Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo named NBA MVP over James Harden
You forget that Giannis Antetokounmpo is only 24 years old.
The Milwaukee Bucks forward became the 10th-youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history when results were revealed at the third annual NBA Awards Show on Monday in Santa Monica, California. Antetokounmpo ended Houston Rockets guard James Harden’s reign to win what many now believe will be his first of multiple MVP honors in his career. Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George were the other finalists.
A panel of 100 media members comprise 50 percent of the vote for NBA awards. Players and fans split the remaining 50 percent. Results will be made available.
The Bucks star is the youngest recipient since Derrick Rose became the youngest winner ever at the age of 22 in 2011. The rest of the list of 10 youngest MVPs in history, based on age at the end of the regular season, is a Hall of Fame ledger:
Derrick Rose (2011): 22 years, 191 days
Wes Unseld (1969): 23 years, 9 days
Bob Pettit (1956): 23 years, 92 days
Bob McAdoo (1975): 23 years, 193 days
Wilt Chamberlain (1960): 23 years, 201 days
Lew Alcindor (1971): 24 years, 14 days
Moses Malone (1979): 24 years, 16 days
Bill Russell (1958): 24 years, 28 days
LeBron James (2009): 24 years, 104 days
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019): 24 years, 125 days
Everyone else on that list but Rose went on to win a championship, six of them won multiple MVP honors in their careers and five of them won more than one title. This is the company Antetokounmpo now keeps, where the odds are in his favor to win this award again and pair it with at least two championship rings, barring injury.
Antetokounmpo finished the regular season just 21 days older than when LeBron James won his first of four MVP honors. Within three years, James was a three-time winner and a first-time champion. That is now the standard for Antetokounmpo.
This season ended in disappointment after his Bucks won an NBA-best 60 regular-season games. They led the Toronto Raptors 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals and 105-103 in the second overtime of Game 3, but Kawhi Leonard neutralized Antetokounmpo in winning four straight games en route to a title and Finals MVP.
The Raptors exposed Antetokounmpo’s one true weakness in the playoffs, building a wall of defenders to ensure he would have to beat them from the perimeter. He didn’t, and he vowed afterward to The Athletic’s Eric Nehm that he would come back a more efficient perimeter playmaker in what will be his seventh NBA season.
“And it’s something from Year 5 to Year 6, I was like, ‘Yeah. OK, I put on seven pounds of muscle. Bro, I’m the most dominant guy in the f---ing league. I’m just going to go and f---ing dunk it,’” he told Nehm in the aftermath of the loss to the Raptors. “You can get away with it to a point. It’s good if you’re able to do it, but I gotta be more skilled. I gotta get back to my old self. Think like a guard, not as a big.”
In the regular season, when Antetokounmpo faced fewer dominant defenses designed to stop him, he was the game’s most dominant two-way player — a freakishly athletic 6-foot-11 specimen playing any and all positions on both ends of the court. His 27.7 points on 17.3 field-goal attempts (64.4 true shooting percentage) and 5.9 assists against 3.7 turnovers per game made him a more efficient offensive player than Harden (36.1 points on 24.5 shots per game for a 61.6 true shooting percentage and an average of 7.5 assists against five turnovers), who used almost 10 percent more of his team’s offensive possessions this season.
Throw in Antetokounmpo’s 12.5 rebounds and 2.8 combined blocks and steals per game, along with his unrivaled ability to defend from the rim to the perimeter with what seems like a single step, and he was the anchor of the NBA’s best defensive team in the regular season. It is no wonder he was also a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, threatening to join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win league MVP honors and the top defensive award in the same season.
Jordan was 25 years old when he accomplished that feat. Olajuwon was 31. You should be starting to get the sense that Antetokounmpo is joining some rarefied NBA air, and he’s not even old enough to rent a car without incurring a youth tax.
This is all reassuring financial news for Antetokounmpo, who was already in line for the largest contract in NBA history in 2020 — a projected five-year, $247 million supermax extension from the Bucks. According to ESPN’s Malika Andrews, a trip to the Finals next season could be the deciding factor in his decision to commit to Milwaukee for the long term. And as we all know, speculation about a player’s free agency two years before he hits the market is the true mark of a modern superstar.
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