At this point, the NBA MVP race seems to be a two-player discussion: Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
While there are other players who certainly deserve a mention, Antetokounmpo and James are unquestionably the two names that come up most in conversation, and for good reason.
Yes, Kawhi Leonard may very well be the best player in the league, but he has missed too many games. Sure, Luka Doncic has been brilliant, but the Dallas Mavericks aren't good enough to merit Doncic winning MVP. James Harden is a monster, but the Houston Rockets have been far too inconsistent.
That basically leaves Giannis and LeBron, the two players heading the two teams with the best records in their respective conferences.
But Antetokounmpo should have the edge and should repeat as the NBA's Most Valuable Player.
First of all, the Milwaukee Bucks have the top record in basketball at 53-12. The Los Angeles Lakers aren't far behind at 49-14, but the Bucks have the clear edge.
That is obviously because of Antetokounmpo's efforts, as The Greek Freak is averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season, truly remarkable numbers. They became even more unreal when you take into account that he is playing under 31 minutes a night. Meanwhile, LeBron is registering 25.7 points, 10.6 assists and 7.9 boards in a tick under 35 minutes per game.
Has Giannis been as good as he was last season? That's a tough one. While he has become a bit better on the glass, his efficiency has dipped, thanks much in part to his drastic drop in free-throw percentage (he is shooting just 63.3 percent from the line this year as opposed to 72.9 percent in 2018-19). While his PER is slightly higher, his Win Shares per 48 minutes have dropped a bit.
But that's neither here nor there. This isn't about comparing two versions of Giannis Antetokounmpo. This is about comparing Antetokounmpo to LeBron James.
Another notch in Giannis' belt is the fact that he does not have quite the help that James does. While Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are hardly bad sidekicks, neither player is Anthony Davis.
Heck, a fringe argument can be made that James hasn't even been the best player on his own team this season with Davis in tow. I wouldn't say that's the case, but again, a fringe argument can be made for it.
You can't say that for Antetokounmpo, however. Giannis is the runaway best player on Milwaukee and does not have a fellow superstar on board like LeBron in Tinseltown.
That typically plays a rather significant role in MVP voting. It's not a be-all-end-all thing, but when you are leading your team to the best record in basketball and your competitors have quite a bit more help than you do, generally, the guy who is more “on his own” wins the award.
Sure, the Bucks built their team around Antetokounmpo, providing him with good floor spacers and versatile defenders who complement Giannis' strengths. But Middleton — who has made back-to-back All-Star appearances — is really the only other Milwaukee player who is even in the star conversation, and it's debatable whether he really is one.
Give Antetokounmpo a teammate like Davis, and just imagine how much scarier the Bucks would be.
Obviously, James is enjoying yet another terrific season and has reinvented himself yet again. While he is not quite as dominant of a scorer as he once was, he is now averaging a career high in assists per game, sometimes deferring to Davis. But it's hard to ignore the fact that he is shooting under 50 percent from the floor for just the second time since 2010 and that he is making under 70 percent of his free throws for the third time in four years. He is also logging four turnovers per game.
Yes, Antetokounmpo is struggling from the charity stripe in his own right, but he is shooting 54.7 percent from the floor to compensate for those issues. For that reason, his free-throw problems are not as damning as LeBron's.
Remember: MVP is not necessarily a best player award. It's weird that way. Many people would say that James is actually a better player than Antetokounmpo. As a matter of fact, I would probably choose the far more proven LeBron over Giannis going into the playoffs. But this is a regular-season honor that measures just how crucial a player was to his team throughout the campaign.
In that case, the award has to go to Antetokounmpo, who is not only posting some of the most eye-popping numbers you will see, but is also leading his club to the best record in the NBA.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, you can't take away what Giannis Antetokounmpo has done for the Bucks this season. For that, he deserves to be rewarded for the second straight year.