2020 PBT Awards: Most Valuable Player

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lakers star LeBron James
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. LeBron James, Lakers

3. James Harden, Rockets

4. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

5. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

As unbelievable a season as LeBron James has had at age 35, Giannis Antetokounmpo simply has been slightly better and lifted his team up higher. The best LeBron argument is that the Lakers are elite when LeBron is on the floor (+10.3 net rating) and play below .500 ball when he sits (-1.4), so the Lakers are +11.7 with him on the floor. And that is real value. However, the Bucks are +12 when Antetokounmpo is on the court, and he shouldn’t be punished that his team can play decently when he sits. It would have been interesting if the season hadn’t shut down, if Antetokounmpo had sat out a few weeks with his tweaked knee and LeBron had torn up the league, but that didn’t happen. Based on the season we saw, Antetokounmpo repeats as MVP.

Dan Feldman

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. LeBron James, Lakers

3. James Harden, Rockets

4. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

5. Anthony Davis, Lakers

James Harden’s – pretty darned good – MVP case rests on his scoring. Giannis Antetokounmpo nearly matched Harden in both points per 100 team possessions (43 to 44) and true shooting percentage (61 to 62). And Antetokounmpo had the NBA’s very best defensive season. That’s a clear-cut MVP.

The only reason his stat line (30 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, a block and a steal) wasn’t even more absurd? Antetokounmpo played just 31 minutes per game (which would be fewest ever for an MVP), because the Bucks often put away teams early. That’s to Antetokounmpo’s credit, not his detriment.

Could LeBron James catch Antetokounmpo in a full season? Yes, but it wasn’t likely. As is, the race wasn’t that tight. In fact, LeBron was closer to third-place Harden than Antetokounmpo.

LeBron was in complete control as a scorer and especially passer. But whatever offensive advantage LeBron held over Antetokounmpo (if any at all), the defensive gap was larger.

Harden drifted in the latter parts of the season. If play continued, he might have surged in a gear-up to the playoffs and passed LeBron.

The final two spots came down to Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic. Leonard’s and Davis’ defense separated them from the other two, though Doncic and Jokic proved more capable of driving excellent offense. Leonard (51 games) wasn’t that far behind Davis (55) and Doncic (54), though Jokic (65) had a sizable advantage in availability.

Keith Smith

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

2. LeBron James, Lakers

3. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

4. Anthony Davis, Lakers

5. James Harden, Rockets

With all the respect in the world for what LeBron James has done this year, and this is really a two-horse race, I’m giving the nod to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not only are Antetokounmpo’s offensive numbers just as impressive as James’, he has a greater impact on the defensive end. Antetokounmpo is both the best player overall on the best team, but also the best defender on the NBA’s best defense. And, if you need any sort of tiebreaker, Antetokounmpo is putting up his 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists stat-line in just 30.9 minutes per game.

That James is even in consideration for MVP in his 17th season is crazy. That it’s a tough decision to put him second is almost unbelievable. But he’s been that good. We’ve known James is a great passer for a while now, but this year he’s really shown it off by averaging a career-high 10.6 assists per game. Putting him in second behind Antetokounmpo is because he clearly takes plays off on defense now. Also, his shooting has slipped below 50% for the first time since the final season of his first run with the Cavaliers. Those things matter when the MVP race is this close.

Some will penalize Kawhi Leonard for only playing in 51 games, but he’s been remarkable in those games. His defense remains top-notch, and he’s become a dominant offensive player as well. And when the Clippers entire plan was to keep him fresh for the playoffs, it’s not fair to knock him for resting, I mean load-managing, some games here and there.

Anthony Davis’ first season with the Lakers couldn’t have gone better. He’s largely stayed healthy and he’s been the best defender on one of the league’s best defenses. His scoring remains good at 26.7 points per game, and his shooting is over 51% overall. He’s also taking 3.5 three-pointers a night and hitting them at a 34% clip. Davis is the all-around monster we all thought he would be for the Lakers.

James Harden slips from his second-place finish a year ago to fifth, but that’s more about how good the other four guys were than any drop-off in Harden’s play. He’s at a ridiculous 34.4 points per game. The presence of Russell Westbrook has seen Harden’s rebound and assist numbers drop from his triple-double years, but he’s still pulling down 6.4 boards a night and dishing out 7.4 helpers. That’s good enough for a fifth-place finish.