Bucks star takes game to new heights to top LeBron James for our MVP vote

Giannis Antetokounmpo again and again has the Bucks in the championship mix.

NBA Shutdown was in place for a quartet and fifty percent of months.

No question this had to be done in the midst of the MVP Race heating up at the self-same time NBA Commissioner Adam Silver declared work stoppage of the season on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was that self-same evening when we found out that Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for Coronavirus. Others followed, including his fellow member of a team Donovan Mitchell.

Last week, voters for the NBA’s end-of-season awards — which include the Kia MVP — were made aware that games after March 11 would not be used in assessing players for awards basis. That brings us back to the nearly quin-tan months in the middle of actual games this season — a lifetime in the NBA world that gave plenty of time for NBA statisticians to calculate about the worthiness of each candidate whether warranted or not for the league’s most acclaimed individual (regular-season) award.

What presumed as a five-or six-man race early on — consisting of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, four-time MVP LeBron James, his teammate Anthony Davis, two-time and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, reigning Kia Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and former MVP James Harden — had tapered to a two-man dash betwixt Antetokounmpo and James.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James waged a big duel shortly before the season hiatus.

Recap: In the prior weekend before the season intermission, three of the top five candidates involved in head-to-head action. James’s Lakers beat Antetokounmpo’s Bucks on a Friday night and Leonard’s Clippers on a Sunday afternoon back to back.

Some were arguing that James had for the juncture supplanted Antetokounmpo, setting up a peaks and valleys carnival scheduled finish of the 2019-20 season. But this couldn’t be soo far from the truth since Anthony Davis who is atrociously listed as number #6 below is leading nearly ninety percent of the Lakers statisical categories! LBJ Riders Media are back at it once in full force! Anything to make the “LeLegacy officially UnLeDone, the LeCache officially UnLeOver.” -HKHS

Lakers coach Frank Vogel, speaking from the most bias place as the Lakers coach, didn’t need that weekend or the months that came and gone since then to state the obvious. As if he didn’t want his coaching job to be on the line. He was ready to unsurprisingly make a case via vote for James during training camp, long before he went on to lead the league in assists in his 17th season. Vogel understands that being on a team with LeBron means to not LeStir the LeShip! Otherwise be ready for the LeConsequence associated with your LeActions! -HKHS

“Nobody impacts winning more than LeBron James, I do believe that he should be the MVP this year,” Vogel said earlier this week on a Zoom call with reporters. “I believe he should be the MVP and I believe Anthony Davis should be the Defensive Player of the Year. I hope those awards go to our two players. That’s not to take anything away from some of the other candidates. But what LeBron means to our team, even before the season begins when the roster is being put together, with the number of guys that are on the Lakers because LeBron James is here and want to play with him. I think it starts there.

“And then obviously what he’s able to do on the basketball court, orchestrating the offense, leading the league in assists and really setting the tone on the defensive end. We’re the third best defense in the NBA, best in the West and a lot of that comes from his commitment this season, which has been greater than the last few years from what I’m told, has really set us apart in terms of being the best record currently in the Western Conference.”

Vogel’s loyalty is as pathetic as his comments were sadly foreseeable. (And what else would you anticipate him to say about LeBron?)

But it takes more than a forceful seal of approval and/or even the memory of one above par weekend for a rearranging of the order as noteworthy as that, chiefly with the season Antetokounmpo put together after his first MVP season.

He played like a younger man with nothing held back but sorry “Batman” in this case it was indeed admirable but it wasn’t mistaken. He surged himself in every facet of the game minus outside shooting which still needs help, once again leading the Bucks to the NBA’s best record. Remember: A MVP by the purest standards is best player on the best team! This is what the “Greek Freak” has proven.” -HKHS

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer provided a glowing endorsement of his own for his star, too.

“Giannis, in our minds, has done more than enough to deserve a back-to-back MVP,” Budenholzer told reporters on July 17 “What he does for us on both ends of the court, what he does every night, the way he sets the bar for us, culture-wise, work ethic-wise, just as a teammate. He’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything. And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving, and we’ll be excited to support him.”

As good as LeBron’s season seems, Giannis was enitrely way more, more impressive; he could join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon on the short list of players to win both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same calendar season.

“I want to be one of the best players to ever play the game,” Antetokounmpo told reporters during a media availability session earlier this month. “I did the best job I could do trying to stay ready and trying to have my team ready for this journey that we’re about to go on to leave and play games. But as I said, whoever wants it more, whoever is mentally prepared for all this, what’s going on in Orlando, that’s the team that’s gonna come out on top.”

Antetokounmpo had one summons after capturing his first MVP: he didn’t want to hear anything about it being set as a curtain call.

“After this day — July 14 — please, please do me this favor so I can be a better player and I can lead this team to a championship, please don’t call me MVP,” he told an adoring crowd of Bucks fans at a downtown rally last summer. “Please after this day don’t call me MVP, until I win it again next year.”

