Giannis Antetokounmpo Is the Heir to the Eastern Throne

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Yesterday, the Milwaukee Bucks traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks. MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points while shooting 13-21 from the field. He added 14 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks to a very impressive stat line as the Bucks won the contest 109-95.

The Bucks are currently sitting pretty with the second-best record in the league. They are on pace for the most wins in franchise history since 1986. The game against the Knicks was the first Christmas Day game for the Bucks since 1977. It’s a well-deserved token of respect for the small-market team in Wisconsin and demonstrates their surging status in the NBA. The catalyst for the rise of the Bucks has undoubtedly been Giannis Antetokounmpo.

In 2018, Giannis enjoyed a career year. He put up 26.9 points per game with a high 59.8 true shooting percentage. The great campaign earned the 23-year-old spot on the All-NBA Second Team, behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant at the forward position. The Bucks finished with their second-highest win-percentage since they lost in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the offseason was filled with questions on whether or not the Bucks would be able to build a championship team around their superstar. Giannis clearly wanted to win games and it appeared as if he would be ready to bolt if the team wasn’t able to make the leap into contention.

By hiring Mike Budenholzer to replace Jason Kidd as head coach, the Bucks proved that they were on the same page as Giannis. Budenholzer is recognized as one of the best tacticians in the NBA — he won Coach of the Year honors after a 60-win season with the Atlanta Hawks in 2016. While working as an assistant for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for 17 years, Coach Bud clearly picked up a thing or two. Like Popovich, Budenholzer is known for not only his in-game tactics but also his ability to develop and improve talent. Certainly a departure from the flawed coaching of Jason Kidd.

Bucks fans dreamed of Giannis improving upon a career-year under the guidance of Budenholzer. 30 games into the season, that dream has become reality.

When we think of sheer physical dominance in basketball, we usually look back at the greatness of Shaquille O’Neal. When we think of a player driving to the rack like a freight train, LeBron James comes to mind. Combine the two abilities and you have the Greek Freak.

The sheer athleticism that he possesses is incredible. He stands at 6’11” with a 7’4″ wingspan and has a max vertical of 12’2″ — 26 inches above the rim, for perspective. Giannis’ ability to size up defenders on the perimeter with his ball-handling skills while also dominating in the post is extremely rare. Budenholzer has been able to utilize this freakish versatility in a way that Jason Kidd never could.

PlayerSeasonUnassisted Dunks Per Game
Giannis Antetokounmpo2018-191.9
Shaquille O'Neal2004-051.3
Shaquille O'Neal2002-031.2
Dwight Howard2006-071.2
Shaquille O'Neal2000-011.1
Shaquille O'Neal2001-021.1
Shaquille O'Neal2005-061.0

Giannis’ ability to easily get to the basket and throw down a dunk against any defender is unparalleled. Giannis has been extremely efficient as well — His two-point field goal percentage of 65.4% is higher than any number Shaq or LeBron ever put up.

This efficiency is made even more impressive given the increased volume. Giannis is shooting the ball with higher frequency at the range where he is the most potent. Budenholzer’s offensive system has allowed him to be even better,

With this increased aggression, Giannis’ free throw rate has also exponentially. He is attempting .545 free throws per field goal attempt — a higher rate than both Joel Embiid and James Harden, players known for their foul-drawing ability.

Of course, you have to be valuable to be the Most Valuable Player. You can’t just put up empty stats. Giannis’ value to the Milwaukee Bucks cannot be overstated.

The Bucks are the only team in the top 6 in both adjusted offensive rating and adjusted defensive rating. They lead the league in adjusted net rating by a wide margin (7.96 versus 6.52 for the Toronto Raptors). Yet, when Giannis is not on the court, the offensive and defensive ratings worsen significantly.

Offensive Rating With GiannisOffensive Rating Without PlayerOffensive Rating On-Off DifferentialDefensive Rating With GiannisDefensive Rating Without GiannisDefensive Rating On-Off Differential

Another metric which demonstrates value is Win Shares Per 48 Minutes. This is the number of wins a player adds to his team for every 48 minutes played. It does rely on team performance so it shouldn’t be used to determine in a direct comparison between players. However, it works well for the MVP discussion because team performance is obviously a big factor. In fact, this statistic has been fairly accurate in determining the MVP winner over the past decade.

SeasonLeader in Win Shares / 48 MinutesMVP?
2018-19Giannis Antetokounmpo
2017-18James HardenYes
2016-17Kevin DurantNo (Russell Westbrook)
2015-16Stephen CurryYes
2014-15Stephen CurryYes
2013-14Kevin DurantYes
2012-13LeBron JamesYes
2011-12LeBron JamesYes
2010-11LeBron JamesNo (Derrick Rose)
2009-10LeBron JamesYes
2008-09LeBron JamesYes
2007-08Chris PaulNo (Kobe Bryant)
2006-07Dirk NowitzkiYes

It’s no surprise that Westbrook wasn’t the leader in WS/48 considering the Oklahoma City Thunder were the 6 seed in the Western Conference. A player from a lower ranking team almost never wins MVP — Westbrook was an exception because he averaged a triple-double. The other two exceptions are actually often considered snubs by NBA fans. Fans feel that Chris Paul should have won in 2008 and that LeBron James should have won in 2011. Needless to say, the metric seems pretty reliable in guessing the MVP winner.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win Most Valuable Player honors at 24-years-old. Players his age don’t typically earn this award. In Fact, only 4 players have won the award as a 24-year-old: LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Dave Cowens. Some 23-year-olds to win it include Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, and Bill Russell. Everybody that was mentioned is (or will be) in the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s not bad company to be in.