Sports Writer and Analyst. Occasionally, I will write about other topics.
The age of analytics has made the winner of NBA Most Valuable Player Award even more difficult to determine.
Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo has won his second consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Award. This leaves many fans wondering about the meaning of the award after Milwaukee lost in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
For the 2019-20 season, Giannis did have the best regular-season PER in NBA history. Giannis also led the NBA in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares per 48 minutes, Usage PCT, Defensive Rating, Defensive Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus. Most importantly, the Bucks had the best regular-season NBA record. His analytical dominance was clear to anybody that followed the NBA.
However, the age of analytics has muddled the NBA Most Valuable Player conversation and made the award less about how well a player plays basketball. Giannis joins an elite class of players after winning his second NBA MVP award. Only 14 players have ever won the award twice. Giannis is the only player to win NBA MVP in two consecutive seasons while winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Giannis joins Point Guard Steve Nash, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone as the only players to win 2 MVPs before making at least one NBA final appearance. Of the 65 MVP awards that have been given out, 32 times the winner has played in the NBA finals in the year they have won the award.
After the Bucks heartbreaking loss in the Eastern Conference finals, one cannot help but question what happened to the Bucks. Especially when the Bucks have an MVP on their roster.
To many fans, it has become clear that the NBA MVP is an analytical award.
Many think the award should now read, ”Most Valuable Analytical Player.” As analysts know, the best player always proves their worth in the playoffs. The last four winners of the award have not made it to the NBA finals in the season they won the award. However, all three players have had statistically historic seasons despite having playoff success.
Even just casually watching the playoffs it is clear that Giannis is nowhere near the best player in the NBA. Jimmy Butler outplayed Giannis defensively and offensively and he was not even in the conversation for NBA Def POY or NBA MVP.
Granted the award is about what the player has achieved and less about talent. However, the MVP award used to be a good indicator for playoff success. It is a real issue for fans for them to see their team to not meet playoff expectations after having the best record in the NBA.
There are many reasons why teams may perform well during the regular season. Their opponents could be plagued with injuries. Also, many analysts have always lamented that many players and teams don’t play as hard during the regular season. Many NBA teams have roster fluctuations and they use the regular season as also a way to develop players.
The Bucks play hard during the regular season and too many are overly concerned with analytics. The Bucks discrepancy between the regular season and playoffs is the most glaring that I can remember in the history of the MVP.
The winner of the MVP award over the past four seasons appears to have been more about analytical achievements during the regular season. In many cases, these players have not seen their style of play translate well in the regular season. As a result, it is hard to use statistics and analytics to measure player performance because of how these numbers are often the driving force in player performance. In other eras of basketball, basketball statistics were more of an observational measure of player performance and not an end in themselves for players.
Many fans believe that players and teams are chasing statistics instead of building teams for playoff success. The Chicago Bulls for the 6 seasons they won NBA titles had an average regular season SRS of 9.1. The Bucks over the past two seasons have had an average SRS of 8.8. The Bucks are showing the same dominance during the regular season that the 1990s Bulls displayed, however, they cannot make it to an NBA final.
However, what is even more telling is how the Bucks lost in the 2019 and 2020 playoffs. The Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals lost four straight games to Toronto Raptors and they were down 0-3 to the Miami Heat at the start of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Both teams had a worse regular-season record than the Bucks.
There is a difference between a player and team performance in the playoffs. However, many regard Gianni’s reduced performance in the playoffs to be the reason for Milakwuake's diminished success in the playoffs. Many analysts, if not all, had the Bucks making the NBA finals for the 2019 and 2020 playoffs. I was in the camp that believed the Bucks would make it to both the 2019 and 2020 finals.
Similar to Giannis, Lebron won two NBA MVPs in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 season before winning an NBA championship. In both seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA. Moreover, Lebron lost Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 and lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2010. However, Lebron had already taken the Cleveland Cavaliers to the finals in 2007 before he ever won an MVP.
However, the 2009-10 Boston Celtics that eliminated the Cavaliers had already won an NBA championship. For the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics would make it to the NBA Finals and lose to the Lakers in a heartbreaking game 7. Giannis has faced difficult teams in the playoffs. The 2019-20 Raptors would go on to win the NBA championship and the 2019-20 Heat are showing historic dominance in the playoffs.
For the 2019 and 2020 playoffs, Giannis has played in 24 playoff games and has averaged 25.96 PPG, 5.2 APG, 12.8 RPG. His performance is much better than most analysts are crediting him with. However, for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 regular seasons, he averaged 28.53 PPG, 5.76 APG, 12.99 RPG. Meanwhile, Lebron for the 2009 and 2010 playoffs played 25 playoff games where he averaged 32.6 PPG, 7.4 APG, 9.2 RPG. Lebron was 29.06 PPG, 7.89 APG, 7.43 RPG over the 2008-09 and 2009-10 regular season.
Bucks as a team discounting Giannis’s scoring have averaged 90.83 points per game over the 2020 and 2019 playoffs. However, the Cavaliers as a team discounting Lebron averaged an abysmal 66.16 points per game for the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Lebron was also responsible for many of the assists that enabled his teammates to score. Giannis has an amazing supporting cast while playing for the Bucks and is far superior to what Lebron experienced in Cleveland. Lebron did not have another All-Star on his team when he won his first two MVPs while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers had difficulty building a championship team around Lebron. Many have speculated as to why they had such difficulty and many agree that it was hard for the Cavaliers to sign talented free agents because the team is in a smaller market.
Lebron led the Lakers to have the best record in the Western Conference. Lebron rebuilding the Lakers franchise is historic in nature as well. If given a choice, most fans would rather see their favorite player or team win the championship over MVP.
In any given season there is one of two criteria used to determine the player selected to be the NBA MVP: best player on the team with the best regular-season record or player with the best statistical season. Using both criteria, Giannis was the MVP.
The Bucks have done an astonishing job building a team around Gianni’s strength as a player. Giannis is only 25 years old and he will continue to improve. Giannis will undoubtedly win an NBA championship in the future.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Michael Mannen