Is Giannis Antetokounmpo the best player Doc Rivers has coached? Analyzing options

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The Milwaukee Bucks season did not go the way fans of the team had hoped for. So, to begin, there certainly is some recency bias here when it comes to the tough question of "Who is the best NBA player Doc Rivers has ever coached?"

Rivers is universally considered around the league to be a great player’s coach, probably because he was a great player himself. An NBA all-star in the 1987-1988 season, Rivers also enjoyed plenty of professional success. All time as a coach, Rivers is 1896-1114.

One of the reasons Doc Rivers may have taken the Milwaukee job was because he wanted the chance to work with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Great basketball players recognize greatness. Also, it is likely that one of the reasons Milwaukee wanted to hire Rivers was because of his strong reputation for being able to coach mega-star players (The Bucks have two of those, so).

With that in mind, it is interesting to check out and even debate if Giannis Antetokounmpo is, in fact, the greatest NBA player Rivers has ever coached.

Let’s look at five different names from an impressive list of players, giving emphasis to the specific time and moments Rivers coached that specific player.

Two true “NBA greats” in Rivers' coaching career

Giannis Antetokounmpo 

The 2016-2017 Most Improved Player award winner has had the most illustrious career in Milwaukee Bucks history. A 2021 NBA champ, seven-time All-NBA selection, 2019-2020 Defensive Player of the Year, two-time MVP and 2020-2021 NBA Finals MVP has accomplished things that most NBA players only dream of.

As we look a little more closely at some other players and their statistics, I think you'll be surprised to see how impressive Giannis Antetokounmpo has been (He boasts career averages of 23.4 points per game, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists).

But again, this piece is about the players Doc Rivers has coached. All of this was mainly done with other head coaches.

Kawhi Leonard

Leonard has two NBA championship wins with the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs. Leonard is a five-time All-Star, a five-time member of All-NBA teams and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.  Neither one of his championships came with Rivers as his coach.

A big reason why Leonard is possibly not the best player Rivers has worked with was because he may have helped play a part in having Rivers fired, along with Paul George. As reported in this article by The Athletic's Jovan Buha (subscription required), the organization determined that players were not put in the best position to unlock the best versions of themselves.

For Rivers, he really did get to coach a great version of Leonard. His 2019-2020 season had him in the MVP chase all year. As those two crossed paths, Leonard and Rivers faced an unexpected playoff exit. Under Rivers, the Clippers managed a two-seed out of the west and went (50-32).

But even with all that said, maybe a better subplot to this article is who will be remembered as a better NBA player: Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard?