As I sit down to pen this article, the NBA regular season is a little over 70% complete. The Milwaukee Bucks have had the best record in the association since Day 1, yet the national media is still slow to recognize Giannis as the clear MVP at this point. Before we dissect all the reasons the “Greek Freak” should take home the trophy, I want to be clear that I mean no disrespect to James Harden, Paul George, or Nikola Jokic. All three of these players are spectacular and deserve attention for their superb play on the hardwood this season.
Besides Giannis, the three other names worth mentioning are current MVP James Harden, Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic, and Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Paul George. The first name we will eliminate is Nikola Jokic. I am a huge fan of “The Joker” but he is unlikely to get any votes for first place. Many of you already know I evaluate Daily Fantasy Sports for a living, and in this small circle of Fantasy Sports degenerates his name is extremely well known. The rest of NBA fans are still getting to know Jokic, and if you are one of them, I highly suggest checking out his game. Jokic has great touch around the hoop and is already one of the greatest passing big men of all time. The Nuggets have the 4th best record in the NBA despite having dealt with a multitude of injuries to key starters Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Gary Harris. Jokic is a walking Triple-Double having collected 12 of them already this year, pretty darn impressive for a Center. Those are all cases for Jokic, however, his defense is sub-par and in a race like this with two of the other candidates being potential DOP of the year candidates, it is difficult to rank him higher than 4th.
By eliminating Jokic from the conversation we have aligned ourselves with the thought process of the majority, that the NBA MVP is a three-man race. Continuing with our narrative that the MVP is the “Greek Freak” we must next eliminate either James Harden or Paul George. During Chris Paul’s month-long absence, the NBA public went wild for Harden’s epic offensive show he put on. Harden was nothing short of tremendous throughout this run and was well deserving of all the praise he received. If it were up to me, I would personally have Harden as second in the NBA MVP vote. However, it is not up to me, and all the talk recently seems to heavily favor Paul George as Giannis’s greatest competition to bring the hardware to the Cream City. In the interest of exploring this conversation from the eyes of the public majority, we will now transition into why Giannis should top Paul George for the MVP award.
I want to begin my “Paul George shouldn’t even be considered for MVP” argument by acknowledging that he is having a stellar season. This is the best season of his NBA career and I am all for him receiving a ton of hype from the national media and the NBA fans. However, how can you be the MVP of the league if there is a legitimate argument that you aren’t even the MVP of your own team? The other three candidates we have discussed are the hands down, no doubt about it, the best player on their respective team. Early in the season, the Thunder’s former MVP Russell Westbrook was struggling with his shooting and this led much of the public to notice George’s superb play on the court. Again, George has been fantastic this year and he deserves this recognition, but is he even the best player on his team? Ask yourself this question, if you were out on the court picking teams to win one game who would you rather have, Westbrook or George? It is a tough question, and a few months ago most people would have said Westbrook. For my money I still would pick Russ Westbrook. Westbrook is the unquestioned leader of his team from an emotional perspective, they follow his lead. The award is “Most Valuable Player” and not “Having His Best Season” so I struggle to give an NBA MVP to a player who may not even be the most valuable player on his own team.
I evaluate sport statistics for a living which I feel uniquely qualifies me to admit, from time to time numbers can lie. This is not the case though when you look at Giannis and Paul George, the numbers are crystal clear that Giannis is having the better season. Let’s start with the most important number, wins and losses. As of 2/24 the Bucks are 7 games ahead of the Thunder and have the best record in the NBA, advantage: Giannis. When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, George is averaging 1.5 more PPG than the “Greek Freak”. I see how at a glance someone might award this category in favor of Paul George. If you look deeper though you will see that Giannis is doing this while shooting 58% on 17.3 attempts per game, meanwhile “PG13” is shooting only 45% while taking almost an extra 4 shot attempts per game. Give me the efficiency of Giannis all day long. Rebounding and playmaking both also heavily favor the “Greek Freak” as he is averaging almost 5 rebounds and 2 assists more per game than Paul George.
Now it’s time to give a point to Paul George, he is clearly on another level compared to Giannis when it comes to outside shooting. Giannis is shooting the three-ball at a higher percentage in February than George, but even then, Giannis’s attempts are completely wide open while George is taking contested threes on a consistent basis. When it comes to outside shooting it is the one area where Paul George has a big-time edge on the “Greek Freak”. When it comes to the defensive category these are two freakish athletes who are two of the best in the entire NBA. Who has the edge in this category? I have no choice but to call this one a draw. Paul George is leading the entire NBA with 2.22 steals per game and has a long reputation as a top defender in the league. Giannis leads George in defensive efficiency rating this year (Giannis is #1, George is #13) and is a significantly better shot-blocker. The public would probably side with Paul George here, but most of the public would only be making that call based on reputation. I watch a ton of both players and their length and competitiveness make them incredible defenders and I will reiterate my original point, this is simply a draw.
In summation, all four players we have discussed are having phenomenal seasons and warrant large sums of credit towards their team’s winning records. Nikola Jokic may not get the publicity he deserves, but he is worth noting. James Harden is unlikely to repeat due to Giannis and George’s great seasons, but also because the voters don’t like to give it to the same guy two years in a row unless it’s painfully obvious. If this wasn’t the case both LeBron James and Michael Jordan would have over 10 MVP awards. Lastly, the MVP award should be heading to Milwaukee and placed atop the mantle of Giannis Antetokounmpo, despite all the Paul George hype. My only real question is how many MVP’s will Giannis have by the end of his career?