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The Year of the Freak? Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Case for MVP

The Greek Freak This Year

Giannis Antetokounmpo has more than lived up to his nickname this season. His entire body of work on both ends of the floor is nothing short of freakish. On the year, he’s putting up 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game. He also records 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per contest to go with his ridiculous 58.1% field goal percentage.

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Who could forget when Antetokounmpo jumped clean over 6’6″ Tim Hardaway Jr. to finish the lob from Khris Middleton? Photo courtesy of @NBA on Twitter

He’s essentially made a linear progression every year, and he’s currently averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and efficiency. Most impressive of all is that he’s doing this all in 33.2 minutes per game. For comparison, Paul George and James Harden, his main competitors for MVP, play 36.6 and 37.4 minutes per game respectively. Per 36 minutes, Giannis averages 29.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists with 1.5 steals and 1.6 blocks. This would effectively move from seventh in points per game to second, and from fifth to second in rebounds per game.

Giannis also ranks ninth in field goal percentage (the eight ahead of him are all centers), ninth in true shooting percentage, fouth in offensive win shares (behind Harden but ahead of George) and second in value over replacement player. The Bucks also have the best record in the NBA, and Antetokounmpo’s league-leading 217 dunks would make Prime Shaq proud. In fact, O’Neal has said that Giannis is the new Superman.

But Giannis Can’t Shoot!

While some laud Antetokounmpo for his lack of a three-point shot, the stats show that he doesn’t really need one. He makes two-point field goals at a rate of 63.7%, which equates to 1.274 points per possession (PPP). To achieve that level of PPP on threes, he’d need to shoot at least 42.5% from deep for the three to be a more efficient shot. For reference, his main competitors for MVP, Paul George and James Harden shoot 40.3% and 37.1% from deep respectively. Needless to say, what Giannis is doing is both ridiculous and historic.

Furthermore, he’s improved tremendously as of late from downtown. Across eight games in February, he’s shooting 45.5% from deep, albeit on 2.8 attempts per game. Since the new year, he’s shot 36.2% from three across 22 games, which is above league average. A three-point shot would only make him even more unguardable as defenders wouldn’t be able to sag off him behind the arc.

Antetokounmpo’s Defensive Impact

What really separates Giannis from the field is his impact on the defensive end. Despite ranking third in steals per game, the eye test shows that Harden isn’t an elite defender. George is an elite defender, howe,ver the stats show that Giannis’ impact is far greater. The Bucks rank first in defensive rating and Antetokounmpo plays a massive part in this. While defensive rating for individual players isn’t the best stat, Antetokounmpo leads the league with a rating of 98.1. When Giannis is on the court, the Bucks have a defensive rating of 99.8. When he sits, that rating drops to 102.5.

Antetokounmpo’s Total Impact

Giannis antetokounmpo-milwaukee bucks-boston celtics-dunk-mvp-NBA
Giannis is nigh unstoppable offensively, and he’s a game-changer on the defensive end as well. Photo courtesy of Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Giannis leads the league with a net impact of 13.2. When Antetokounmpo is off the court, his team’s defense gets a lot worse, and their offense is far less efficient. Furthermore, neither of Harden nor George ranks in the top 10. He’s also first in player impact estimate (PIE), which measures exactly what it sounds like: a player’s impact on the game. Harden does rank second in PIE, but George doesn’t scratch the top 10.

Antetokounmpo leads the league in win shares with 11.0. One win equates to three win shares, so Giannis is essentially worth 3.67 wins, which seems rather low for his impact on the team. While he is second to Harden in box plus/minus, he still ranks eighth in offensive box plus/minus, and first in defensive box plus/minus. Of Harden’s 11.2 box plus/minus score, 10.6 come on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Giannis gets exactly half from the offensive and defensive end, meaning that he’s a true two-way player.

The Verdict

Despite James Harden’s historic scoring this season and Paul George’s two-way prowess, Giannis’ performance is arguably far greater. Harden is a non-factor on pretty much all defensive metrics, and while George is great on both ends, Giannis’ impact is more significant. Given his performance this year and first place standing, Giannis could very well walk away with both the MVP and DPOY awards at the end of this season.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com

Featured image courtesy of Maddy Meyer/Getty Images

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