By: Caleb Apkan
You should never jump to conclusions in sports, especially with basketball. The yearly 82 games played in the league are a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t decide playoff teams, all-stars, or MVPs in October- most seasons. 2017-2018 is starting to feel a bit different, mainly when it comes to who will be this year’s Most Valuable Player, thanks to a certain 6’11 (maybe even taller) monster in Milwaukee with a last name many are still trying to figure out how to pronounce. You may say it’s too early to call, but three games in, is there any way Giannis Antetokounmpo will not be this year’s MVP?
Let’s look at Giannis’ (brief) resume for the year so far. To open up the season, he takes the Bucks into Boston for a matchup of two almost guaranteed Eastern Conference playoff teams, dueling a player in a situation almost identical to his own. He and Celtics point guard, Kyrie Irving, are two of the best players in the league, leading teams with solid talent around them. However, no one even comes close to their skillsets, leading to insanely high expectations for both’s seasons. Irving went 7-25 from the field to total just 17 points in the night, while Antetokounmpo shined with 37 and 13 on 13-22 (59%) shooting, 16 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. If the two were in a race for MVP, Giannis lapped Kyrie, maybe more than once, and cruised to the finish line.
Who was up next on the schedule? Another MVP candidate in LeBron James and the Eastern Conference Avengers, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Naturally, Giannis’ performance dips in the face of a better defense and generally more talented team, right? Wrong. Going toe-to-toe with James, Antetokounmpo scores 34 and nearly has a triple double, adding in eight of each in the rebounding and assists departments. LeBron gets the win, but in his first primetime game of the year, Giannis gets most of the conversation. The Greek Freak was clearly not afraid of the stage he was on, and in what felt like a one on four fight, you can’t blame him much for not being able to come up with the victory, especially with that statline, by outplaying the best player of this generation, aside from being on the receiving end of an excellent block by the King. After the game, Antetokounmpo said that he doesn’t see himself at James’ level yet, and with the three championships and four MVP trophies, that may be true for now, but Giannis is doing things that LeBron just simply was not able to do at 22 or any point in his career, and that’s a big part of why James, Kevin Durant, and others among the league’s best are saying Antetokounmpo has the potential to be not just the MVP, but an all-time great in this league.
Game three at home, Saturday night, Giannis takes a little off-day against the Blazers of course- or he plays arguably the best game of his career to follow up on two already dominant performances against some of the best teams in the league based on pre-season projections. For Portland and star point guard Damian Lillard, Antetokounmpo served up a career-high 44 (on an unfathomable 74% shooting), gets the game-winning steal, dunk, AND block (following missing two clutch free throws, just for some in-game facing of adversity), and throws in eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and block, in what looked like an effortless display of dominance. He scored a fraction of his points on jumpers, the one area of Antetokounmpo’s game that seems to need work (104 of the 115 points scored in 3 games have come inside the paint). He then spent the rest of his night cruising to the basket, and not because the Blazers’ defense was particularly bad, Giannis just seems to be that unstoppable. A dribble from the half court line and he was at the rim, contact seemed non-existent, it was the type of performance that is replayed when a player receives an award as prestigious as Giannis seems to deserve.
Who’s really in Antetokounmpo’s way this season? LeBron, Steph, KD, and Russ are too busy playing with other All-Stars. Kawhi Leonard is walking onto planes like he’ll be out another month. Guys that could put up huge stat-lines like Kristaps Porzingis will probably do so on terrible teams. The one guy who seems to have things add up when it comes to team success, health, and individual performance is Giannis. Add in the fact that Antetokounmpo is honoring his late father with performances like this, writing on his latest game ball that the win was “for Daddy” and then seeming to tell his father of the performance he had in his writing after that, and there’s no way you can’t get behind the amazing progression this young man is making. NBA defenses aren’t going to figure out his game overnight, and if you described what he does in the simplest of terms, they already should have. Butt Giannis isn’t your average slasher- he takes attacking the basket to another level never seen before and adds excellent defense and court vision on top of that. Start carving his name into the trophy and get a KIA that can fit his insane dimensions, barring an injury, Giannis Antetokounmpo seems to have the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in his (giant) hands already.