Coronavirus outbreak has made it evident that the current NBA season will end in one of the two ways: either it will be cut short, or it will be canceled entirely. Either way, we’ve seen a large sample of regular-season games to form an opinion about who should be the winners of the individual awards. That brings us to the biggest one, the MVP award, for which most people believe that two players are in the race.
The reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has imposed himself as the favorite for the award by continuously dominating on both ends of the floor. Antetokounmpo ranks 3rd in the league in points per game, 3rd in rebounds per game, 25th in assists per game, 64th in steals per game, and 26th in blocks per game, despite being just 66th in minutes per game as a result of sitting so many fourth quarters. He has been the best player on record-wise, the best team in the league. According to Basketball-Reference, Giannis’s performance in the 2019-20 NBA season places him 5th in all-time player efficiency rating and 9th in Box Score Plus/Minus. He is also playing defense at an elite level and is in the conversation for the DPOY award. The Greek Freek is orchestrating the best defense in league with a defensive rating of 102.45, guarding all five positions. Giannis was the Eastern Conference player of the month three times in this season, and his consistency is his most persuasive argument for winning the MVP award.
On the other side, you have LeBron, who in his 17th season is averaging double digits in assists for the first time in his career and is leading the league in that category. James has 23 games with 10 or more assists, 3rd most by a player in their 17th season or later in NBA history. His transition to playing a full-time point guard has been impressive. The talk about who deserves the MVP award between these two intensified even more after a weekend in which LeBron outplayed both Kawhi and Giannis, beating the Clippers and the Bucks in a span of 3 days. What LeBron has on his side is the narrative, and MVP awards have been given based on that before. He isn’t having the best regular season, but he is very close, which combined with the fact that he’s doing it in his 17th season, makes James a serious MVP candidate.
Former Orlando Magic star Penny Hardaway gave his insight about the topic when he spoke to Jalen & Jacoby on ESPN. Hardaway picked James as the MVP. He justified his pick by saying that LeBron has to do so much more than Giannis and that the Greek Freak has teammates who fit perfectly in the system coach Budeholzer runs. That’s justified with the fact that Lakers’ offense falls off the cliff when LeBron is on the bench. Their net rating drops to -2.6, while the Bucks have a net rating of 6.0 when Giannis is off the floor.
“To me, Bron has to do so much more. And that’s no knock on any other Lakers. But when he’s off the floor, things are not the same. I guess I am taking something away from Giannis. No matter what, when having the ball in his hands, you still have to produce. And I know that Milwaukee has the number one record and that he doesn’t have as many pieces… but he has pieces that fit the system with him. He doesn’t have the names or another AD with him, but that’s all the Lakers were back in the day with Kobe and Shaq. They were great, but they had Rick Fox. They had Brian Shaw. They had Derek Fisher. That’s what, to me, Milwaukee has. They have those types of pieces to help Giannis out. And then they allow Giannis to be Giannis.”Penny Hardaway, via ESPN
There isn’t a clear criterion when deciding who should win the MVP award, and that’s what sometimes makes it so hard to determine. For me, however, there is a clear MVP this season, and it’s Giannis. LeBron has been impressive with his elite playmaking ability and scoring, excellent defensive performance, especially when comparing it to last season. In addition, he needs to get some credit for helping Anthony Davis to incorporate into the team and not really having an adjustment period, playing good team basketball consistently throughout the season.
However, Giannis has had a historically great season. His consistency on both ends of the floor, as well as the historic numbers he’s putting up, can’t be taken away from him. And even though you can make an argument for LeBron winning the MVP, to me, it’s pretty simple: LeBron’s performance was historically good for a player of his age and at this stage in his career; Giannis was historically great, period.