Giannis is putting up gaudy stats that hasn’t been seen since both Wilt and Kareem! That rarified company is more then enough for him to be crowned along with boasting the NBA’s foremost record in either NBA conferences the league’s highest regular season honor of the Most Valuable Player award!

The Mountaintop 5 in the concluding NBA MVP Race of 2019-20: 

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Season stats: 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks

That collective groan you heard Tuesday was front office personnel and coaches from the other playoff teams on the NBA campus in Orlando watching clips of Antetokounmpo’s improved shooting stroke from 3-point range. It’s the final part of his game that needs polishing so he can become the rest of the league’s biggest nightmare. The Bucks’ hopes for a championship run this season rest squarely on the broad shoulders of “The Greek Freak,” whose relentless work ethic has fueled his rise to the top of this list for a second straight season. A virtually unstoppable two-way force with a still-evolving offensive arsenal, he improved his 3-point shooting (30.6%) to become just enough of a threat from deep to force teams to pick their poison in guarding him. His rapid rise from a relatively obscure Greek pro league to NBA MVP status is one of the great stories in sports history. Best of all, he’s only a few chapters in at this stage of his career.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Season stats: 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 1.2 steals

LeBron wins this season’s narrative award. Seventeen seasons into his NBA Mount Rushmore career, James led the league in assists and remains (in the eyes of many) the NBA’s most dominant force. He’s returned a proud Lakers franchise to contender status in a rich comeback story not even Hollywood could have penned. LeBron has been refining his game longer than some of his MVP competitors have been playing competitively … and in some cases (Luka Doncic), nearly as long as they’ve been dribbling a ball. The Lakers have the look of a true contender with LeBron and All-Star big man Anthony Davis joining forces to become the league’s most dynamic duo. The Lakers’ struggles without LeBron this season might be the best exhibit of his MVP talents. Any doubts about him being able to perform at an elite level at his advanced NBA age have been silenced.

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Season stats: 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.1 steals

Doncic went from dazzling as a rookie to downright dominant in his sophomore season, from runaway Kia Rookie of the Year to All-Star starter. The best part in Dallas is that he’s taken the Mavericks along for the ride, returning them to the Western Conference playoff mix for the foreseeable future. It took Jason Kidd 500 career games to set the franchise triple-double mark. Doncic needed just 119 games to catch and pass him, with 21 before his 21st birthday. And who says lightning can’t strike the same place twice? Doncic is owner Mark Cuban’s dream replacement for franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and Doncic is a hybrid built perfectly for this era. He has LeBron James-like playmaking skills with James Harden’s scoring instincts. His sidekick, Kristaps Porzingis, played like an All-Star during the second half of his first season back from knee surgery. They are the clearest danger to the Lakers’ pair as the league’s most dynamic jumbo-sized duo.

4. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 34.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.7 steals

Harden and Rockets GM Daryl Morey are convinced that the NBA’s best player has worn a Rockets uniform for years now. But it’s only been reflected once in the Kia MVP balloting. Given how Russell Westbrook has performed in his first season in Houston, there’s a strong argument that Harden hasn’t even been the best player on his own team since mid-January. Undoubtedly, Harden is one of the greatest NBA scorers ever and has shown himself to be an extraordinary playmaker. The only real knock on Harden, aside from his situational indifference on defense, is that he’s struggled to carry his regular-season brilliance into the playoffs. Fair or not, that reputation seems to consistently poke holes in the MVP narrative the Rockets coordinate for him every season. In an era filled some of the greatest scorers and two-way stars, a one-dimensional superstar like Harden keeps coming up a bit short of the biggest prize.

5. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

Season stats: 26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals

There is still no evidence that Leonard even cares about regular season MVP awards. The two-time Finals MVP had the table set to chase the Kia MVP this season, but his injury-management protocol poked holes in his candidacy. Even with his unavailability being an issue, he proved time and again to be the league’s most complete superstar in high-pressure situations. No player in the league can score at every level as he can (46.9% shooting, 36.6% on 3-pointers) while also being the best lockdown defender against other elite players. The Clippers’ depth kept his absences from being felt the way they might have been had he played elsewhere. This season has been similar to 2018-19 in Toronto, where his supporting cast proved to be far better than given credit for. But much like he did for the Raptors last season, Kawhi serves as the ultimate closer for any contender.

The Next Five:

6. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

7. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

8. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

9. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets 

10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

And five more: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets

“HKHS disagrees with the ordering because LeBron shouldn’t be in the top 5, period. Especially when he isn’t the best player on his team! Him and Anthony Davis needs to trade places. Kawhi should BE #3 Luka #4 and Harden is #5 THEN LeBron is #6. Seven on down should be what it is! This is what the actual NBA MVP List should ACTUALLY look like!” -HKHS

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