It’s not something most in the NBA ponder during the intense heat of a late-season playoff push.
Everything is compartmentalized. You’re trying to win the next possession, the next quarter, the next game. Anything beyond what’s right in front of you cannot claim your focus.
But what if we looked into the future, and not to just the summer of 2019, but three, four or five years from now?
Check out who is on the rise in the latest edition of the Kia MVP Ladder!
What does the landscape look like? Who takes over for the current generation of superstars? Are they even on our radar right now?
I posed those questions to two NBA executives, one from each conference, two advance scouts and one college scout in search of a picture of what the future of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder might look like five years from now.
Surely, we’ll have some familiar faces, current stars entering the primes of their careers who will no doubt remain relevant in the MVP conversation. Guys like Giannis Antentokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Ben Simmons – all leaders of the new school of superstars.
But who are the budding superstars with the right combination of star power and status – i.e., guys on teams whose team success could accelerate things – and quickly rise the Kia MVP ranks?
Here are the five players who garnered the most mention from our future MVP panel:
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz: An undersized but powerful dynamo, Mitchell’s uniquely positioned to make the move into the MVP ranks in the future. That’s based as much on his own individual brilliance and offensive skill as it is his headlining a team that could be a contender soon.
Donovan Mitchell showed MVP-level skills in a win last week vs. the Bucks.
“He’s got a skill-set that will allow him to be a high-level dictator of outcomes for his team on a regular basis,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “Go back and look at the way he played against [Houston] in the playoffs last season. That’s what MVP candidates in our league do when the lights are brightest. He went toe-to-toe with James [Harden] in that series as a rookie. The better shooter he becomes, the more difficult he’ll be to stop. Because he’s already a nightmare matchup because he plays so much bigger than his actual size. His competitive drive is off the charts and the framework they’ve provided in Utah is rock-solid. He’s a great fit there.”
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: He knows a little something about this MVP business, having already earned some serious hardware before his breakout rookie season with the Mavericks. But how will he and Kristaps Porzingis fit in the coming years? And will he continue to thrive with another elite young talent requiring the ball to be effective?
Mavs rookie Luka Doncic talks about his deep love of the game.
“The thing about his game that sets him apart is that he’s got the skills to be just as good on or off the ball,” a Western Conference advance scout said. “If he was just a scorer and had to survive on that alone, I don’t know that he’d be nearly as dangerous. He’s going to be a triple-double threat with his size, playmaking ability and feel for the game. He came in with a polish that takes years for some guys to put on their game, if they ever do. But it all depends on the chemistry he and KP develop. If it works, he’ll be a monster for years to come.”
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: The talent logjam in Boston could be alleviated this summer, via trades and/or free agency, giving Tatum a clear path to assume the superstar role some think he’s destined for with the Celtics. That is, of course, if he’s not a part of the offseason player movement.
Jayson Tatum logged 34 points against the Nets earlier this season.
“I’ve pounded the table about this for years, since I first scouted him at Duke. He has the most translatable offensive skill-set for the league of any prospect I’ve scouted the past five years,” said a college scout for an Eastern Conference team. “You either have the physical tools or you don’t. The size, the basketball IQ and the understanding of how to attack his defender … he’s got advanced level stuff in that regard. KD [Kevin Durant] was the same way at roughly this same stage of his career and drove himself to greatness with a work ethic that’s second to none. If Tatum has that same kind of drive in him — and I don’t know if he does, but I’ve heard great things about the kid — he’s your guy.”
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings: Fox is the pilot for a Sacramento team that could be ready for takeoff in the next season or two and the best two-way player on this list. He’s also one of the fastest players in the league and an underrated athlete who has already shown signs of 20-10 potential.
In a matchup with the Mavs this season, De’Aaron Fox came up huge.
“I love him. Absolutely love his game and how hard he goes,” said a Western Conference executive. “End to end, he’s got the kind of acceleration that only a couple of guys in the league can match, like Russ [Westbrook] and John [Wall] showed early on. That’s sort of speed, and the ability to control games with tempo, is a game changer when utilized properly. He’s a much better shooter now than I thought possible after seeing him as a rookie. But he’s worked at it. He’s got so much room to grow, physically and just his game overall. And he’s already a guy you have to account for when you prepare for the Kings. Like I said, I love the kid. He just plays with the right spirit.”
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: Those lofty Stephen Curry comparisons that accompanied Young into the league seemed so far-fetched early on this season, when the rookie point guard struggled with his shot and his niche. His late-season surge of high-scoring, high-assist performances has added some credence to the idea that Young could be the leader of a Warriors-inspired revival in Atlanta.
Trae Young is getting into a groove in the NBA after a difficult start.
“It was easy to take advantage of him early on because he wasn’t strong enough to do much of anything against guys at his position,” an Eastern Conference advance scout said. “To his credit, he figured out how to create situations he could take advantage of to get it done. I still cringe at some of the shots he takes. But, and hear me out on this, his best skill isn’t his shooting. The thing that will make him is his ability to drill you in the pick and roll with his passing. He masters that and his shooting, his ability to generate offense for himself and his team goes off the charts. I think he’s a next-level passer more than anything. To me, that’s what sets his game apart.”