There is a degree of uncertainty as to whether the NBA will resume its season after it was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. If ever the league chooses to abandon it and proceed directly to its 2020-21 campaign, who will be named as the 2019-20 NBA MVP?
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks was the front-runner to win a second straight award. The Greek Freak was having another freakish season for the Milwaukee Bucks whom he helped earn the best record in the league at 53-12.
If Antetokounmpo was dominant last season, he was even better this year. And if only the season would continue, perhaps he would have gotten the chance to prove it in the playoffs. But that is uncertain and with that, people are asking if Antetokounmpo did enough to merit another MVP award.
I think that the 2019-20 MVP race is down to Giannis and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. Between the two though, I think that Antetokounmpo’s body of work is more impressive than James’ even if I look at it from any angle. Let me explain.
Bucks Were Dominant
Milwaukee held the league’s best record from start to suspension. Although the Lakers had come to within three games right before the season was halted, the Bucks were the most dominant and consistent team this season.
The Bucks led the league in point differential. At +11.3, they were nearly four points better than their closest rivals, the Lakers who were at +7.4. The last team to have a double-digit differential in a season was the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors who went on to win the NBA title that year.
Antetokounmpo is the main reason why the Bucks were that dominant. His game has continued to improve each year and this season was no different.
He improved his three-point shooting from 25.6% last season to 30.6% this year while taking a career-high 4.8 attempts per game. That’s not good enough but still, it’s an improvement and he’s doing his best to try.
Giannis’ assist average of 5.8 per game this season is a shade under his career-high of 5.9 which was set in 2019 when he won his first MVP. He has evolved into a decent facilitator and with teams double-teaming him, he’s nearly perfected the art of finding the open man, whether it’s Brook Lopez in the corner for the three or Khris Middleton cutting to the basket.
Mike Budenholzer has maximized Antetokounmpo’s talents even on the pick and roll. As a screener, he teams up with Eric Bledsoe and often ends up on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk. As a ball-handler, he uses his long strides to get to the basket quickly to score two points or get the and-one call. He averaged 1.19 points per possession as the ball-handler and 1.09 points per possession as the screener.
But what’s more impressive about Antetokounmpo on offense is his scoring efficiency. When he won the MVP last season, he averaged 32.8 minutes per game while scoring 27.7 points per contest. That was the second-fewest minutes averaged during an MVP season and only Steph Curry’s 32.7 in 2014-15 was better.
This season, Antetokounmpo is averaging a career-high 29.6 points per game and he’s playing just 30.9 minutes per contest. His rebounding average also increased from 12.5 per game last season to 13.7 per outing this year. That’s impressive because he’s not just putting up the same numbers in fewer minutes but he’s even doing better in limited time.
When it comes to scoring, Giannis was third in the league in that statistical department. James Harden, the league’s top scorer at 34.4 points per game, ranks second in the league in minutes played at 36.7 per game. Bradley Beal is next to Harden in scoring at 30.5 points per game, but he is ranked 5th in minutes played at 36.0 per contest. Giannis is playing five fewer minutes than Harden and Beal but is still scoring almost 30 points per game.
Giannis or LeBron?
Before the betting odds were taken down, the 2020 NBA MVP race was down to Giannis and LeBron James. According to BetOnline, Antetokounmpo was the -400 to win his second straight MVP award while James was a -250 underdog to unseat him. During the regular season, it was indeed the 35-year old James who was playing well and consistent enough to rival Antetokounmpo for the award.
Playing in his 17th season, James averaged 25.7 points per game while leading the league in assists at 10.6 dimes per contest. His Lakers had the best record in the Western Conference and were closing in on the Bucks for the league’s top spot when play was suspended. However, King James was averaging four more minutes of playing time than The Greek Freak.
Defensively, James didn’t mean as much to the Lakers’ defense than Giannis did to the Bucks. When Antetokounmpo doesn’t play, Milwaukee allows 7.7 more points per 100 possessions. On the other hand, Los Angeles gives up just 3.6 more points per 100 possessions when Bron is on the bench.
With his value on defense, Giannis is more valuable. To the league, he was the most valuable player during the 2019-20 season.
Steph Curry was the last player to win back to back MVP award and that wasn’t too long ago. You can make an argument for the 35-year old James. But remember too that James plays alongside Anthony Davis who can be a franchise player on another team. Giannis plays with All-Star Khris Middleton but the latter isn’t good enough to be a franchise star. I think Giannis deserves the MVP over LeBron James.