If you happened to be one of the people who made a preseason wager on Giannis Antetokounmpo winning the 2018-2019 NBA MVP Award, you have to be rather pleased with the way things have started out this season.
Coming off a season in which he finished sixth in the MVP voting, after averaging 26.9 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game, Antetokounmpo had the third-best odds to win the award outright this year, with only reigning MVP James Harden and the incomparable LeBron James having better odds than “The Greek Freak.”
The assumption was that if Antetokounmpo could essentially finish a season with a 27-10-5 stat line under the leadership and coaching (or total lack of both) from former interim Milwaukee Bucks head coach Joe Prunty, imagine what he could do with a real head coach in charge – like Mike Budenholzer, whom Milwaukee hired as Prunty’s full-time replacement.
Given what we’ve seen so far, we might’ve actually underestimated what Antetokounmpo was capable of. Through the first five games of this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. He’s in the top 10 in scoring (ahead of both James and Kevin Durant), 2nd in the NBA in rebounds, and even tied for 14th in the NBA in assists, dishing our more dimes per game than guys like Kyrie Irving and Mike Conley.
In Milwaukee’s second game of the season, which doubled as both the home opener and the christening game for the brand-new Fiserv Forum, Antetokounmpo led all players with 26 points, while pulling down 15 rebounds and handing out five assists in the Bucks’ win over Indiana. Five days later, against a team whom Milwaukee will likely be jockeying with throughout the season, Antetokounmpo finished with 32 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Philadelphia 76ers, recording his first triple-double of the season while leading his team to a 15-point win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
In said win over the 76ers, Antetokounmpo becames the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to record 4-straight 25-point, 15-rebound games to start a team’s season. Go back and re-read that fact, and consider the company we’re mentioning Antetokounmpo’s name with.
While Antetokounmpo’s gaudy box scores will keep him a staple of sports talk shows and help his team sell tickets, it’s his defense that’s going to lead to wins — such as the five-straight wins that Milwaukee has enjoyed to start the season. In an era where switching on defense has gone from an idea to a necessity, Antetokounmpo’s legitimate ability to switch onto anyone, and guard all five positions on the court thanks to his freakshow athleticism and length of a seven-footer, is a major reason why he was named NBA All-Defensive Second Teamlast year, and will also put him in the conversation for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award alongside Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.
As teams devote their game plans to stopping Antetokounmpo, that’s just going to open things up even more for his teammates. For instance, Khris Middleton is averaging 24.3 points per game (compared to his career average of 15.2 points per game) because of all the 1-on-1 looks he’s enjoying (and the motivation he’s utilizing, as he’s in a contract year). Right now, if Antetokounmpo is Batman, Middleton is a very capable Robin.
In other words: Antetokounmpo’s play is approaching superhero levels, and there doesn’t appear to be very many adversaries in the NBA universe capable of defeating him.