Milwaukee Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is in a tight race for the NBA MVP award with James Harden and his jump in development this season hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Antetokounmpo is having an incredible season, leading the Bucks to the best record in the entire NBA at 59-20 and they secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs after Thursday’s 128-122 road win against the Sixers despite missing Malcolm Brogdon (foot), Nikola Mirotic (left thumb), Pau Gasol (ankle) and Donte DiVincenzo (heel) for over two weeks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo made an MVP statement with a monster game against Joel Embiid, who recently said he was the most unstoppable player in the league. Antetokounmpo exploded for 45 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and five blocks (four on Embiid) in 35 minutes and he even made three 3-pointers.
The Bucks are a solid team as a whole but Antetokounmpo as an individual has been even better and all aspects of his game are either pretty good or elite, except for his 3-point shot, which makes his performance against the Sixers even more impressive.
Selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, The Greek Freak has improved faster than expected. Antetokounmpo went to his first All-Star game in 2016-17 and he was named the captain of his team in his third All-Star appearance.
The NBA usually likes to reward the best team with either a Most Valuable Player Award or multiple All-Stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo is clearly the best player on the best team and the Bucks just had him and Khris Middleton as All-Stars.
The Bucks go as Giannis Antetokounmpo goes and this team was built to make sure he can play in more space and be surrounded by knockdown shooters so he can attack the paint at will and choose between scoring himself or passing the ball to the shooters around him.
Defenses just can’t stop Antetokounmpo, they can try to force the ball out of his hands but he’s also a playmaker and his teammates benefit from his passing skills.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
James Harden’s numbers are simply ridiculous, he’s averaging an NBA-best 36.3 points to go along with 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds in 37.0 minutes over 75 games and no one can forget his impressive streak of 32 games scoring at least 30 points but Antetokounmpo’s stats are also solid.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 32.9 minutes over 71 games and he’s in line to become the first player to average 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists per game since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season.
The Greek Freak can also be the only player in NBA history to average over 29.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per 36 minutes. Doing something that’s never been done before can definitely help Giannis get MVP support and on Thursday he became the first player in history to record at least 45 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three 3-point shots made in a game.
No one can deny that Antetokounmpo’s outside shot is his weakness but his game is still better rounded than Harden’s, he can finish with either hand when attacking the basket, he has an effective post game and his outside shot will get better with time but his ability to read defenses and create for his teammates sets him apart, he can handle the ball like a point guard and he’s a matchup nightmare.
Antetokounmpo is disruptive and versatile as a defender, he has 107 blocks and 91 steals, he’s seventh in the league among power forwards with a 2.91 defensive real plus-minus and he can guard all five positions. Giannis Antetokounmpo checks all the boxes to be named NBA MVP: his team is successful, he has incredible individual statistics, impact as a two-way player and popularity.