Last week, 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.
Bryant isn’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. But the MVP was reserved for Giannis and for good reason. Giannis is multi-talented. He can score, defend, isolate, close games out and be the star when he needs to be the star. He has freakish length, great handles, gifted vision and finishing talent.
To some, it may seem farfetched to put Giannis and MVP in the same sentence. Giannis has been an All-Star for half a year. He’s a newbie. But regardless of his very recent entry into stardom, Giannis passes the Bryant MVP eye test. He has a great feel and sense of time and place. He is a generous teammate and isn’t afraid late in games, plus he has a strong motor. But being a great player doesn’t make you a MVP.
First you have to play a lot of games, at least 70. 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.
No one expects that of Giannis (not yet) but leading the Bucks offensively and defensively has to translate into a top-4 seed in the East. The league has to be awed by his accomplishments. Furthermore, Giannis has to have a strong defensive rating to go along with his efficient offense. His three ball needs to improve fast, quick and in a hurry. He needs to be responsible for the Bucks exceptionalism, not just in wins but in leadership. Simply put, he has to carry the Bucks, and in a weak Eastern Conference, with his talent and drive, it is possible.
Since Michael Jordan won his first MVP in 1988, point guards have won the award (9) times. Shooting guards have won it (6) times. Small forwards have won it (5) times. Power forwards have won it (7) times. Centers have won it (3) times.
The youngest MVP was Derrick Rose, who won the award six years ago at the age of 22. Giannis is 22. The question then becomes Giannis vs. Lebron.
|2016-17||Points||FG%||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Real Plus-Minus Rank (SF)|
This past season, Giannis played every game but two. He made 52.1% of his shots, was good for 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and nearly two blocks. His offensive rating was 116 and his defensive rating was 104. He made second team All-NBA and second team All-Defensive. He won Most Improved Player.
How do you go from Most Improved Player to MVP?
You lead your team through the 82 grind fest, scoring, defending and rising above adversity. The Bucks have flaws that may inhibit Giannis, if nothing changes. The MVP is an individual award your team helps you win. The Bucks don’t have a lot of creators. They don’t draw fouls and get to the line, slowing the game down and controlling tempo. They are an awful rebounding team. They don’t have scorers, particularly knock down three point shooters. They don’t blind you with an offense nor with creativity. Defense outside of three point shooting is mediocre. So they are far from complete. Giannis can only do so much which is why many who saw Kobe’s challenge are saying good luck with that MVP thang. I won’t hold my breath.
Consistency, not to mention efficiency and willfulness, separates MVP’s from run of the mill good NBA players. Head to head match ups with the leading contenders, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and coming out on top, particularly on the road, will open everyone’s eyes and change their mind about Giannis. 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.
A few months ago, Giannis didn’t receive any first place MVP votes. He received seven (5th) place votes. Kobe wants the opposite in 2017-18. More first place votes than fifth place votes. A team that is ready to contend. Giannis the leader. The star. The shotmaker. The MVP.
photo via llananba