The MVP award in the NBA is usually based on storyline just as much as it is skill and stats. This makes it an award that’s hard to win if you aren’t a favorite early on. This isn’t always the case as sometimes the person who wins isn’t even in the top five for odds. The most recent example of this is when Nikola Jokić won his first MVP. With some recency bias against him this year, it looks like the award will likely be given to someone new. Here are some potential dark horse MVP candidates that have a real shot at winning.
2022/23 NBA Dark Horse MVP Candidates
In recent years big men have been receiving a lot of credit in the MVP case. The potential to win is there, whether it be the back-to-back champion in Jokić or some of the other recent favorites in Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Karl-Anthony Towns should be no exception to this rule. Towns may be one of the most gifted offensive big men of all time.
The biggest knock on Towns’ greatness has always been his struggles on defense and his lack of winning. The recent acquisition of Rudy Gobert should help both of these. Towns showed he could win last year while putting up great numbers. He averaged 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 53% from the field and 41% from three. His efficiency mixed with his scoring gravity could make him a true dark horse candidate that could win.
There’s one player ever that averages 25+ points on 60%+ efficiency. That player is Zion Williamson. Williamson is essentially his own offense at 6’6″ and 284 pounds. His presence down low is unmatched. Injuries have essentially derailed the first bit of his career, but if he can remain healthy there’s no reason he can’t win MVP.
In Williamson’s only true healthy season he played 61 games in which he put up 27 points and seven rebounds per game. He had the stats to be an All-Star but didn’t have the wins to win any other award that year. This current Pelicans roster is far better than the one he had around him previously. If Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum can add enough wins alongside Williamson putting up great stats, he could potentially be in that MVP race.
The Cavaliers had a very surprising season last season as they were in playoff contention the whole season despite being hindered by injuries. This was headlined by rookie star Evan Mobley, All-Star big man Jarrett Allen, and most importantly Darius Garland. Garland was the true facilitator that got this team going offensively. He was the only player on his team to break 20+ points per game with 21.7 while also averaging 8.6 assists. This first-time All-Star has shown he has the offensive potential to carry a team to the playoffs.
The offense for Cleveland last season was run through Garland who feeds his big men down low. This hasn’t changed in the off-season as they didn’t pick up any true scorers to pair alongside Garland. On a defensive-minded team, Garland’s numbers will be a swinging factor that can get this team wins. If the Cavaliers finish as a top seed, look for Garland to be a top MVP candidate.
Every person on this list is young and shows potential of breaking out, yet James Harden has already broken out. This former MVP has experience but may sway voters with a revival to his career. The MVP award is very narrative-based and having a player go from a poor playoff performance on a new team to a lead facilitator on a top team in the East should make him a favorite.
Harden has shown signs of slowing down, but battled injuries throughout his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets. He isn’t very long removed from carrying for the Houston Rockets, or even showing he still had something left in the tank when first arriving to Brooklyn. For the Philadelphia 76ers, Harden had trouble getting into an offensive rhythm with Embiid. Last year Harden shot an abysmal 41% from the field and 33% from three.
Harden has now had a full season of recovery in order to get into game shape. Harden’s game as a facilitator hasn’t taken a step back at all as he averaged 10.3 assists last season. If Harden can continue his lead role as a distributor as well as regaining some of his scoring he can go back to an MVP favorite and not an MVP dark horse.