Can the Greek Freak Win League MVP?
In a league of big name stars, there’s no doubt Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the rising young players in the NBA. He has improved his traditional rate states each season of his career, with career-highs of 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Not surprisingly, he also set a clear-cut career high with a 28.3 percent usage rate last season.
Over the last two seasons, if only by volume, Antetokounmpo has added the three-point shot to his offensive game. He has a lot of work to do to get to league average percentage wise (27.2 percent in 2016-17). But he did show some sign of improvement from beyond the arc in March 2017 (32.1 percent), as faint as that praise may seem.
In an early August interview, on the heels of winning NBA Most Improved Player for 2016-17, Antetokounmpo said he thinks he can win league MVP next season. A high level of confidence is nice, but can “The Greek Freak” actually win the NBA’s highest individual regular season honor?
One of the first elements of winning MVP is team success. The Bucks have made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons under Jason Kidd, with a first-round six-game loss each time. In this past year’s loss to the Toronto Raptors, Antetokounmpo averaged 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game, while going (in a very small sample) 4-for-10 from three-point range. Regardless, the Bucks need to move into the upper echelon of the East to bolster Antetokounmpo’s MVP case. Winning a playoff series is not necessarily a requirement, since the award is voted for strictly on regular season exploits.
Versatility is a major mark in Antetokounmpo’s corner. He played a lot of point guard in 2015-16 (40 percent of his minutes, per Basketball Reference), but he shifted back to his customary small forward last year (65 percent of his minutes). But specific position designations matter little in the NBA right now, and Antetokounmpo can hold his own in multiple roles.
High level defense is not necessarily a requirement of a league MVP, but it can help a candidate’s case for sure. Antetokounmpo was tied for ninth in the league in Defensive Win Shares (4.5-Basketball Reference), and he upped his combined average of steals and blocks (3.5) by nearly one per game over 2015-16 (2.6).
Antetokounmpo still won’t even turn 23 until December, so his future is bright as his new contract kicks in. He got some votes for league MVP last year, but he’s got a long way to go to become a legit candidate among other elite players. “The Greek Freak” will surely win an NBA MVP award at some point, but I wouldn’t bet on it being next season.