Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo named NBA’s MVP again
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MILWAUKEE – For the second successive year, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
However, if you’ve been waiting to call him that since last summer when he stood on a stage in front of Fiserv Forum and instructed fans not to refer to him as the MVP until he won it again, well, you’ll have to keep waiting. As proud as he is of his most recent MVP award, one in which he garnered 85 of 101 first-place votes to beat out LeBron James and James Harden by a wide margin, Antetokounmpo’s eyes are firmly fixed on the future and even bigger goals.
“Don’t call me MVP, don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion,” said Antetokounmpo, who accepted the award virtually from his hometown of Athens, Greece, where he is vacationing with his family.
Later, on a Zoom call with the media, he added: “Obviously, I’m happy for tonight, I’m happy with this award, but I always look forward. I always try to figure out how can I get better? How can I do it again? How can I do it for years to come? How can I be a champion? I’m happy, I’m grateful, but how can I do it again?”
Staying in the present, though, the award is historic in many ways for Milwaukee’s 25-year-old superstar. He joins LeBron James (2009 and 2010) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1971 and 1972 while also with the Bucks) as the only players in league history to win two MVP awards at age 25 or younger.
Antetokounmpo’s two MVP awards make him the 14th player in NBA history to earn the league’s top individual regular-season honor multiple times. He joins Abdul-Jabbar (six), Bill Russell (five), Michael Jordan (five), Wilt Chamberlain (four), James (four), Moses Malone (three), Larry Bird (three), Magic Johnson (three), Bob Pettit (two), Karl Malone (two), Tim Duncan (two), Steve Nash (two) and Stephen Curry (two).
As the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo joins Jordan (1987-88) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) as the only players to accomplish that feat.
“All-time great players, obviously Michael Jordan, one of the best players to play if not the best,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hakeem, a guy I look up who came from Nigeria. To be in the same conversation is a great compliment but I have a lot of work to do, I have to keep getting better. But just to be in the same conversation, same sentence with them, means a lot to me.”
During the regular season, Antetokounmpo was a one-man wrecking crew on both ends of the court, dominating with unparalleled efficiency. In his 57 games through March 11, Antetokounmpo averaged 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 54.7% from the field. Every opponent knew he was going to try to get to the rim and struggled to stop him as Antetokounmpo led the league in field-goal attempts within five feet of the rim (626) and still converted 71.1% of those tries.
Including Milwaukee’s eight games in the bubble, Antetokounmpo ultimately set the NBA record for the best single-season Player Efficiency Rating in league history (31.86), narrowly edging Chamberlain’s best seasons of 31.82 (1962-63) and 31.74 (1961-62).
Of course, none of that includes any of his defensive contributions, which were significant as a disrupter and rim protector within the Bucks’ league-best defensive unit.
When Antetokounmpo was on the court this season, opposing teams scored just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, the lowest defensive rating among the more than 300 players who averaged at least 15 minutes per game. He also held opponents to 36.5% shooting when they were matched up against him, again the lowest mark in the league and along with teammate Brook Lopez registered among the best rim defenders in the league.
With Antetokounmpo leading the way, the Bucks went 53-12 before the interruption of the season with a whopping plus-11.2 point differential. Their defense was the best in the league while their five-out offense centered on Antetokounmpo’s scoring and playmaking was one of the best in the league while operating at a breakneck pace.
‘You’re not done yet’
While Antetokounmpo and the Bucks had so much regular-season success, though, their collective warts again showed in the postseason when they were unceremoniously dispatched by the Miami Heat in five games in the second round. It was a series where Antetokounmpo was neutralized, his teammates failed to shoot well around him and Antetokounmpo sprained his right ankle twice, an injury that forced him to miss the deciding Game 5.
“Obviously I’m disappointed to not be able to help my team go to the third round, but at the end of the day, I know I have to keep getting better and help my team improve,” he said.
Still, there’s no question that Antetokounmpo’s meteoric rise has been impressive. In fact, it has all the makings of a modern fairy tale.
Through hard work, dedication and a dash of good fortune, he’s gone from a tall, skinny, relatively unknown teenager from Athens to unassailably one of the NBA’s best players and a back-to-back MVP in only seven seasons and just 25 years old. All the while, the “Greek Freak” has developed into an international brand unto himself, one of the faces of the league, a charismatic leader and a doting father.
“I’m extremely proud of what I accomplished, what I was and what I am, where I came from,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s been an unbelievable journey. Nobody would ever imagine this, not me, not even myself when I got to the league, but at the end of the day, there’s no emotion. You can’t put emotion into this. You gotta keep getting better.
“My younger self would probably tell myself right now I’m extremely proud of what you’ve accomplished, but you’re not done yet. You’re not done yet. The goal is always to be the best. The goal is always to win the championship. The goal is always to make your team successful. I think my younger self would tell myself right now that.”
A future in Milwaukee?
How long his title chase will continue in Milwaukee is not yet clear. He is under contract with the Bucks for one more season but is eligible to sign a supermax contract extension this offseason.
Antetokounmpo met with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry last week to talk about what went wrong this season and brainstorm ideas for what Milwaukee can do to improve next season. In that meeting, Lasry made it clear that ownership isn’t opposed to spending and going into the luxury tax to build a championship-caliber team.
When the two parted ways, Antetokounmpo said, he left that meeting encouraged about the future. However, he noted Friday that he’s always been encouraged during his time in Milwaukee. He didn’t want to get much further into the details of that conversation or his own contract, but Antetokounmpo did make a few things clear — he needs to improve, the Bucks need to get better, he believes in coach Mike Budenholzer and that everyone needs to be on the same page as far as doing whatever it takes to win a championship.
So far, he believes that is happening.
“As long as everybody’s on the same page and as long as everybody’s fighting for the same thing, fighting for the same thing every single day, which is to be a champion,” he said, “I don’t see why not to be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years.”