Skip to main content

While the NBA season is currently suspended, there’s still plenty of basketball topics for fans to debate. One of those is the 2019-20 MVP award; even if the season can’t conclude, the race will come down to Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.

Although the Greek Freak has the statistical edge, Jared Dudley recently claimed that intangibles should give LeBron the edge. But are things like leadership really relevant to the MVP conversation?

The MVP race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James

When the NBA season was suspended, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks sat atop their respective conferences. Unsurprisingly, their best players are leading candidates for the MVP award.

In Hollywood, LeBron James needs no introduction. While it’s the forward’s 17th professional season, he’s isn’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet. Although his scoring has dropped off a bit from last season, King James is still dropping an average of 25.7 points per game; he’s also dishing out career-high 10.6 assists per outing. His Lakers have a 49-14 record and will be the favorites to win the NBA title, assuming the season eventually resumes.

In the Eastern Conference, Giannis Antetokounmpo is in a class of his own. Last season, he cruised to the MVP award on the back of a dominant season; this year, the Greek Freak is doing even better. When the season was put on pause, Antetokounmpo was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. The Bucks have the best record in basketball, and Giannis is driving the bus.

Jared Dudley believes leadership gives LeBron James the edge

According to both the media and Basketball-Reference’s MVP Tracker, Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently the leader in the clubhouse. Jared Dudley, however, thinks that intangibles should put LeBron James over the top.

In an interview with Michael Lee of The Athletic, Dudley noted that LeBron was working hard at both ends of the floor, even at age 35. Beyond that, though, he highlighted the veteran’s leadership.

“Giannis has improved but LeBron is at such a high level. Of the mental aspect of the game,” Dudley explained. “Of telling AD where to be at. As a leader, because I’ve heard people that played with Kawhi and Giannis, and from a leadership standpoint, what this man does, on and off the court, is the best. I’ve played with guys like Nash, Chris Paul. 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.”

“Who really deserves the MVP this season? Both deserve it,” he continued. “Do I think LeBron is a little bit more deserving? Yes. Do I think Giannis’ stats are better? Yes. But the MVP is not necessarily the best stats.”

Should leadership matter for the MVP award?

At the end of his comments, Jared Dudley touched on the heart of the matter. Statistically, we can measure how LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are performing. Measuring their value, however, can be a bit tougher. Even if you use a metric like win shares or wins above replacement, certain factors are overlooked.

In theory, leadership should be a part of a player’s overall contribution to the team. Getting an accurate representation of it is almost impossible, though. Dudley has been impressed by LeBron’s actions because he interacts with the veteran every day; if you polled the Bucks’ locker room, they’d probably offer similar praise of Giannis.

Based on that reality, the MVP award has to be grounded in the available stats. While there’s no rule that says the best statistical performance wins the title, in this case, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers are simply too dominant to ignore.