Giannis Antetokounmpo: NBA hiatus strengthens MVP case

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 06: (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 06: (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

With the NBA season currently on hold, Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s prospects of being named a repeat MVP winner likely increase.

In what feels like an age ago at this point, the Milwaukee Bucks’ final stretch of games before the NBA season was suspended included their first notable slump of the campaign so far.

The Bucks had lost four of their last five games, and also notable during that spell is that a knee injury suffered against the Los Angeles Lakers had ruled Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the latter two of those defeats.

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All of that combined at a time when wins over the Bucks and Clippers added significant fuel to LeBron James‘ momentum, giving birth to an MVP conversation in the national media that most had felt was already decided at that point.

Core to those arguments was the notion of what James had supposedly overcome to deliver the kind of play he had to this point in the year. At 35 years old, James’ age was undoubtedly the most valid of those arguments, but it points to an issue with the wider conversation that underpins what the award is supposed to represent.

For all of the ambiguity that comes with the notion of Most Valuable Player, Antetokounmpo has a clear edge when the pair’s numbers are put side by side, he doesn’t have a second option of the caliber of James’ sidekick Anthony Davis, and has still led his team to an even more impressive record and consistency when it comes to team performance levels overall.

Still, momentum is a real factor in the MVP race, and if the season hadn’t paused when it did, there’s no question James would have been the candidate hitting the stretch run with a full head of steam.

Antetokounmpo had participated in practice ahead of the Bucks’ ultimately postponed game with the Celtics, but there is no way of knowing whether his knee would have remained a lingering issue as the NBA regular season closed out.

All of this feeds into the sense of narrative as a selection criteria that was so well picked apart by ESPN’s Zach Lowe on Friday. Lowe outlined that James is an undoubtedly credible candidate, but he also pointed out that any case for him must be made on the basis of facts and tangible production:

"“But LeBron shouldn’t win the MVP because you like the story of his 2019-20 season better than that of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both guys have been amazing, in very different circumstances. I suspect some of the building support for LeBron stems from the notion that his game does and will translate into the postseason more cleanly than Antetokounmpo’s, and I don’t think it’s crazy to factor that feeling into your decision — consciously or unconsciously.But it’s a regular-season award, and the winner should be the guy who was better and more valuable — and those things are almost the same, but not quite — in this regular season, not the guy whose story makes you feel warmest and fuzziest.”"

Of course, the larger status of the NBA season remains uncertain in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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But if the season resumes, or if end of season awards are handed out for what proves to be an incomplete campaign, the pause in play coming when it did certainly won’t hurt Antetokounmpo’s case when it comes to their individual seasons being compared in the bigger picture, rather than just on a week-long stretch of games.