With a lot of sports seasons suspended indefinitely, the notion of what could have been had begun to surface. Whether or not the NBA will be canceled can’t quiet the echos of what might have been possible had the season not been interrupted.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was last year’s regular-season MVP. Bigger than the Milwaukee Bucks winning 62 games was a feeling that Giannis himself had reached superstar status in both visibility and production. And while he and his team fell short of reaching the NBA Finals, early NBA finals odds for next season once again give high expectations to the Bucks.
This season, Giannis found a way to be more productive in less time. For comparison, his MVP season consisted of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game while playing 33 minutes a night. This year, Giannis upped his scoring average to 29.6, his rebounding to 13.7 and maintaining closer to his assist output at 5.8. This is all while his minutes have decreased to 30 per game. That jump in production raised questions about where Antetokounmpo’s individual year ranks all-time.
But with news of the city of Toronto banning public events until June 30, as well as lock down sweeping across the United States to curtail the coronavirus, salvaging what remains of the 2019-20 NBA season grows more and more unlikely. The season Giannis was having felt special. It felt as if he was breaking out of his shell to become league MVP and there was more space to expand as a player. While he hasn’t increased his three-point percentage, he had far exceeded his career-high in makes (83) and attempts (247).
“He’s a winner,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said via ESPN. “The kid brings it in every way, shape, and form. He brings it in practice and in the locker room. He’s a great leader. He’s a great player. He does everything. I don’t know how to describe his game.”
One way to describe his game? Meaner. A man determined to be unstoppable at what he does best. He went from a freakish talent to a titan-like anomaly that covered both his and Milwaukee’s flaws. Leading the NBA in team wins felt more righteous and he seemed determined to bulldoze a path towards a second MVP award and the Larry O’Brien trophy. This leads to one question:
What could have been?
Possible Finals matchups: Bigger than Giannis being in line for a second-straight regular season MVP are the potential playoff matchups should the Bucks had reached the NBA Finals. Of the teams in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers were the presumed favorites to play for the title. That means Giannis would have either had a playoff rematch with the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard or face LeBron James and the Lakers in a seven-game series for the championship. Either way, seeing how this version of Giannis navigated, both the superstar and team matchup would have led to an increase in hot takes depending on the series winner.
The next Rockets game: Starting around the All-Star break, Giannis started taking pot shots as Houston Rockets guard James Harden; citing that he wouldn’t select Harden in the All-Star Draft because Harden doesn’t pass and that Team Giannis’ strategy was to go at whomever Harden was defending. Harden, normally not one to engage in verbal spats, actually fired back at Giannis. Harden alluded to the fact that Giannis is mostly effective due to his height and not his basketball skill. March 25th would have been the next time the Bucks and Rockets played since those comments. It would have been interesting to see if Giannis would have been amped up to make an individual statement against Harden and the Rockets.
All-time efficiency: As stated before, Antetokounmpo was in the midst of one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the NBA. Where it would have landed would have depended (rightly or wrongly) on if he capped it off with a title, MVP and the like. But even with this era of increased analytics usage, the rarity with which Giannis was productive was being celebrated by all. Maybe as he continues to extend his run of great seasons will his 2019-20 season help exalt him among the all-time greats. It seems in sports that outside of tragedy, individual years aren’t given much credit without some measure of repeated similar success from the player.
And it has all been put to a stop.
COVID-19 has affected every facet of life. It has shown how connected we are and how big a void sports fills for us. Safety is of the utmost importance, but the deprivation and emptiness without live sports can be felt within weeks of its absence.
The NBA was shaping up to have one of its most entertaining seasons in recent memory, and Giannis had done more than his fair share to ensure that the season would remain special. Hopefully, there will be a return to some semblance of normalcy soon. But even if the NBA resumes, it will feel like we missed out on a truly special season from one of the Association’s best.