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Moore: The Definitive Case for Giannis Antetokounmpo as 2019 NBA MVP


Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34).

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo is the odds-on favorite to win the 2019 NBA MVP, with James Harden not too far behind.
  • Let's dig deep into the case for Giannis, analyzing his statistical efficiency, his defensive prowess and his impact on the Bucks' success as a team.

I’ve got three words for you.

Most Dominant Player.

Here’s the MVP case for Giannis Antetokunmpo in layers with the broadest and most important on the bottom and the layers above adding context:

The necessary question, of course, is what I mean by “most dominant,” especially with Harden putting up the best scoring season of the past 50 years since Michael Jordan (while averaging seven assists on good efficiency).  Harden is unstoppable this season because he’s going to hit the shots you try to force him to take, but with Giannis it’s a bit different: He’s dominant because you can’t stop him from getting the impact he wants.

He dominates his physical matchups and the team-wide matchups. He gets to the rim no matter the coverage, generates assists no matter how he’s schemed, and controls the game defensively with his physical presence.

To watch him is to watch a player who opponents just have no idea what to do with. Watch these clips and ask yourself how a human being is supposed to stop him:

Let’s look at some numbers.


Stat line: 27.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game on 57.7% from the field, 24.6% from 3-point range, and 72.9% from the stripe.

Advanced (rank in parentheses): 64.1% TrueShooting percentage (8th), 30.4 PER (2nd), 8.3 Offensive Win Shares (3rd), 5.4 Defensive Win Shares (3rd), 13.8 Win Shares (3rd), 10.5 Box Plus-Minus (2nd), 7.3 Value Over Replacement Player (2nd)

Giannis’ per-game numbers don’t pop the same way Harden’s do. They all seem mundane on their own. He’s fifth in scoring per game, sixth in rebounds per game, 20th in assist per game, 13th in blocks per game. It’s the combination of those stats where it gets wild. Much will be made, and rightfully so, of Harden’s unprecedented scoring with seven assists per game.

But it’s the combination that sets Antetokounmpo apart first. No player since assists began to be tracked has ever had his line of 27-13-6. The only player to ever average 27-13 with 1.5 blocks per game and .550 or better from the field was Shaquille O’Neal (also, I might add, nicknamed the Most Dominant Ever).

So while Harden’s scoring numbers are indeed historic, especially when combined with his assists, Giannis’ are similarly standing alone in history. He’s Shaq with more assists. O’Neal never averaged more than 3.8 assists per game. It’s this added dimension to Antetokounmpo that not only sets him apart from the Diesel, but best adjusts him to the modern era.

And here’s the kicker: Antetokounmpo averages just 32.8 minutes per game, compared to 37 minutes for Harden. As we’ll get into when we compare the two players in our final MVP piece, that narrows the statistical gap between the two considerably. Antetokounmpo doesn’t play heavy minutes because he doesn’t have to: The Bucks are often up by so much he simply isn’t needed.

That’s where the team stats come in.

The Bucks have a 113 offensive rating with Antetokounmpo on the floor, good for sixth-best among players with a 25% usage rate or higher, and second-best among players with a usage rate north of 30%, with Harden, of course, the only player above him.

Defense is where the conversation really starts to veer toward Antetokounmpo. He has the league’s second-best defensive rating among all players playing 30 minutes or more (Joe Ingles) and the best defensive rating among all players with a usage rate above 20%.

The result is this: With Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, the Bucks beat their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions. That is a beatdown. A destruction. An absolute ass-kicking. It is the best net rating of any player who play at least 30 minutes per game and has a usage rate of more than 30 this season, and second-best for any player with usage rating of 25 or more behind Steph Curry. Antetokounmpo will also play at least five more games this season than Curry, which should be noted (alongside the historical outlier the Warriors provide).

Net rating — which is just plus-minus extrapolated across possessions instead of minutes to account for pace) — is our clearest statistical lifeline to winning. It doesn’t take a scientist to understand the Bucks have won the most games this season, and so Giannis’ standing as the best player on the team with the best record is fairly opaque. But if Antetokounmpo’s on-court net rating weren’t so dominant, even compared to how excellent the Bucks have been without him on the floor, his case wouldn’t be so solid.

Quite simply: the Bucks kick the ass of everyone, all-comers, with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor this season. But to understand his relationship to those numbers, and the Bucks’ win total, you have to go a bit deeper.


Giannis is fast.

I know, dynamite analysis.

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