5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
James Harden is definitely in the NBA MVP conversation | Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Everyone knows the name of the game is championships. But this doesn’t mean NBA players don’t want to be recognized for their individual greatness. Unfortunately, there are too many talented players in the league and only so many awards to go around. In the end, some players will get overlooked and, ultimately, come away disappointed. Some, however, will do the opposite — and shock the game in the process.

The way we see it, by the time the dust settles on the 2016–17 season, the King will beat out the competition and regain his perch atop the NBA mountain. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, we expect plenty of competition for the game’s ultimate individual honor. If we happen to be wrong in our early season prediction, we think any one of these five surprise candidates have the potential to run away with the NBA MVP award in 2017.

1. Chris Paul

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
Chris Paul is always prepared to compete | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Chris Paul has played in nine straight All-Star Games and is an eight-time All-NBA selection. At 31 years old, he remains one of the best point guards in the NBA. Yet, the closest the future Hall of Famer has ever come to sniffing the Most Valuable Player award was back in 2007–08, when he ranked second in the voting to Kobe Bryant. If Paul can stay healthy this season, keep the Clippers in contention in the Western Conference, and build off a 2015–16 campaign that saw him average 19.5 points and 10 assists per game, he’ll do more than just enter the NBA MVP discussion; he’ll stand a good chance of taking home some hardware.

2. Anthony Davis

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
The Pelicans’ Anthony Davis can do it all | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Injuries are all that prevents Anthony Davis from taking the next step as a basketball player. “The Brow” is a freak on both ends of the floor. He has the potential to put up historically great numbers at any given moment, and he is pretty much unstoppable on the basketball court. Should Davis remain on the floor and lead the New Orleans Pelicans back to the postseason, the 23-year-old will earn more than just All-NBA honors.

3. Karl-Anthony Towns

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
Karl-Anthony Towns is ready to elevate his game | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns needed just a single season to establish himself as one of the best centers in the game. The Minnesota Timberwolves big man averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game, earned First-Team All-Rookie honors, knocked down 54.2% of his shots (including 34.1% from beyond the arc), and played in all 82 games. In case we forgot to mention, the former Kentucky standout, who won the Rookie of the Year award in 2015–16, is just 20 years old. The only thing scarier than that are his highlights from the latest preseason. The Minnesota Timberwolves are improving; it’s only a matter of time before KAT eclipses the competition as the best player in the game.

4. James Harden

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
James Harden is ready to make a run at MVP | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

James Harden put up 29.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game in 2015–16. He made his fourth consecutive All-Star Game appearance and continues to show that he’s one of the most gifted scorers in the game today. So, it’s hard to consider Harden a “dark horse” NBA MVP candidate. Normally, we would agree with you. However, in this case, we make an exception. Not only did the Rockets greatly underachieve last season, but “The Beard” failed to earn a spot on any of the All-NBA teams. That sort of disrespect should motivate Harden to reestablish his place among the game’s elite. Perhaps he’ll even play a little defense along the way.

5. Damian Lillard

5 Dark Horses in the NBA MVP Race
Damian Lillard is a force to be reckoned with | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The best part about Damian Lillard? He plays the game with a constant chip on his shoulder. Last season, despite averaging 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game and earning Second-Team All-NBA honors, he was somehow passed over for the All-Star Game. Not only is that ridiculous, but it’s downright insulting. We expect Lillard to come out in the 2016–17 season with one goal in mind: Destroy the opposition. In doing so, he could finally earn the respect — and hardware — he so rightly deserves. And we’re not the only ones who think so.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.