The 2020-21 NBA season has already been quite eventful. The league has struggled to consistently play games in recent weeks with the backdrop of a global pandemic as a handful of games have already been postponed. James Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Kyrie Irving is now Carmen Sandiego. Simply put, this league.
It is a year of firsts for the NBA. Another one will very likely come at the end of the season. For the first time since Harden took home the hardware in 2018, there should be a first-time winner of the NBA MVP award come summertime.
In basketball, the very best players usually stay the best for longer than in other sports. That means there's less variation when it comes to season-end awards. Players often repeat winning Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP. In the last decade alone, there have been three multi-time winners of the MVP award (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo), two multi-time DPOY winners (Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert), and two multi-time Sixth Man of the Year award winners (Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford).
That will change this year, at least as it pertains to the MVP award. LeBron has had a case for MVP basically every year of the past decade and with Anthony Davis to help shoulder the load he won't be able to post the absurd statistical output required to win his fifth trophy. Curry has a decent shot, but his Warriors team probably won't be good enough to garner serious consideration. Voter attrition is a real thing for both of those two and for Giannis, who has won the last two years in a row. Unless the Bucks star somehow increases his per-game numbers even more and Milwaukee loses single-digit games this season, he won't be winning a third.
Two of the other former MVPs still playing are now on the same team in Brooklyn in Harden and Kevin Durant and, by virtue of there only being one basketball on the court, will not get the stats needed to win. Derrick Rose's MVP days are long in the rearview and Russell Westbrook is definitely not winning anything, including games for the time being.
Thus, voters will essentially be forced to pick a new guy this year. Before the season began, I pegged Luka Doncic as a likely recipient, and he's gotten the strong start necessary to earn votes; the Mavs superstar is averaging 27.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and one disappointed bench per game. Dallas is only 6-4 to start the season, but the return of Kristaps Porzingis will help significantly in the wins department.
But there are other young bucks who will give him competition. Nikola Jokic has posted some silly statlines through 11 games this season and is putting up a triple-double average of 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per contest. Jayson Tatum stepped up in Kemba Walker's absence before he was forced to miss time due to COVID protocols, leading his Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 26.9 PPG average. It could even be Damian Lillard's year if the Blazers win enough games.
It's more fun this way. The biggest reason fans hate the idea of superteams is the feeling of inevitability that comes along with them. It can be the same way with end-of-year awards some seasons. Not this one. Whether it be Luka or Nikola, Dame or Jayson, someone new will be hoisting the trophy this season.