In August of 2017, when Kobe Bryant was passing out challenges like Donald Trump was passing out twitter disses, he challenged Kendrick Lamar, DeMar DeRozan, Richard Sherman, and Isaiah Thomas. When Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t on the receiving end of a Bryant expectation he felt left out and wanted his. Giannis did a what about me? Twitter cry. Bryant was quick, concise and to the point. MVP. Nothing else was necessary.
MVP explains itself. Dominate the league. Lift your team. Be a contender. Take the trophy away from Russell Westbrook and LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Be great. Be extraordinary. Be a superstar.
Three years later, Antetokounmpo will have two MVP’s on his shelf and perhaps an NBA title. Byrant was a sage.
But he wasn’t whimsical by anyone’s definition. He didn’t tell John Wall to be MVP. He told John Wall to be first-team All-Defense. The MVP was reserved for Giannis and for good reason. Even as a raw talent, Giannis was multi-talented. He could score, defend, isolate, close games out, and be the star when he needed to be the star. He had freakish length, great handles, gifted vision, and finishing talent.
At the time, to some, it felt generous to put Giannis and MVP in the same sentence. Giannis had only been an All-Star for half a year. He was a newbie. But regardless of his very recent entry into stardom, Giannis passed the Bryant MVP eye test. He had a great feel and sense of time and place. He was a giving teammate and wasn’t afraid late in games and he had a strong motor. But being a great player doesn’t make you an MVP.
First you have to play a lot of games, at least 70. So Giannis had to stay healthy. Then you have to score. Of the last 10 MVP’s, none have averaged less than 23.8 points a game. A decade ago, Bryant won the MVP after a 28.3 and 6.3 (assist) season. He led his team to the NBA Finals. In 2019-20 Giannis was 5th in scoring, 29.5. He was 1st in field goals, 685. He was 1st in Defensive Rebounds and 4th in Total Rebounds. He was 1st in PER and 1st in Defensive Rating.
Since Michael Jordan won his first MVP in 1988, point guards have won the award (10) times. Shooting guards have won it (7) times. Small forwards have won it (5) times. Power forwards have won it (8) times. Centers have won it (3) times.
|25 and Doing Stuff||Points||FG%||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||PER|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019-20)||29.5||55.3%||116||97||31.9|
|LeBron James (2009-10)||29.7||50.3%||121||102||31.1|
How do you earn back to back MVPs?
You lead your team through the grind fest, scoring, defending, and rising above adversity. The MVP is an individual award your team helps you win. When Kobe made his prediction for Giannis, the Bucks were an awful offensive rebounding team. They had average three-point shooters. They didn’t blind you with an offense nor with creativity. Their defense was pretty mediocre. They were far from complete. Giannis could only do so much which is why many who saw Kobe’s challenge said good luck with that MVP thang. I won’t hold my breath.
Consistency, not to mention efficiency and willfulness, separate MVPs from the run of the mill good NBA players. Head to head matchups with the leading contenders, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and coming out on top, particularly on the road, opened everyone’s eyes and changed their mind about Giannis Antetokounmpo. But you can’t go out to win the MVP like you can the scoring or rebounding title. The irony about winning it is that team goals must come first. The MVP is the consequence of extraordinary.
Giannis checked all of the Kobe boxes except one. He hasn’t been to the NBA Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steve Nash, and Derrick Rose have that one MVP thing in common.