The Growth of the Greek: Giannis Antetokunmpo's Stride for MVP

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Written by Jeremy Barragan

As part of the Mamba Mentality promotion for Nike, Kobe Bryant Tweeted out to several athletes, giving them goals to pursue in the next year.  One person who was not mentioned was 22-year-old all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo.  So, he took matters into his own hands.

“Still waiting for my challenge…@kobebryant”, Tweeted out Giannis Antetokounmpo."

Kobe’s challenge was short, simple, and remarkably difficult.

“MVP”, Kobe replied.

So there you have it, Kobe is challenging a 22-year-old to do something that he himself did only once.  

Now, winning the MVP in just his 5th season in the league would make him one of the youngest players ever to do so.  Most recently, Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP ever at 22 years old after averaging 25 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds, and leading the bulls to a 60-22 record in the process.  Should Antetokounmpo win, he would be 23 when the award is announced.

The Bucks season outlook is far different than that of the 2011 Bulls. This obviously makes it much harder to win the MVP, considering the Bucks are more likely to land the fifth seed than the first.  But if Antetokounmpo could put together another statistical showing like he did last year, he needs to be considered, especially when he was snubbed of even a top-five finish in last year’s MVP voting.

After all, Russell Westbrook did win after leading the Thunder to a sixth seed finish last season, based almost entirely on stats and the impact he had for the Thunder when he was on the floor.  By that criteria, Giannis should have been considered more seriously than he was.

According to Hollinger’s Trade Machine on ESPN, the Thunder would lose a staggering 17 more games with Westbrook removed from the rotation.  The Bucks however, would be impacted nearly as much, with Hollinger’s Trade Machine projecting them at 16 less wins without the Greek Freak at the helm.

Of course, the Trade Machine does use advanced stats such as Player Efficiency Rating to determine this win projection, and many find this to be an inaccurate determination of a player’s real on-court impact.

Even so, Antetokounmpo’s versatility allowed him to be the first player in regular season history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, while leading the Bucks in each of those categories and playing nearly every position for them.  

Not to mention, defensively Antetokounmpo made the second all-defensive team, something Westbrook hasn’t done even once in his nine seasons in the league.

All this was enough to net him the Most Improved Player Award, but the lack of MVP consideration is sure to change this year.  

Giannis has grown exponentially each season of his NBA career, both statistically and physically.  He’s seen increases in points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, and field goal percentage each of his four years in the league.  All the while, he’s grown into a matchup nightmare on the court, now reaching 6’11” tall after being listed at just 6’8” on draft day.  

While he may have finally stopped growing physically, Kobe’s right about his MVP potential.  His game isn’t done growing just yet.