With Russell Westbrook taking the crown last year, there is hope that the MVP award could be in the hands of a surprise superstar. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged from the darkness and blossomed into a transcendent talent that the NBA landscape can no longer ignore.
Giannis’ eventual claim to the throne
In the 2016-2017 season, Antetokounmpo had a season that placed him on the radar as an elite player and franchise face in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo tallied a well-rounded stat line of 23.2 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game, 1.9 blocks per game and 1.6 steals per game. Last season was a career year for Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks in every major statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals). If that were not enough to impress his skeptics, Antetokounmpo is the first player in NBA history, yes HISTORY, to finish in the top 20 of the five major statistical categories.
Antetokounmpo finished tied for seventh in the MVP voting last year with John Wall. It was his strides as a player and his continued growth that makes one think, ‘what is next for Antetokounmpo’? With Giannis and his team progressing and trending upwards, the time is now for Antetokounmpo to take his place atop the NBA as the leagues most valuable player. In showing how versatile and dominant he can be at still such a young age (22), Antetokounmpo still has some of best years ahead of him. This upcoming year is going to be monumental for Antetokounmpo to take an even further step forward and untap his full potential.
The case against his contenders
While it might seem like a bit of a stretch to put Antetokounmpo ahead of James Harden and Russell Westbrook in this race, there is a relatively simple explanation. Both Westbrook and Harden gained added help onto their rosters with Paul George headed to Oklahoma City and Chris Paul flying down south to join Harden in Houston. The same could be said for another MVP candidate in Isaiah Thomas, who is now paired with Gordon Hayward. A bulk of that production previously carried by players like Westbrook, Harden, and Thomas can now be shared. With a decreased workload, the stats of these MVP candidates from last year may take a small dip due to the number of touches that their new teammates will demand.
We saw this occur in Golden State following the 2015-2016 season. Stephen Curry who was chosen as the unanimous MVP was joined the following year by Kevin Durant. While we did see the Warriors go on to win the NBA title, Curry saw an ever so small reduction in his point total from the previous season as well as his position on the MVP ballots. It had nothing to do with his ability as a player or stating that he was better that year than he was this past season, but rather it was his sharing with fellow MVP candidate Durant that brought down his stats.
Fortunately for Antetokounmpo, he does not have to worry about sharing the main spotlight with anybody on his current roster. The importance that Antetokounmpo plays towards the Bucks success is as important as any superstar on their respective teams. Take away Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are in the lottery, driven to the basement of the NBA.
What would be a realistic stat-line for Antetokounmpo to win MVP look like?
Points: 28.7 PPG
Antetokounmpo shot an impressive 52.1% from the field last year, which was also top 20 in the league last year (18). While Antetokounmpo does have all the makings of an All-Around player, he needs to brush up on his perimeter shooting. When shooting the three ball, Antetokounmpo converted on 27% of them, a number that is respectable but nowhere near the likes of the elite. Now, this does not mean if he cannot shoot the three consistently that he won’t be successful, we have seen LeBron James himself struggle with shooting the ball early on in his career.
Antetokounmpo will continue to do what he has done throughout his career (which is a shown in his heat map) score from mid-range and then use all of that 7’3″ wingspan to rise above opponents on the inside and drop in easy buckets. Coming into the season after being highlighted this past season, Antetokounmpo has even more to prove. By continuing to refine his game each year, we are seeing the maturation of a player who may ascend to peaks that seem to elude some of basketball’s greatest.
Rebounds: 9.5 RPG
It goes without saying that Antetokounmpo’s 7’3″ wingspan will play a factor in terms of inhaling rebounds. With Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker holding onto their respective matchups and boxing them out, it leaves Antetokounmpo the chance to get inside and tower for the rebound. It is not crazy to think Antetokounmpo can make this jump from averaging 8.8 to 9.5 rebounds per game as he has jumped up 1.0 rebound per game in each of the past three seasons. Standing at 6’11” and playing at the small forward position, Antetokounmpo almost always has the height advantage over his matchup on a given night.
Assists: 6.9 APG
Antetokounmpo has seen his season average in assists heighten each year, so there is no reason to believe it won’t rise again this year. With the Bucks re-signing Tony Snell, Monroe exercising his player option, and Parker and Kris Middleton returning to health, Antetokounmpo gets all of his weapons back. With the potential for these players to step up their own production, Antetokounmpo could realistically see a surge in his assist total. Having Parker back in the fold, Antetokounmpo can now feed a reliable interior scorer and watch his assist totals climb. Having Snell, Middleton, as well as Rookie of the Year last year Malcolm Brogdon proven themselves as his surrounding shot-makers, Antetokounmpo will most assuredly be scanning for them while he has the ball in his hands.
Blocks: 2 BPG
As stated before the return of Parker will allow Antetokounmpo to move out onto the wing where he can tower over the wings he gets matched up with. If Antetokounmpo lets a player get by him defensively, expect him to be breathing down the player’s neck looking to swat the shot away. Much like all of Antetokounmpo stats, his blocks per game continue to ascend with each year. With his knack for knowing when to attack the ball at its high point, this allows him to stretch those long arms upward and alter the shot. Expect to see Antetokounmpo’s blocks per game slightly increase as he becomes the defender that shooters think about pump faking on when attempting a shot.
Steals: 1.4 SPG
Much like his shot-blocking abilities, his long arms and overall physique grant him the ability to get his hands on loose balls and reach in and poke it away for other teammates to grab. While sometimes gifted the chance of guarding the team’s premier player, Antetokounmpo welcomes the challenge and does so by creating havoc. Antetokounmpo found his way onto the All-Defensive Second team last season and it was clear to see why he was deserving of the honor. It is not only his physical attributes that allow him to be a stellar defender, it is his mental approach to the game that makes him one of the toughest wing defenders to score on.