Last season saw Denver Nuggets superstar center Nikola Jokic become the 13th back-to-back MVP winner in the history of the NBA. While The Joker will be amongst the favorites to capture the award again, let’s focus on players flying under the radar.
Here are three MVP sleeper candidates worth backing for the 2022-23 campaign.
Jayson Tatum – Celtics (+1400)
Jayson Tatum may have had a poor Finals debut, but that should not detract from a career-best season. The former Duke standout set new highs in points (26.9), rebounds (8.0), and assists (4.4) per contest, helping spark a second-half turnaround that saw the Boston Celtics post a remarkable 36-6 record.
Still just 24 years old, Tatum has yet to hit his NBA prime, a scary thought for the rest of the Association. Also working in the Missouri native’s favor for MVP is the “best player on the best team” narrative, as the Celtics (+450) are the frontrunners to capture next season’s Larry O’Brien Trophy.
While Tatum’s chances will take a hit if the C’s acquire Brooklyn Nets’ superstar Kevin Durant (that scenario still feels far-fetched) and the former represents tremendous value at his current odds of +1400.
LeBron James – Lakers (+2500)
It feels strange to call one of the greatest players of all time a sleeper candidate, but that’s exactly what LeBron James is with his current MVP odds at +2500. The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, finishing with an abysmal 33-49 record and failing to qualify for the play-in tournament. However, it’s hard to fault James for LA’s struggles as The King ranked second in league scoring at 30.3 PPG.
In addition to a better overall team performance, James, who turns 38 in December, will need his health to cooperate if he hopes to capture a fifth MVP award. A tremendously durable player throughout his career, the Akron native has missed 25 or more games in three of the past four seasons. That said, if James manages to appear in 60 or more contests while leading the Lakers back to the postseason, he should garner MVP consideration in a potentially record-breaking year (1,325 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for first on the all-time scoring list).
Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks (+3000)
Trae Young continued to take his game to new heights in 2021-22, ranking top five in points and assists while setting career-highs in field goal (46%) and three-point percentage (38,2%). The 23-year-old helped lead a mediocre Atlanta Hawks roster to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference before they were ousted in the first round by the top-seeded Miami Heat.
Despite Young’s individual brilliance, Atlanta’s 43-39 mark was never going to make him a legitimate MVP candidate, fair or not. However, that could change in 2022, as the Hawks are positioned for an uptick in victories following the arrival of star guard Dejounte Murray. Murray not only improves Atlanta’s roster, but his presence should help take some of the defensive attention away from Young, allowing the latter to potentially produce at even greater efficiency.
Young’s MVP arrow is pointing up in what should be a fun season down in Georgia.
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