Before the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2019-20 season came to a halt, Giannis Antetokounmpo was well on his way to crafting one of the best individual seasons in the franchise’s history.
The 2019-20 season was one that Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to remember for many reasons.
Antetokounmpo was on his way to defending his MVP title for the second straight year, just as he and the Milwaukee Bucks stood atop the rest of the NBA with a league-best 53-12 record. The current shape of the world and the coronavirus outbreak has put a stop to that and Antetokounmpo’s quest to capture another MVP award and contend for his first potential NBA title with the Bucks.
While there’s a heavy cloud hanging over the rest of the season being played, what Antetokounmpo accomplished shouldn’t be lost on anyone, even at its unfinished state.
Through his 57 appearances, Antetokounmpo averaged 29.6 points on .547/.306/.633 shooting splits, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks across a mere 30.9 minutes per contest.
Antetokounmpo’s level of efficiency may not have reached the same monstrous level as his MVP-winning campaign a year ago, but the incredible encompassing output in and of itself is ridiculous its own right.
Of course, as Antetokounmpo’s star has kept on ascending, the only one Bucks player that’s on the same level as where the 25-year-old Antetokounmpo stands now is the very one player who changed the franchise’s fortunes more than 50 years ago: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Abdul-Jabbar’s six seasons in Milwaukee only accounted for 30 percent of his legendary 20-year NBA career, but his Bucks stint was littered with incredible highs, the biggest honor being the championship that the 1970-71 Bucks squad won with Abdul-Jabbar leading the way.
And during those six years in the Cream City, the Hall of Fame big man was named Most Valuable Player three times (1971,1972, 1974), won the the 1971 NBA Finals MVP, was an All-NBA selection from 1970-74 and was the league’s scoring leader in back-to-back seasons (1970-71, 1971-1972).
That’s just an unreal run right there and while all of the Big Fella’s six Bucks seasons are worthy of comparison to the ones that Antetokounmpo has crafted in back-to-back campaigns, it’s Abdul-Jabbar’s run during the 1971-72 season that stands out across multiple measures throughout his time in Milwaukee.
It was during that season that Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks were looking to defend their title and maintained their pace as they went on to finish with a 63-19 record in the regular season, the second best in the Western Conference behind the 69-13 Los Angeles Lakers.
That was the second of the aforementioned seasons that the UCLA product finished as the NBA’s scoring leader, but the full breadth of Abdul-Jabbar’s stat line that year is extraordinary. In 81 appearances, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 34.8 points while shooting 57.4 percent from the field (68.9 percent shooting from the foul line), along with 16.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists across a whopping 44.2 minutes per contest.
Considering all of that production occurred before blocks and steals were accounted for as they weren’t implemented as an official recorded stat until the 1973-74 season, it’s fair to say that Abdul-Jabbar would have stuffed the stat sheet in those departments as well. As a sidenote, Abdul-Jabbar stands with the third-most total blocks in league history at 3,189, behind fellow Hall of Famers in Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon.
But the sheer level of absurd efficiency and enormous productivity is truly incredible. As far as advanced numbers go, Abdul-Jabbar finished with a 60.3 true shooting percentage, a league-leading 29.9 PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and holds the highest amount of win shares in an individual season in NBA history at 25.37, per Basketball-Reference.com.
After running through all of that, I clearly don’t need to tell you that Abdul-Jabbar was ridiculously great.
Now, given that the 2019-20 season is currently cast in amber as of this writing, it’s hard to compare the final numbers of Antetokounmpo’s campaign and Abdul-Jabbar’s best season as a Buck from 1971-1972. Another factor is the incredible disparity in the overall workload standing between the two players as Antetokounmpo’s total minutes this season (1,763) come in at less than half of Abdul-Jabbar’s 3,583 overall minutes from his second MVP-winning season.
With all that said, Abdul-Jabbar’s 1971-72 campaign certainly has the upper hand in raw categories such as points, rebounds, field goal percentage and free throw efficiency over Antetokounmpo’s 2019-20 run. It’s Antetokounmpo who holds the edge on assists, true shooting percentage (60.8 percent) and he currently has the seventh-highest PER in NBA history at 31.63.
Clearly, Antetokounmpo has statistical advantages in simple categories that are a part of the fabric of discussing a player’s impact that didn’t exist 48 years ago for Abdul-Jabbar and throughout most of his run in Milwaukee. And obviously Abdul-Jabbar has the advantage of a full 82-game season being played, unlike Antetokounmpo does currently.
But while Antetokounmpo has a solid argument in some areas, it’s still a notch below Abdul-Jabbar’s marvelous 1971-72 campaign. Hopefully, though, Antetokounmpo will be able to come with a second straight MVP award and continue to chase Abdul-Jabbar’s place as the greatest player in franchise history.