For 99.9% of this NBA season so far, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the prohibitive favorite to repeat as the league’s MVP. Rightly so; the Bucks are having one of the greatest statistical seasons of all time, they’re sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference standings and the Greek Freak is arguably having an even better season than he did in his historically-awesome 2018-19 campaign.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, while his team has a record of 53-12 – still comfortably ahead of the Lakers (49-13) and the Raptors (46-18). He has a chance to become the first player since 1982 to average 30 points and 13 rebounds per game across an entire season, and he’ll do it while playing less than 31 minutes per game.
For reference, the rest of the top five on Basketball Reference’s MVP Award Tracker are collectively averaging a playing time of 34.7 minutes in any given contest. As a result of that remarkable efficiency, Antetokounmpo is poised to put up the second-highest overall PER of all time, a mere 0.1 behind a season in which Wilt Chamberlain casually averaged 44.8 points and more than 24 rebounds per game.
Not only is he an offensive force from all angles – including dishing out nearly six assists per game – Antetokounmpo might just be the most impactful defensive player in the league, and is one of the favorites – along with Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert – to win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award
The buzz, however, around the evergreen LeBron James has failed to dissipate. Particularly after the 35-year-old marvel led his Lakers to back-to-back wins over (in the eyes of many) the two best teams in the league – the Clippers and Bucks – over the most recent weekend.
James is in the midst of putting together what many consider to be the crowning masterpiece of one of the greatest NBA career we’ve ever seen. Currently, his 10.6 assists per game (627 total) means he leads the NBA by a whopping 78 overall, with Trae Young the nearest contender at 549.
If that trend continues, James would become the equal-tallest assists champ in league history, tied with Magic Johnson. The 26.7 points per game that James’ teammates are currently scoring thanks to his dimes is comfortably within the top 10 for that metric since 1996-97, while the 18.7 “potential assists” created by James on any given night is the 15th-most the league has seen since it began tracking that statistic.
Of all the statistics that should factor towards the MVP race, perhaps the most striking is this one: of the 114.6 points the Lakers score per game, 45.5% of them come from either James’ own scoring or his assists to teammates.
Oh, and the Lakers also go from averaging 114.1 points per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the floor, to just 105.0 when he sits. Not only is James dominating on offense, though, he’s also making plays on defense.
In LA’s two signature wins over the weekend, James spent 5:21 matched up on Antetokounmpo on Friday and 4:18 directly opposed to Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers held the Bucks and Clippers to just 206 points on 214 total possessions, forcing 20 turnovers out of Milwaukee and holding the Clippers to just seven threes.
Led by their talismanic point guard/forward/Mr. Fix-It, the Lakers are a league-best 13-2 since the start of February, and have put up the calibre of signature wins that have made experts across the league sit up and take notice.
While the Bucks have an even spread of talent across the board – and remain competitive when Antetokounmpo is injured or resting – the Lakers are heavily reliant on the combination of James and Anthony Davis. Antetokounmpo’s net rating of +16.7 thus looks monstrous, but it needs to be read alongside the fact that when he sits, the Bucks are still +5.2 overall.
Without James, the Lakers are a borderline playoff team. With him, they’re a genuine championship contender.
Shouldn’t that be the true metric of MVP success?
James hasn’t won Most Valuable Player since 2012-13. He deserves to win it this year.
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