Can Giannis Win Back-to-Back MVPs?
Giannis Antetokounmpo has quickly become one of the league’s brightest stars in the Association. Despite being just the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, playing in a small market, and having a below average jump shot in a league that has become all about deep shooting, Giannis has transformed into arguably the league’s scariest player. Last season, he was also the league’s best. Developing every year in the league, Giannis finally showed how far he had come, averaging almost 28 points, 12 and a half rebounds, and six assists per game.
He was in a back and forth MVP race with Rockets guard James Harden all season, whose numbers weren’t too shabby in his own right. But ultimately, the Greek Freak just did more. He was the better all-around player and helped his team to 60 wins and the NBA’s best record. Despite finishing two games short of the NBA Finals, the Bucks 2018-19 season was one to remember, and it culminated with their best player winning the MVP award in late June.
Shortly after winning the MVP award, Giannis came out and said this:
If that doesn’t show the Greek Freak is still hungry, I don’t know what does. And he and others amongst the Bucks’ brass have belief he can still get better, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league. If he does indeed improve once again, as he has every other year he has played in the league, will we be looking at a back-to-back MVP?
The answer is yes, for several reasons. First of all, you have to look at what Giannis can already do. Last year he averaged nearly 28 points per game, while scoring the majority of his points in the paint. He has the court vision of a true point guard and is far and away the Bucks’ best rebounder. Combine his one of a kind offensive game with his stellar defense, and you have a player not many other in the NBA compare to.
One thing that will also help the Greek Freak is the fact that there was not much turnover for the Bucks over the summer. They lost Malcolm Brogdon, but other than that the roster has remained intact. He will still play alongside Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton. Also, Brook Lopez will rejoin them in the starting lineup, his ability to stretch the floor on offense and contribute on the defensive end helps Giannis.
The Bucks have added Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver, who can only help Giannis’s numbers, especially in the assist department given their high-octane shooting ability. Coach Mike Budenholzer will be back for his second year with this team as well, and after his Coach of the Year season last year, another year under his tutelage can only be beneficial for Giannis.
Maybe the biggest x-factor to another Giannis MVP campaign is that infamous jump shot. It’s currently the only knock on his game, and it is no secret that teams still dare him to shoot. The good news however, is that Giannis has a good looking, fundamentally sound jump shot, and it is likely just a matter of time until he gets it going.
While he shot just 25% from beyond the arc compared to 30% the year prior, Giannis attempted a career high in 3-point attempts in Coach Bud’s system. The attempts will continue to be encouraged, and Giannis did shoot the ball at a better clip towards the end of the year. If he can get that percentage up into the 30s and continue to progress on his developing mid-range jump shot, it may be impossible to stop number 34 in 2019-2020.
The final factor in Giannis winning back-to-back MVPs is his competition. Back-to-back MVPs are not all that common in the NBA anymore. But still, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Steve Nash, and Tim Duncan have all accomplished the feat over the last 20 years, so it is certainly possible.
Giannis will have stiff competition when it comes to winning the award this year. It starts in the East, where his main challenger will be Joel Embiid. The one issue with the big man is health, but if he can put together an injury free season, Embiid could put up the numbers needed to win the award on one of the East’s best teams.
Most of the competition will come from out West, where there will be no shortage of candidates. The city of Los Angeles could very well produce four, including Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. Each of these guys are perennial threats to the award, and with the exception of Leonard, each will be playing on a better team this season. However, all of these guys will be sharing the ball with another superstar, which could limit production, whereas Giannis is the only ball dominant force in Milwaukee.
Speaking of sharing the ball, what about last year’s main challenger in James Harden? He now has Russell Westbrook alongside him, which could very well make the team better, but will likely lower Harden’s off the chart numbers that he put up last season.
A couple other dark horse candidates could be Steph Curry and Nikola Jokic. Jokic continues to get better and better every year, but doesn’t quite have the flash of some of the other superstars in the league. Curry could sneak up as Giannis’s main competitor as he could put up some gaudy stats being the only scorer left in Golden State, at least for the first half of the year.
Overall, if Giannis stays healthy, builds on last season, and develops a jump shot, he could become so unstoppable that the competition may not matter. The Greek Freak is a one of a kind player who the city of Milwaukee is incredibly lucky to have. He may have a big decision to make come next summer, but for now, another MVP season is on the horizon, one Bucks’ fans hope will lead to an NBA championship.
Statistics Courtesy Basketball Reference and NBA.com