The battle to be crowned Most Valuable Player is always an interesting one and it could prove to be a difficult task for reigning MVP Nikola Jokic to retain his crown.
Jokic produced an outstanding season carrying the Denver Nuggets and he won the accolade for the second year running. However, things may not go so smoothly in the 2022/23 campaign and there are two big obstacles in his way.
The first is that the Nuggets are hoping to take pressure off him with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr back from injury. That's good news for the team, but bad for Jokic's MVP hopes. One thing uniting each of the last five winners of the award is that they were the standout star on the team. That's not a requirement to win it, but it's a trend worth considering.
There's also the difficulty in winning the elusive MVP three-peat. Only Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have done it in NBA history. Giannis Antetokounmpo's back-to-back wins have counted against him in the following two seasons, so Jokic faces an uphill battle this season.
The Nuggets star is +1000 for MVP, but there are others in a stronger position to go on and win it. Below are five of the most interesting MVP prospects ahead of the 2022/23 season.
Sixers star Embiid didn't hold back at his disappointment on losing out on MVP last season, something which is expected to figure into his performances this year. Winning the award is clearly a big driver for the Cameroonian, who finished comfortably clear of third-placed Antetokounmpo.
Embiid is the frontrunner if he can match last season's displays and he heads into this season at +450 to be named MVP. The only thing counting against him is the presence of James Harden, who is looking to return to his MVP-winning peak and silence the critics who wrote him off last season.
However, Harden's price of +7000 for MVP reflects that he's now seen as no more than an asset to franchise cornerstone Embiid.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is priced at +450 to be crowned MVP. After hauling his side to the Western Conference finals, the Slovenian looks to have bulked up over the summer. While he and the Mavs need to deal with the departure of Jalen Brunson, that could play in Luka's favour.
If the Mavs can push on and compete at the top of the Western Conference, they'll be doing it with little doubt about who the standout star is. Doncic is a generational talent who looks set to win MVP someday and this looks like the best opening he's had in the league.
It's hard to count out Giannis, who can be backed at +500 to claim the award. If the trophy was handed out on sheer talent alone, the Greek Freak would be an unrivalled favourite. However, plenty of things factor into MVP voting and it seems like the Milwaukee Bucks superstar needs to scale to new heights to win it for the third time.
However, he did post a career-best 29.9 points per game last term. Last season's playoffs saw him record a postseason career-high in points, rebounds, and assists. He's also a perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender, winning it in 2020. He's already elite at both ends of the floor and he turns 28 this season, putting him in the perfect place to reclaim the MVP crown.
Tatum is a little behind the rest of the main contenders for MVP, sitting at +1200 to claim the award.
However, it's not hard to make a case for the star man playing for the Boston Celtics, who are +450 to win the NBA Championship.
Tatum finished sixth in MVP voting last season, but since then he has won the Eastern Conference finals MVP award. Boston also made a sluggish start to the season before straightening up, but they look set to hit the ground running this season and that could make all the difference for Tatum.
The Miami Heat star is the biggest price on this list at +4000, but the talk around Butler following this season's playoffs puts him a lot closer to the league's top-tier talents. He was the star of the playoffs and talked up as a top-five player in the league.
The Heat haven't built on that, losing PJ Tucker to Philly and making no other moves. Their prospects this season likely rest on Butler's shoulders, which is the kind of battle Jimmy Buckets relishes.
While he had a run-in with his own coach during a game in the regular season, he switched things up in the playoffs and did whatever the team needed to win. With this Heat side looking younger and weaker than last season, they're going to rely on him even more. That could well vault him into the MVP conversation.