Giannis Antetokounmpo has already won two NBA MVPs and a Defensive Player of the Year Award with the Milwaukee Bucks. He became one of just three players in league history to win both in the same season in 2019-20.
But his performance in a March 29 win over the Philadelphia 76ers may have just won him both awards again.
Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a crucial win against Philly
The Bucks and Sixers were tied for second in the Eastern Conference standings with identical records going into that March 29 game.
After Giannis scored 40 points and Milwaukee won 118-116, the Bucks moved past Philly into second, just a half-game behind the Miami Heat.
The 76ers, meanwhile, dropped to fourth (although the top of the conference is so tight they’re only 1.5 games back of Miami).
Antetokounmpo added 14 rebounds, six assists, a steal, and three blocks in the win. He was 16-of-24 from the field and 7-of-10 from the free-throw line.
But the biggest play of the game came on Philadelphia’s final possession.
Trailing by two, James Harden fired off a three that missed, but Joel Embiid pulled down the offensive rebound. Then Giannis came from the other side of the basket, though, and reached up with his left hand to block Embiid’s shot and effectively seal the win.
Those involved made the following brief statements summing up the play per ESPN (it doesn’t take a long descriptive sentence to call it what it was):
“Spectacular block.” — 76ers coach Doc Rivers
“Just a special block.” — Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer
“Giannis just being Giannis. Made a great play and saved the game.” — Jrue Holiday
It was a signature MVP and Defensive Player of the Year moment, but it wasn’t just a moment. It only served to shed light on the fact that The Greek Freak is having a season worthy of both awards.
“But wait,” you say, “what about Embiid and Nikola Jokic‘s cases for MVP? And what about Rudy Gobert’s case for DPOY?”
“Sure,” I would say, “those are valid questions to ask.”
So why not take a look at Antetokounmpo’s cases for both awards?
Giannis’s case for NBA MVP
Antetokounmpo, Embiid, and Jokic are in an extremely tight three-person race for this year’s Most Valuable Player. There isn’t much separating any of them.
Let’s look at the tale of the tape (the stats):
- Jokic: Averaging 26.3 points on 57.6% shooting, 34.5% shooting from three on four attempts, 13.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks
- Embiid: Averaging 29.9 points on 48.9% shooting, 36.4% shooting from three on 3.7 attempts, 11.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.4 blocks
- Antetokounmpo: Averaging 29.9 points on 55.2% shooting, 30.1% shooting from three on 3.6 attempts, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks
So: Giannis and Embiid are tied in scoring. Jokic leads in shooting percentage. Embiid leads in three-point shooting percentage. Jokic leads in rebounding. Jokic leads in assists. Jokic leads in steals. Antetokounmpo leads in blocks.
Based on traditional stats, it appears Jokic has a slight edge.
But three additional categories are crucial to winning MVP: A player’s value to his team, that team’s success, and how he affects the entire game as a whole.
A player’s value to team success can be measured in on/off numbers — how much better a team is when player X is on the floor vs. off:
- The Bucks are 5.9 points better when Giannis is on the floor
- The Nuggets are 5.7 points better when Jokic is on the floor
- The Sixers are 4.6 points better when Embiid is on the floor
- Milwaukee is 47-28 and second in the East standings
- Philadelphia is 46-29 and fourth in the East standings
- Denver is 45-31 and sixth in the West standings
Advantage Giannis (even if Jokic is missing his two best teammates).
And then defensive impact, since an MVP needs to affect every aspect of a game:
- Defensive rating: Antetokounmpo 107.6; Embiid 107.6; Jokic 108.7
Caveat: Giannis has been forced to adjust to multiple defensive roles in 2021-22. He moved from dominant help defender to starting center as Brook Lopez missed half the season.
He’s had to pull back on using his wingspan, quickness, size, and instincts — in other words, his best defensive attributes — and trade them in for drop coverage and rim protection.
Also, which of these three players is long enough, quick enough, and instinctive enough to make that block on Embiid?
Perhaps statistical advantage Jokic. On-court impact advantage Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak’s case for NBA Defensive Player of the Year
The NBA.com MVP Ladder has Giannis as the leader heading into the final few weeks of the regular season. Gobert is second.
Obviously, that’s not the end-all-be-all or the only factor in the award. But it does mean something.
The article laid out the same case as above, that Antetokounmpo has had to adjust his game in more ways than any other player in the NBA.
Gobert has continued to play the role of The Stifle Tower. He’s the most impactful rim defender and rebounder in the league.
But none of those players are as versatile as Antetokounmpo is. Is Gobert making that block on Embiid? Maybe. And maybe JoJo is more wary of the Utah Jazz big man than Giannis in that specific situation.
But physically, no player in the NBA has the defensive qualities The Greek Freak does. No player has been forced to change his game the way Giannis Antetokounmpo has for the Bucks while still being just as dominant of a defensive player.
There are real, legitimate cases for Giannis to win both awards. Again.
Maybe the block on Embiid in a crucial game can be Antetokounmpo’s “Heisman Moment” so to speak, and wake the NBA world up to the fact that he’s deserving of winning both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.