Giannis Antetokounmpo is a clear favorite to win MVP this season, but should he also pick up Defensive Player of the Year honors?
Shortly after being crowned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2018-19 season, Giannis Antetokounmpo made the particularly bold declaration that he was only playing at 60 percent of his potential.
Of course, there were a couple of obvious areas of Antetokounmpo’s game in need of improvement, but to even set out thinking there was that kind of leap still to be made after winning the league’s most prestigious individual award left the highest of bars to be cleared.
If Antetokounmpo is to be taken at his word, and there’s no reason not to given the further strides he has taken with his production this season, the question must then pivot to what could be the major milestones that could prove the Greek is continuing to build on what would already have appeared to most as indisputable greatness.
Considering Antetokounmpo finished runner-up to Rudy Gobert in last year’s Defensive Player of the Year voting, one obvious such scenario would include him going on to claim a historic MVP and Defensive Player of the Year double.
As I touched on a couple of days ago, all signs point to Giannis repeating as MVP this season. How does he stand in the Defensive Player of the Year race, though?
The most important thing to note about this season’s DPOY award off the bat is that the field seems considerably more wide open with recent winners notably not in position to rack up apparent legacy votes.
Two-time winner Kawhi Leonard won’t figure in to the equation this year, nor will Draymond Green on the league-worst Golden State Warriors. Most importantly, though, Gobert is far from a runaway to pick up his third straight success with this award.
The Jazz have been prone to bouts of inconsistency over the course of the season, and Gobert’s own play has at times been the subject of question marks when it comes to effort. He will still be in the mix, but Gobert will be jostling for position with four or five others.
Among those will be the Bucks’ own Brook Lopez, who in some ways may pose one of the more meaningful threats to Giannis’ candidacy.
For his many struggles on the offensive end, Brook has been phenomenal as Milwaukee’s defensive anchor this season. Lopez is one of the league’s leading shot blockers, and his rim protection has stretched beyond the shots that he’s actually managed to swat away.
The Bucks’ league-best defense wouldn’t be what it is if either Giannis or Brook were removed from it, and on that front, the concern may be that they ultimately end up splitting each other’s vote on that front.
Regardless, if players such as Davis and Simmons end up drawing major consideration that will signal a shift toward the league’s most dynamic, athletic, and versatile defenders, as opposed to the traditional defensive center. That may spell doom for Lopez’s case, but would likely put Antetokounmpo in prime position to get his hands on the trophy.
Antetokounmpo is the best defender on the league’s best defensive team, in part because he can do it all. As The Ringer’s Dan Devine outlined in making his case for Giannis this week:
“Milwaukee’s lockdown defensive scheme, which prioritizes defending the rim above all else, works as well as it does only because Antetokounmpo can essentially erase half the floor, influencing which choices opposing offenses are willing to make like an All-Pro free safety roaming in the defensive backfield—or, maybe, like the Jaws shark off the coast, just waiting for some unsuspecting fun-seeker to get in too deep.”
There isn’t a clear-cut winner this year, but as things stand, Giannis is likely most deserving.
Considering only Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan have ever previously been named as both Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, there’s certainly nothing assured just yet. But Giannis stands an excellent chance of joining that particularly historic group for his 2019-20 season.