For most of the year, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has essentially seemed to be a shoe-in for his second consecutive Most Valuable Player Award. But right before the season came to a halt, Lakers forward LeBron James appeared to be set for a push to put his name into the conversation.
James was playing his best basketball of the season in the weeks before the coronavirus pandemic upended the NBA (and, you know, all of our lives), averaging 30 points, 9.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds on a true-shooting percentage of 62.9% over the Lakers’ final 10 games before the world shut down. He also led the Lakers to convincing wins over Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and their fellow contenders, the LA Clippers, in two of the Lakers’ final three games.
That James was doing all of this while leading the league in assists (10.6) all season at age 35 is why his former Lakers teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, said on ESPN’s “Jalen and Jacoby” that there is no doubt in his mind that James doesn’t need to do anything at Disney World to “overtake” Antetokounmpo in the MVP race:
“Overtake him? I think he’s the MVP. He’s 35, he’s the only player in the league right now with gray hair. What more do you need? What more do you need from him, man? He’s doing this with gray hair and a gray beard. What more do you need? I don’t know what more you need... If you don’t pick LeBron, you’re just flat out a hater at this point.”
If that’s the case, then there are a lot of “haters,” because Antetokounmpo is still widely expected to win his second MVP award in a row (as well as a possible Defensive Player of the Year honor, too).
James might have been able to make some noise in the first race had the season continued with him keeping up his narrative momentum, but as our own Sabreena Merchant rounded up really well before the season shut down, as great as James has been, the numbers are still overwhelmingly in favor of Antetokounmpo:
James is second in overall RPM, while Antetokounmpo is first. The Milwaukee forward is ahead of him on both offense (second and third) and defense (third and fourth). Both of their teams have a plus-11.4 point differential with their star players on the floor, but the Bucks are plus-16.7 with Giannis on the floor versus plus-10.5 for the Lakers with LeBron.
Antetokounmpo is averaging more points per game (29.6) than James (despite playing fewer minutes), in addition to six more rebounds per game. He has a higher true shooting percentage on a higher usage rate, and oh yeah, did we mention the Bucks have only lost nine games this season? Like James, Antetokounmpo also has a positive net rating with every one of his Bucks teammates, and they’re all a little bit higher than their Laker counterparts.
Reasons like that, among others, is why it seems incredibly unlikely James defies the odds to win a fifth MVP award. Still, that may end up being a blessing in disguise for the Lakers. After all, if James’ whole season was fueled by being called the #WashedKing, maybe getting to be the #WashedMVPRunnerUp can inspire him to make us all witnesses to even more greatness in Orlando.