As the NBA season remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, so too is the battle for MVP honours with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James, the main frontrunners for the award.
Like nearly every league in the sporting world, the NBA remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But while today’s headlines remain focused on the pandemic, the 2019/2020 NBA season was shaping up to be nothing short of box-office.
Perhaps one of the most interesting storylines to emerge from the 2019/2020 NBA season was the MVP race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. For much of the season, it seemed as if Antetokounmpo was set to win MVP honours for the second-straight season, but James’ performances to guide the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference put the 35-year-old back in the running for what would be his fifth MVP win and first since 2012/2013.
An award that is decided by sportswriters based in the United States and Canada perhaps has the tightest race in a few seasons as both Antetokounmpo and James were enjoying impressive seasons for their respective sides.
In Milwaukee, it’s hard to believe, but Antetokounmpo is enjoying an even better campaign than last season – a pace that already earned him MVP honours, of course. The Bucks remain the runaway leaders in the Eastern Conference with much thanks to Antetokounmpo’s contributions night-in and night-out. 'The Greek Freak' is averaging a double-double with career-highs in points and rebounds on top of improved shooting from three-point range – one of the few weaknesses in Antetokounmpo’s games in previous years.
In Los Angeles, James has the Lakers looking like a real threat for the NBA title once again after missing out on the playoffs last season due to an injury-riddled campaign. James’ scoring might not be at a career-high pace, but with a career-high in assists, the King is just two rebounds shy of averaging a triple-double.
The statistical breakdown between two of the best players in the world is quite interesting as both Antetokounmpo and James can claim strong arguments to bolster their case for MVP.
Antetokounmpo’s dominant play inside the paint gives the Bucks superstar the edge anywhere in the paint, but James remains the better three-point shooter between the two.
While James’ playmaking is perhaps the best the NBA has ever seen from a 35-year-old, Antetokounmpo’s sheer athleticism makes him an immediate threat as soon as he gets the ball.
It’s that same athleticism that makes Antetokounmpo the much better defender and rim protector, an ability that allows Antetokounmpo to make highlight plays on the defensive end, too.
While statistics are certainly important, there’s also the discussion of intangibles like leadership, basketball IQ, and even clutch tendencies; all of which would likely lean voters in favour of James on the ballot.
Similar to last year’s MVP race between Antetokounmpo and the Houston Rockets James Harden, MVP races have proved that the narrative surrounding each candidate and their team is a key factor in deciding who actually takes home the award at season’s end.
The Bucks might hold a two-game lead on the Lakers for the best record in the entire league, but the fact that the Lakers are leading the Western standings after last year’s disastrous run is one narrative that will sway voters.
Perhaps the counter to that argument will be that the Lakers made significant moves in the offseason to give James all-star-caliber help in the form of Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Bucks didn’t make the same type of move and remain heavily reliant on Antetokounmpo to set the tone for the team at both ends of the court. The rest of the Bucks have certainly proved over time that they’re a team that means so much more than Antetokounmpo’s dynamic play, but there’s no doubting that the club wouldn’t be running away with the conference let alone the league if it weren’t for Antetokounmpo.
Then there’s the head-to-head narrative between the two players, which remains tight after the Bucks and Lakers split the season series with the home side winning on both occasions. Perhaps James receives a slight nod in this category after the Lakers cruised to a comfortable win over the Bucks in the most recent showdown between the sides, with James putting in yet another masterclass to steer the Lakers to victory.
Nevertheless, the race remains too close to call at this point, and the biggest shame, especially if the season is cancelled, is that basketball fans will miss out on the stretch run of one of the best rivalries to emerge between two generational players.
by Peter Katsiris
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