Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo is right back into MVP race

Mar 8, 2022; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2022; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

For the last, I don’t know, two weeks or so, the Most Valuable Player discussion has been dominated by two men: Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. And for good reason! They’ve been fantastic this season! They deserve to be in that conversation! But it seems as though Giannis Antetokounmpo has channeled his inner Lee Corso with his performances through the Milwaukee Bucks‘ six-game win streak.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s recent dominant stretch has him back into the MVP race

Now, you might be thinking “well, it’s silly that he was ever out of the MVP conversation” and you wouldn’t be wrong, reader! Through all of the injuries and illnesses for the Bucks this season, Antetokounmpo has been the constant.

But whether it’s voter fatigue or folks are getting numb to how great Antetokounmpo is, he was being pushed into the third spot in the MVP race despite some very dominant numbers.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.7 points on 63.2 percent true shooting, 11.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game in 56 games this season.

That line on its own should warrant serious consideration for being MVP! He’s leading the league in scoring! The guy who everyone assumes can’t score consistently or can be shut down by a specific scheme could win a scoring title!

He strengthened that by scoring an absurd 82 points in his last 64 minutes or so of game action. Part of that was 12 points in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks to close that game out as they rallied in the second half to make things interesting.

Part of an MVP boost is also seeing a player make significant improvements to an area (or areas) of their game. Last season, Jokic became a knockdown 3-point shooter. This season, his defense has been fantastic. Joel Embiid has been a dynamic and consistent scorer but also has become a very good passer.

Antetokounmpo has made strides as well. Starting with his free throw shooting, he’s shot over 75 percent from the line on over 12 attempts in his last 29 games. The thought used to be that you could just foul Antetokounmpo on his drives and get him to the line to reduce his effectiveness.

Even in a game where he was shut down in the first half against the Miami Heat with seven points, he finished strong with 21 points in the second half to help lead the comeback. His fourth-quarter and second-half dominance have been a theme this entire season, though.

The six straight wins (against some pretty good teams) also help the “team record matters” case as well. The Bucks are now up to second in the East (though the Philadelphia 76ers have a few games in hand) and have a slightly better winning percentage than the Sixers and are well ahead of the Denver Nuggets.

During their struggles, though, the Bucks’ defense took a lot of criticism (and for good reason). It still hasn’t been great, but when Antetokounmpo is out there, the defense has been fantastic when Antetokounmpo has been on the floor.

In lineups with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are allowing 108.8 points per 100 possessions. In lineups without him, the Bucks fall off a cliff to 112.9 points per 100, according to Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).

That 108.8 defensive rating would be sixth in the league if it were only Giannis-on-the-floor possessions.

Through seven games since the All-Star break, the Bucks have crushed the beginning of the hardest schedule down the stretch and Antetokounmpo has been arguably the main reason for that.

Next. 3 notable Milwaukee Bucks storylines to follow down the stretch. dark

It’s wild that he was ever out of the MVP conversation but he should be firmly back in the thick of it now.