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Paul, Griffin in top 5 MVP candidates on ESPN Forecast

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin round out the top 5 in ESPN Forecast's poll of MVP candidates for the coming season, trailing only three former MVPs.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's the dog days of the NBA summer, and with an almost complete absence of real news, ESPN.com is kind enough to fill the void with (silly) opinion pieces. Earlier this week they forecast the conferences, with the Los Angeles Clippers slotted in third in the West behind the Thunder and the Spurs. I don't necessarily agree with that -- specifically, I'm not clear on how one can predict fewer wins for this Clippers team than for the one that was forced to play Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison over 400 minutes last season. But I'll get to that another time and overall -- the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers were within two games of each other in predicted wins with a big gap between them and the rest of the pack -- they got it right. It's a three team race at the top of the West, and the Clippers are in the hunt. Fair enough.

Today's piece is on the predicted MVP, and frankly there's not a lot of mystery to that race -- or rather, there's not a lot of justification to discuss anyone beyond two players. LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been head-and-shoulders above the field for two or three years now, and there's no reason to expect that to change this season. Any other vote-getters in an MVP discussion are at best hunches -- or rather "Well, they made me vote for a third place candidate" (which is in fact the only explanation for the presence of more than two names on this particular list).

This happens to be the first time in a decade that an NBA season will open with three former MVPs all under the age of 30. (Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan in 2004 were the last threesome of in-their-prime MVPs to square off -- and Steve Nash surprised them all two seasons in a row.) Derrick Rose was the last person not named James or Durant to win the award, back when he was healthy -- four seasons ago. So one might expect that there would be at least three serious candidates in the form of three former MVPs all smack dab in the middle of their prime. But the simple fact is that James and Durant have far outpaced anything Rose did even in his MVP season (when the truth is that he didn't really deserve the award) and Rose has played about half a season of basketball the three years since he won the award.

Rose sneaked into the third slot in the ESPN Forecast for the MVP race -- but with just 21 points compared to 180 for Durant and 230 for James.

After the three 20-something former MVPs come a pair of Clippers -- which is fairly remarkable, especially considering that one of them isn't even the MVP of his own team (though it's impossible to say which one). Paul finished third in MVP voting in 2013 behind "Les Deux Dieux" (my new shorthand when discussing James and Durant, French for the two gods); Griffin finished third in 2014. So there's plenty of reason to put them both in the top 5.

Still, it's incredible to have two potential top five players on the same roster -- again, both of them under 30. No other pair of teammates got mentioned in the ESPN Forecast voting save one -- LeBron's new teammate Kevin Love received a single third place vote in the poll. So if the question is who is the best Robin to a Batman, the supposed experts at ESPN have spoken -- essentially naming Paul and Griffin co-Batmen in the league (with Les Deux Dieux in the proper place in the DC Universe as Supermen).

Dwight Howard and James Harden, LeBron and Love, Durant and Russell Westbrook -- forget it. Paul and Griffin is the single best pair of teammates in the league. Don't take my word for it -- ask ESPN.

There are of course external factors beyond talent in MVP discussion. Team success is a prerequisite. That is to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy -- if the team isn't super-successful, the player must not be that great. So for instance if Kevin Love were going to play for the Timberwolves next season, he likely wouldn't get much 'love' in MVP voting based simply on team results. The Clippers are expected to be good -- so their best players become viable MVP candidates.

Which is probably the only way that either of them could actually win the award (barring injuries to "Les Deux") -- if the Clippers were to exceed expectations while Cleveland and Oklahoma City underperformed somewhat.

It was Chicago's NBA best 62 wins in 2011 after all that won the award for Rose -- if the Clippers can manage to finish the regular season with the best overall record (or even the best record in the West) then Griffin and Paul suddenly look like much more viable candidates.

For now, it's just nice to have some external validation of what we already knew to be true. No twosome in the league has more superstar power then Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.