Perhaps the league's most exciting young player, 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo has been nothing shy of an absolute force. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks' All-Star has transformed from a gangly, awkward rookie to perhaps the league's most terrifying matchup. While any player can get hot for a two week stretch, his play over the last year has done little to move me off my opinion that he is a legitimate candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player.
Below are four reasons why "The Greek Freak" should be in the discussion for the title of the NBA's most prestigious individual honor.
1. Fills the stat sheet
Through the first two weeks of the season, Antetokounmpo's per-game averages are something you'd get playing on "Rookie" difficulty on NBA 2K. Here are his numbers from the team's first five games (and where he currently ranks in that category).
35.0 points (1st)
10.6 rebounds (12th)
5.6 assists (20th)
2.4 steals (5th)
62.4% FG (7th)
9.4 FT attempts (4th)
37.3 PER (1st)
Offensive Win Shares (1st)
Defensive Win Shares (t-9th)
Win Shares (1st)
While it would be unrealistic for him to keep up his current field goal percentage, which would also cause a dip in his scoring, Giannis consistently is a legitimate force on both ends of the court.
2. Puts up highlight-caliber plays
While it isn't a requirement, the fact of the matter is that most voters for all the NBA awards don't get to watch every team on a regular basis. The best ways for Antetokounmpo to stand out to those voters who don't follow the Bucks closely is by his numbers (as mentioned above) and highlight reel plays. Outside of LeBron James, there are only a handful of players capable of regularly providing highlight-reel plays on a regular basis.
By almost every metric, Antetokounmpo is a borderline elite defender. Perhaps the main reason for James Harden finishing in second place instead of first in MVP voting this past season was his defense (or lack thereof). Antetokounmpo doesn't have that problem. Giannis was among the best defensive players in the NBA last year, including Defensive Box Plus/Minus (3.5, 4th), Defensive Win Shares (4.5, 9th) and Defensive Rating (104.2, 16th). At just 22 years old, he still has room to improve, as his crazy combination of height, length and athleticism give him nearly unlimited potential as a defender.
4. The candidate pool
An often overlooked area, the current landscape of today's NBA can make voting for MVP very difficult. The Golden State Warriors have two legitimate candidates in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, who will likely end up splitting votes. Voter fatigue for LeBron James and his perennial greatness is also a factor, though Father Time eventually catches up with even the greatest basketball players.
James Harden's defensive liabilities, coupled with the team's acquisition of Chris Paul could cause any improvement from the Rockets to be attributed more to Paul's arrival than any improvement Harden could make. The same argument could be made for Russell Westbrook, as his numbers will likely take a hit with the team acquiring both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this offseason, though the team's win total should improve.
Kawhi Leonard will also be in the mix, as he is currently the best all-around player in the league, and plays on a perennially great Spurs team. With not a lot of difference between the top handful of candidates, Antetokounmpo could very well stake his claim as the league's top player.