For much the 2020-2021 season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time reigning MVP, has been an afterthought in most MVP discussions. Super star players such as Nikola Jokic, Joel Emiid, and LeBron James have dominated those conversations. Indeed, LeBron James and those around him have made multiple remarks on his MVP candidacy. However, for almost a month now, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been playing better than he had in either of past two season, both of which were MVP seasons for him. With current injuries to Emiid and James, it is time to acknowledge that the award should go to Giannis for the third straight season.
Giannis’ 2020-2021 Season
The two-time MVP and the Bucks got off to a slow start this season. However, their start, by all accounts, was not that bad. They simply dominated the regular season so completely in the past two seasons that their current third place standing feels like a downturn. It is not.
Giannis currently holds averages of 29.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. His 29.1 points per game is 0.4 points less than last season, but 1.4 more than his first MVP season. The 6.2 assists per game his currently has is a career-high, up 0.3 and 0.6 assists per game from his previous two seasons respectively. His 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game are both 0.3 higher than last season’s averages when he was also the Defensive Player of the Year.
The Milwaukee Bucks as a team are currently 27-14, just 1.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in the East. The Brooklyn Nets, the East’s second seed, hold just a half game advantage over Milwaukee.
The PER Trend
The last NBA MVP that did not lead the NBA in PER was Steph Curry in his first MVP season in 2015. That season, Curry averaged 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. He was third in the NBA in PER with a rating of 28.06. Anthony Davis (30.89) and Russell Westbrook (29.12) ranked higher.
Since that season, every NBA MVP has been the league leader in PER. Giannis currently ranks third with a rating of 29.34. Nikola Jokic leads the NBA with a 31.67 rating, and Joel Emiid is second wtih 31.50.
Based on the last several seasons, the trend would insinuate that Nikola Jokic will be the MVP this year. He certainly has a case as he is averaging 27.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. However, Giannis is averaging more points, rebounds, steals, and blocks per game than Jokic. In Steph Curry’s first MVP season, he averaged less points and rebounds than both Davis and Westbrook. He also averaged less assists and steals than Westbrook and less blocks than Davis (he and Westbrook both averaged 0.2).
The point: PER, like all other averages and ratings, is a great indicator of a player’s dominance. However, it is not the end all and be all. Despite not leading the NBA in PER this year, Giannis should still be the MVP.
One of the reasons many claim Giannis should not win MVP is because he has won the last two. They point to voter fatigue, the voters’ tendency to not vote for a player if he has been in contention for the award for multiple seasons. This is absolutely preposterous. The award should go to the most valuable player, no matter how many times he may have been in the conversation. This season, it is Giannis again.
Giannis Has Only Gotten Better as the Season’s Progressed
Since winning the All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award, Giannis has been on a whole new level:
This level of production is on par with Nikola Jokic. The question, then, becomes which player is most valuable to their team? While Jokic is undoubtedly a huge part of the Nuggets’ success, the same can be said for Giannis.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Bucks got off to a slow start this season. This was the result of a massive roster turnover and new offensive scheme. While the team struggled to gel, Giannis kept them in contention, almost single-handedly. Without Giannis, there is no way the Bucks are the third seed in the East. Now that the team is clicking, Giannis is the factor that may push them back to the top seed. Jokic’s Nuggets are having a good season, but are just fifth in the West.
A Third Straight MVP Would Be Historic
If Giannis were to win his third consecutive MVP Award this season, he would join a very exclusive club. Here is a list of players who have won three straight MVP’s in the NBA: Larry Bird, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain.
Of course, history is no reason to vote or note vote for a player. However, this is a conversation that shows just how great Giannis is. The fact that he could join Bird, Russell, and Chamberlain as the only players to win three straight MVPs shows how much Giannis dominates the NBA.