Giannis Wins 2nd Straight MVP over LeBron James, James Harden

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2020

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo runs the offense against the Charlotte Hornets in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. Milwaukee won 93-85. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Nell Redmond/Associated Press

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been named NBA MVP for the second consecutive year, the league announced Friday.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first broke the news.

He's the second player in franchise history to collect back-to-back MVPs, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Antetokounmpo beat out Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, denying James what would've been his fifth MVP to tie him with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan for the second-most all-time.

The Greek Freak set a high bar in 2018-19. He averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists as the Bucks won 60 games.

His numbers were even better this season, and Milwaukee surely would've improved upon its win total had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted the NBA season. The league based this year's postseason honors on games through March 11, excluding the eight seeding games after the restart.

The Bucks were first in the Eastern Conference at 53-12, 6.5 games up on the second-place Toronto Raptors. It looked like they might be flirting with history before they started cooling off.

Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, was averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists over nearly two fewer minutes per game. He had also connected on a career-best 83 three-pointers. His long-range shooting remains a work in progress (30.6 percent) but is getting to a point where opponents have to respect his jumper.

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The 25-year-old was stifling on the defensive end too. According to NBA.com, he held opposing players to 36.1 percent shooting overall and 31.3 percent on three-pointers. He was simultaneously a capable rim protector and suffocating on the perimeter.

Antetokounmpo was also named NBA Defensive Player of the Year, so he joins Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to win DPOY and MVP in the same season. David Robinson and Kevin Garnett are the only other two players to have won both awards in their careers.

His standout performance came in a 122-118 win over the Utah Jazz on Nov. 25. He finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two steals.

"Even without a three-point shot, Giannis was the most unstoppable player in the league this year," Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin wrote of Antetokounmpo in arguing why he deserved to win MVP. "He was unguardable attacking the basket while also setting up shots for his Bucks teammates, all on top of being arguably the NBA's best wing defender."

The Bucks aren't a one-man show since the team has surrounded Antetokounmpo with as strong a supporting cast as one could reasonably expect for a franchise in a non-marquee market. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, George Hill, Eric Bledsoe and Wesley Matthews all play to his strengths by spacing the floor and spreading out the defense to clear the way for his drives to the basket.

But nobody questions Antetokounmpo's value to Milwaukee. Take him out of the mix and the team's championship hopes evaporate.

Of course, that's the big question surrounding the franchise. Milwaukee fell to the Miami Heat in five games in the second round of this year's playoffs, although Antetokounmpo dealt with an ankle injury in Games 3 and 4 and sat out Game 5. The Bucks also lost to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, a disappointing result after they had taken a 2-0 series lead and had home-court advantage.

Anything short of an NBA Finals appearance next year could have major ramifications for the future with Antetokounmpo due to hit free agency in 2021.