NBA season preview 2018-19: Handicapping the MVP race

The 2018-19 NBA season begins this week, and the MVP race promises to intrigue with a few contenders on new teams.

Leonard and Harden, two of the most in-form players in the league, will look continue the good run for their teams.   -  AP

The 2018-19 NBA season begins this week, and the MVP race promises to intrigue with a few contenders on new teams.

In an era in which the regular season seemingly means very little — spoiler alert: the Warriors will post dominant numbers with a stacked roster — the individual race for MVP could be the most compelling competition in the NBA this season.

Here are the NBA’s top MVP contenders (non-Warriors edition):

James Harden, Rockets — Last year’s winner led the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, almost upending the Warriors, but he shot horrendously in the playoffs. Houston seems like a forgotten team amid controversy in Minnesota, LeBron James joining the Lakers and all the movement with the Spurs. But Harden still has potential to win another MVP, feasting in an offense tailored to his skillset.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The Greek Freak is ready to take another huge leap this year, joining the game’s elite. Already a triple-double threat every night, Antetokounmpo’s star could shine a bit brighter this season with James out of the Eastern Conference. The 6-11 forward can dribble, shoot, pass and defend. He could put up eye-popping numbers as the leader of an improving Bucks team.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — After almost single-handedly making New Orleans relevant in the playoffs last season, Davis returns to improve upon his elite numbers — if he can stay healthy. Davis conceivably could average 30 points and 20 rebounds with a full, healthy season, and he has free reign to produce MVP-type numbers in the Pelicans offense.

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LeBron James, Lakers — Having moved his talents to SoCal, James embarks on his third makeover in the NBA. Though youth is no longer on his side, he can still dominate the league with his strength, finishing and passing abilities. For decades, aspiring basketball fans have wanted to be like Mike, but James might be the next big role model in sports.

Kawhi Leonard, Raptors — Coming back from a redshirt season, Leonard bullied his way out of San Antonio to join what he believes are greener pastures. Escaping the Western Conference and Gregg Popovich’s conservative offense should help Leonard’s numbers. The Raptors play uptempo, which should give Leonard freedom to post big numbers. Is he healthy? That will be the question separating him from MVP contender and disappointing trouble-maker.