While the 2019-20 NBA season has been a bit different than anyone could have imagined, certain headlines transcend all circumstances. One of those is the race for the NBA MVP award; while Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leader in the clubhouse, LeBron James also has a shot at the title.
Since the league announced that the Orlando seeding games wouldn’t count toward regular season awards, the MVP race is over, barring the final vote. In that context, LeBron James scored an endorsement from an NBA legend.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been battling for the NBA MVP title
While it’s been quite a while since we saw a live NBA game, the 2019-20 season was shaping up to be a good one. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks sat atop their respective conferences and seemed set for a meeting in the NBA Finals.
With the Lakers, LeBron James has continued to impress. Despite playing his 17th season and inching toward age 36, the forward hasn’t slowed down. While his pure offensive output has dropped off a bit from last season, King James is still dropping an average of 25.7 points per game and dishing out career-high 10.6 assists per outing. Playing alongside Anthony Davis, LeBron has the Lakers looking as good as ever.
In the Eastern Conference, Giannis has continued his assault on the record books. After cruising to the 2018 MVP title, the Greek Freak has played even better this year; when the season was put on pause, Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game.
As the best players on the league’s top two teams, James and Antetokounmpo are the de facto favorites for the 2019 NBA MVP award. While Giannis is favored to claim the crown, LeBron isn’t going down without a fight.
Magic Johnson thinks LeBron James should be the 2019 NBA MVP
Since the initial games in the NBA’s Orlando bubble won’t count toward regular-season stats, fans and pundits alike have begun sharing their picks for the league’s individual awards. Magic Johnson is no exception, and he threw his support behind LeBron James.
“LeBron James is definitely the MVP this season,” the legendary guard explained on Twitter. “He is almost averaging a triple-double with 25 points, 10 assists, and basically 8 rebounds per game. His defense has been amazing and there is no better leader in sports!”
While Johnson may be a bit biased toward the Lakers, he isn’t the only one to suggest that intangibles should give LeBron the edge in the MVP race. In a March interview with Michael Lee of The Athletic, Jared Dudley shared a similar opinion.
“There is no one that compares to LeBron’s leadership, on and off the floor. His demeanor, with what he does, to still be a guys’ guy, to do the team dinners, to hang out, to bringing the whole Lakers organization together,” Dudley told Lee. “The MVP is not necessarily the best stats.”
Endorsements or not, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win NBA MVP
As both Magic Johnson and Jared Dudley pointed out, LeBron James is having a great season and serves an important role within the Los Angeles Lakers organization. Despite that reality, he probably won’t beat Giannis Antetokounmpo to the NBA MVP award.
While there’s room to debate what makes someone the most valuable player—some look for outstanding stats while others try to imagine what a team would be like without the star in question—it’s tough to argue with Giannis’ resume. Magic Johnson noted LeBron’s per-game averages; Antetokounmpo, however, is posting more points and rebounds per outing, while playing fewer minutes per game. With all due respect to Khris Middleton, it’s also worth noting that James plays with Anthony Davis, who could be a legitimate MVP candidate in his own right.
According to Basketball-Reference’s MVP tracker, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a 50.7% chance of claiming the title for the second-straight season. While we’ll have to wait for official confirmation, it seems pretty safe that the Greek Freak will come out on top.
Just don’t tell Magic Johnson.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference