This whole NBA Finals was themed by legacies. But what makes it so different and does different mean worse?
If you’re sniffing around for evidence that players can miss out on winning the NBA’s MVP award for the most dubious of reasons, look no further than the fact that Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo is far from the favourite to win the MVP trophy this season.
Antetokounmpo has dominated both ends of the floor and is averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds and six assists a game. Meanwhile, his team currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference, courtesy of a six-game winning streak, and winners of nine of their last ten games.
The man they call The Greek Freak is fourth in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding, 20th in assists, and 20th in blocks.
Beyond those basic counting stats, he’s also second in the league in Win Shares, third in PER, and right atop of the league in any other number of statistical categories you want to pull from basketballreference.com to help you look like an advanced metrics nerd.
Whichever way you look at it, or measure it, Antetokounmpo is having an absurd season.
Yet Antetokounmpo was ranked sixth in the MVP race last week, with his odds of winning an astonishing 14/1.
Injuries to the two frontrunners – LeBron James and Joel Embiid – means they’re currently sidelined indefinitely, which you would assume has therefore catapulted Antetokounmpo into being a favourite. Yet, he still isn’t.
So, why is he little chance of winning this season’s MVP award?
For the mind-blowing reason that he’s won it for the last two seasons.
Yes, you read that right.
Antetokounmpo is having an outstanding season and should be a favourite to take home the coveted trophy, but isn’t, because certain voters feel it’s not right that he should win three MVPs in a row.
Of all the reasons you can provide for someone not winning an award, the fact they’ve won it before would have to be one of the silliest. Seriously, when did the NBA become an under 8s soccer team?
What’s next, encouragement awards? Participation rings for every player in the league?
Some of the explanations that are circulating in an attempt to justify not rewarding Antetokounmpo are just plain bonkers.
How’s this one? “Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird are the only three players to have won the award for three consecutive years, and Giannis isn’t in their league, so we can’t give it to him.”
That’s bat guano crazy.
First of all, if Giannis wins three seasons in a row, that’s not a decisive inclusion into the bracket of greatness on par with those all-time greats. All it says is that he was the best player in the league for the three particular years that he won.
Secondly – and I’ll whisper this so as to not offend anyone – I hate to break it to you: Antetokounmpo is kind of in their league anyway. Give him the teammates those legends had when they won their rings, and I’m pretty sure he’d have some championships too.
Better still, put Antetokounmpo in the NBA during Russell’s era and he might win 10 MVPs in a row.
Another flimsy excuse that has been bandied around is: “Giannis can’t win it three seasons in a row, because he’s flamed out in the playoffs the last two seasons.”
Whilst that’s a touch harsh, it’s also probably fair. There’s just one little problem: the NBA MVP Award is for the regular season, for that season. Playoff performances – particularly from the year before – shouldn’t factor into it.
If the NBA is going to start giving the award out based on a broader achievement sample size from a player’s career, then let’s just hand it to LeBron James every year and go home.
If nothing else, the discrimination against Antetokounmpo proves once and for all that the MVP is decided on ‘narrative’. Whichever story is the sexiest or most compelling for journalists to write about is what actually dictates how they vote; either consciously or not.
To that point, Antetokounmpo winning again is just not all that attention-grabbing. Every interesting angle on the athletic forward has already been written or said over the last two years, which therefore has journalists searching elsewhere for their ‘hook’.
LeBron winning his fifth MVP? In season 18? His first since 2013? Now that’s a story. No wonder he was the favourite.
Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid winning their first MVP trophy, and ushering in the return of the ‘big man’, against the trend of the league going small? The multitude of headlines almost write themselves.
James Harden switching teams during the season, after forcing his way out of Houston in an undignified and ugly manner, then changing the way he plays, and going on to win the MVP? Holy hell, that will trigger people… think of the clicks!
The league’s Golden (State) child, Steph Curry, having a bounce-back year and winning a third MVP trophy?
Luka Doncic becoming the youngest NBA MVP? Dame Lillard finally getting his due respect? Plenty of news cycle material there.
There’s no question that all the above players deserve to be in the MVP debate thus far, and would be worthy winners.
Yet Antetokounmpo being a begrudging inclusion into the conversation for many – mainly due to being a victim of his own previous success – is bizarre at best, and stupid at worst.
C’mon, no third-time love for The Greek Freak reeks.