the West, right there with both Los Angeles squads.
That's two boxes that, with a few breaks, could be reasonably checked. The final is narrative, which is the aspect LeBron complained about a few times last season. How compelling the case is from the fan and media perspective plays a role, fair or not. Giannis Antetokounmpo's ridiculous two-way season and historic win rate for the Bucks propelled him to his second MVP trophy last year. Can Doncic inspire a similar narrative? The Mavs haven't been good since Dirk Nowitzki was on his last legs earlier in the decade. Doncic is certainly bringing them back to their former glory in extremely entertaining fashion, and he's one of the most fun players in the league to watch. If the Mavs win and they win in what we the public determine as an enjoyable manner, he could get that locked down, too.
Then there's the fact that, with the shortened offseason and COVID-19 lurking, Doncic's top competition for this award might not play as often as usual. LeBron, the man Williams predicts will be Doncic's top competition, will likely be getting plenty of rest in the first half of the season after only two and a half months of recovery time from a grinding NBA Finals run. The same goes for every superstar who was in the final four of the playoffs, which-- again-- will consist of the biggest contenders for the MVP. Giannis is the exception, but voter fatigue is a real thing and he would have to go ballistic to earn enough votes to win a third MVP.
Doncic certainly could win his first MVP this season. Will he? It's no sure thing by any means. But he has the will and the way to achieve the three most important aspects necessary to secure the necessary votes. Even if he can't pull it off this year, it'll sure be fun to watch him try.