NBA MVP Watch: Under-the-Radar Candidates to Look Out for
The amount of sheer talent around the NBA is greater than it has ever been. New stars are born year in and year out, and new names are being thrown into the MVP conversation every year.
While stars such as Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and LeBron James are frontrunners for the league’s most prestigious regular season award this year, there are still numerous stars around the league who deserve to have their names brought up in the conversation.
While they aren’t favorites for the MVP, the following players are having marvelous seasons leading their respective teams to great years. They’ve all got an argument for why they should walk away with the hardware come season’s end, so let’s take a look.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have had some of the toughest luck in the injury department all season. They’ve lost CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic—two of their better players—for an extended chunk of the season. Yet they are still relevant in a loaded Western Conference.
But without Damian Lillard, Portland would be fighting for the No. 1 pick instead of fighting for postseason seeding.
Sure, Enes Kanter has come along nicely while Nurkic is sidelined, but Lillard is putting up some of the best numbers of his entire career.
Lillard is fourth in the league in points per game, 10th in assists and third in the Association in 3-pointers made per game at four, all while hitting at a 38.2% clip from beyond.
What Lillard means to the Blazers is almost too much to quantify. However, he does rank sixth in the league in win shares, a stat that attempts to put a number to just how much someone means to his team.
Once McCollum returns, Lillard’s numbers will likely see a slight dropoff because his volume will decrease, but what he is doing to keep Portland afloat while right now its best players are hurt is worthy of a spot in the discussion for the league’s most valuable player.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are the best team in the NBA through the first two weeks of February, a place almost nobody expected them to be. A big reason for that is the play of shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.
None of Mitchell’s stats exactly jump off the page, but he is without a doubt the key piece in what has turned into a dominant Utah Jazz team.
Mitchell averages 24 points and five assists per contest—numbers that typically don’t equate to MVPs—but he is the best player on the best team, which should garner him at least some votes.
While it’s unlikely that the Jazz stay as hot as they are, Mitchell has a legitimate case for MVP based solely on how good Utah is, even if he isn’t the favorite.
Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
When talking about sheer value a player brings to a team, Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns fit the bill.
A year after going 34-39 and missing out on the playoffs, the Suns are sitting pretty at 17-9 and the fourth seed in an uber-competitive Western Conference, in large part due to Paul’s leadership.
Paul has completely flipped the culture of Phoenix, helping to turn it into a tough defensive team by adding more grit and hustle to the lineup while also leading others to do the same.
While Devin Booker is the Suns’ best player, Paul deserves a lot of the credit for leading the offense, dishing out a team-high 8.2 assists per game while also contributing almost 17 points a night.
In the past, Steve Nash won MVPs while not averaging elite numbers, as he only put up 15.5 points per game in 2004-05 (granted, he did chip in an average of 11.5 assists).
Paul has turned the Suns franchise into one of the better teams in the West, and for that, he deserves the credit and recognition of some MVP consideration.
Zech Lambert is a junior studying broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.