The disintegration of starless agents and the destruction of the warrior dynasty last summer created a power vacuum in the NBA. Well, that was what had to happen for two teams to fill the gap quickly.
About a third of the way through the 2019-20 season, the Bucks and Lakers have established themselves as the dominant forces in their respective conferences. Hosting a long-awaited Thursday night battle at the Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee and Los Angeles hold an identical 24-4 record and lead the league in net points (Bucks +12.4, Lakers + 8.7). On top of that, each team comes from the end of a long winning streak (Bucks in 18 straight games before a loss to the Mavericks, Lakers in seven consecutive games before a loss to the Pacers).
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This success is only possible with a full buy-in from players and coaching staff, but it also directly shows the performances of two of the league’s biggest stars – LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. There is a reason why these all-star forward’s are the top contenders in the current MVP race.
Before fans of James Harden or Luka Doncic freak out, yes, these guys were nothing short of spectacular. And let’s not dismiss Anthony Davis, who has developed alongside James and should be in the discussion for the defensive player of the year.
However, at the moment, James and Antetokounmpo control most of the boxes, whether they are individual numbers or contributions to an elite team for offensive and defensive ends. These discussions are always fluid, but with “King James” and “The Greek Freak” coming to an end, now is a good time to consider MVP arguments on both sides.
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Giannis Antekundoubou, Bucks
Statistics: 31.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks, 56.4 percent shooting, 32.1 percent 3-point shooting, 31.2 minutes
Advanced: 34.6 PER, 61.8 true download, 38.6 usage, 5.5 winning shares, 12.5 box plus, 7.19 real plus, 3.1 value against replacement player
The MVP Argument: After his first MVP award at the age of 24, Antetokounmpo has improved somewhat. Antetokounmpo is poised to become only the fourth player to average over 30 points, 12 rebounds and five assists over an entire season. The others: Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor.
The championship begins in color points (19.2) once again, along with total goals (317), player performance (34.6) and usage percentage (tied with Harden at 38.6). He also records the rest of the NBA in defensive and defensive winnings, by basketball ratio. Scores one point per minute. This is crazy.
Most importantly, Antetokounmpo contributes to victory on a nightly basis. The Bucks are No. 2 in offensive performance and No. 1 in defensive performance largely due to his consistent effort. Milwaukee is still firm with Antetokounmpo on the bench, but the Bucks are unstoppable with him on the floor. And if you are able to hit pull-up 3-pointers at a respectable rate, how do you protect this team?
John is a rare player who refuses to back down and has to talk to take a break. It doesn’t care about the opponent, the day of the week, or the TV show – Antetokounmpo is always in search and destruction. This old-school mentality sets him apart from his other peers.
It’s difficult to drill holes in the case of Antetokounmpo’s MVP and so he could easily go back and forth.
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LeBron James, Lakers
Statistics: 25.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 49.8 percent shooting, 35.3 percent 3-point shooting, 34.7 minutes
Advanced: 26.8 PER, 57.5 Real Shooting, 32.5 Use, 4.7 Victory Shares, 9.1 Box Plus, 8.90 Real Plus, 2.7 Value vs. Replacement Player
The MVP Argument: It didn’t take long for James to get out of the mess last season and return to his old form. In the 17th year, the four-time MVP became the ultimate facilitator. He runs away with the support title and generates the most points (26.6) out of any NBA player. He has surpassed at least $ 30 billion in five different teammates, including 86 alone with Davis, who is nearly 30 percent of his total (297).
He is skilled at manipulating opponents with his own eyes and then finding the open man along the perimeter or color.
(Video by Shane Young of Forbes)
James’s rating has slightly diminished as a result, but is fully capable of pushing that switch when necessary. Just look at the 39-point effort against the Mavericks in November, which prompted the Lakers to an exciting overtime win.
LeBron is also trying something new in the 2019-20 – defense! Landing in the top 10 in Defensive Real Plus-Minus ESP, which assesses the impact of a player on the team’s defensive performance. Head coach Frank Vogel obviously deserves credit for a renewed focus on that end, and Davis is seemingly everywhere on the floor. However, the impact of James should not be overlooked. It just doesn’t close like last year.
If you don’t want to hear this writer, listen to the MVP leader.
“It’s crazy, obviously, for me, that’s one of my goals to be able to play at a high level for the next 10 years, but it’s going to turn 35 this month and it’s moving, playing like this and playing smart,” he said recently. Antetokounmpo to reporters. “It’s absurd to see what he can do, but it’s LeBron James.
“He’s different, he’s alien, so you expect him, but yes, he’s crazy.”
The rest of the MVP field could close the gap, but right now, this is Antetokounmpo’s prize to lose.
Milwaukee went 7-0 with Khris Middleton out. Brook Lopez turns only 29.0% of the 3-point range. Nothing matters as long as John is available.
Assuming the Bucks win 60 games and Antetokounmpo stays close to this level of production, good luck finds a way to prevent him from holding the MVP trophy in 2020.