Will the Greek Freak Win Back-to-Back MVPs?
Before the suspension of the 2019-20 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks were enjoying one of their best campaigns in franchise history. A big reason for that was the play of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was seemingly playing at an even higher level than last season’s MVP campaign.
The NBA recently announced that the eight upcoming regular season games at Disney will not factor into this year’s NBA awards, which means all possible avenues for competitors to make up ground on Giannis have been erased. But has the Greek Freak done enough to win the league’s most prestigious accolade once again?
It begins with a hard look at the competition he is facing. Last year, Giannis was locked in a one-on-one battle with James Harden. The Rockets’ star may be on the ballot again this year, but he will not be Giannis’s main competition. Rather, the foe for the Greek Freak this year will be none other than 35-year-old, four-time MVP LeBron James.
LeBron had a phenomenal first portion of the season in his second year with the Lakers, averaging nearly 26 points per game – right around his career average. Perhaps most impressively, King James was averaging a double-double - no, not with rebounds, but assists! The long-time point forward fully embraced that moniker en route to dishing out a career high 10.6 per game. Having an elite post-bound talent like Anthony Davis to get the ball into helps tremendously, but pacing the league in assist in Year 17 is nonetheless highly impressive.
Before the season suspension, the Lakers were white-hot and gaining post-season momentum, and so was the push for LeBron to win 2019-2020 MVP. Meanwhile, the Bucks began to falter, losing several games up until the middle of March. One of those losses came in a head-to-head matchup with the Lakers in Los Angeles, where Giannis and the Bucks were simply outplayed.
Giannis also injured his leg in that game, forcing him to sit out the next two contests (and potentially longer had the season continued). If a normal 82-game schedule been played, it is quite possible LeBron’s momentum would have carried him to a fifth MVP award. But with that portion of the season concluded, there is only one choice for MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
First and foremost, Giannis’ MVP candidacy can be proposed solely from the eye test. Put simply, there aren't many other players who can do some of the things he can; whether it’s the long strides, the dominant post game, or the impressive dunks, Giannis possesses a truly unique skill set. This sequence from early in the season captures him perfectly:
Defensively, Giannis’ length and shot blocking ability helped lead the Bucks to the top defensive rating in the league. The Greek Freak’s elite play on that end of the court also makes him a favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
We saw Giannis impress like this last year too, but the numbers have been even better this year, which is a real mind-melter. Playing in 57 of the team’s first 65 games, Giannis was averaging a career high 29.6 points per game. That is two points more than his previous career high of 27.7 last year.
But of course, No. 34’s game goes beyond scoring. His assist numbers remain similar to last year, but he is averaging 13.7 rebounds per game, again up a significant amount from last year's mark (12.5).
What you like to see out of a 25-year-old player is improvement, and Giannis has finally begun to improve his outside shot. He has taken almost five three-pointers a game - two more attempts per contest than last year. Despite a serious increase in volume, Giannis has shot at a 30% clip from deep. Of course, his rate of success could still be better, but it’s a great improvement from where his shooting has been in previous years.
A further look at some advanced metrics is what really can blow you away. Per 36 minutes, Giannis has a line of 34.5/16/6.7 (points/rebounds/assists per game). Per 100 possessions, he is at 43.8/20.3/8.5. Yes, you are seeing that right: a 40 point, 20 rebound average.
But the advanced metrics also show what Giannis means to his Bucks squad, a team that - prior to March - was on pace for a rare 70-win season. The Bucks are arguably the deepest team in the league, but the Greek Freak still accounts for over a third of his team’s defensive rebounds and assists. Meanwhile, he has a whopping 10.4 Win Shares, and an impressive career-high Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.6.
Simply put, Giannis is in a class of his own. Guys like LeBron, Harden, and Kawhi are close, but the Greek Freak is putting up rare numbers. We could keep going on and on, looking even longer at his dominant stats, but what might do his MVP candidacy more justice is simply watching this clip:
Giannis is indeed a very special player. He’s in his prime, is part of the best team in the league, and he has gotten even better than last season – when he won MVP. For those reasons and many more, Giannis Antetokounmpo should be a back-to-back league MVP after all is said and done.
Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference