Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion. Just ask Utah. LeBron James is playing his best regular-season basketball since his Miami days. James Harden is putting up historic numbers. Luka Doncic has exploded on the scene in his second year and is racking up numbers we haven’t seen in a 20-year-old since LeBron.
Those guys have dominated the early MVP buzz.
Do not leave Giannis Antetokounmpo out of that talk. Just ask the Utah Jazz and Mike Conley.
“He got to the free throw line. When he started making the long-range shot, that really makes it tough,” Conley said postgame (via the Associated Press).
The Greek Freak and reigning MVP hit 3-of-8 from three Monday night. More importantly, he got to the rim at will — finishing 12-of-16 shots there — on his way to dropping 50 on the Rudy Gobert-less Jazz in a 122-118 Bucks win.
While other guys are making headlines, Antetokounmpo has been making history, too.
Last season Antetokounmpo earned MVP honors, edging out Harden (it was Antetokounmpo’s defense that put him over the top on most voter’s ballots).
This season the Greek Freak is scoring 31.1 points, pulling down 13.9 rebounds and dishing out 6.4 assists a game — all numbers that are up from his MVP season. He remains an elite defensive player on one end and an efficient scorer on the other with a 61.5 true shooting percentage.
And he’s led the Bucks to a 14-3 record that has them on top of the East.
Somehow this all feels expected in a way, which is why the surprise of LeBron’s renaissance or Doncic’s emergence grabs more attention. It shouldn’t. Antetokounmpo is as good or better than anyone. He’s the guy who can best challenge LeBron for the “best player on the planet” title. He remains a force of nature who keeps getting better, seemingly nightly
Just remember to give Antetokounmpo some of that MVP-talk shine, too.
2) Joel Embiid goes scoreless in return to Toronto, where Raptors beat the Sixers. Again. Toronto coach Nick Nurse clearly learned a crucial lesson during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals:
Match Marc Gasol’s minutes up to Joel Embiid’s.
Much like he did in the playoffs last year, Gasol was in the right position, was physical, and kept Embiid in check — Embiid went scoreless for the first time in his career Monday. Zero points. Embiid was 0-of-11 from the floor, opening up room for the door for a 101-96 Toronto win.
That wasn’t all Gasol, Embiid was 0-of-3 at the free throw line, but the Spaniard forced Embiid into more midrange shots, where he was 0-of-6.
This was the Sixers’ fourth game in six nights and it showed, it wasn’t just Embiid’s legs that looked a little tired. Still, the Sixers wanted some revenge for last playoff exit, Kawhi Leonard obviously isn’t in Raptors colors anymore, and Kyle Lowry was out (fractured left thumb). Still, the outcome was the same as last May.
Pascal Siakam continued his impressive play this season and had 25 to lead Toronto.
3) Carmelo Anthony looks more comfortable, especially facing the Bulls “defense,” scores 25 in Portland win. Carmelo Anthony just looked more like his vintage self on the court. He’s more comfortable four games in. The entire Portland team just looked more comfortable Monday night with Damian Lillard back in the lineup and running the show.
The result was a comfortable 117-94 road win in Chicago that snapped Portland’s four-game losing streak.
“It’s starting to get my feel and my flow back,” Anthony told reporters on Monday.
Anthony has given the Blazers a boost in terms of shooting — 16 points a game and hitting 39.1 percent of his threes (which is impressive after starting 0-of-8 from deep) — which has started to open up driving lanes for Lillard and CJ McCollum. More than just that, Anthony has provided Portland with a player the rest of the team can rally around. As was the case in Oklahoma City and Houston, the other players love and respect Anthony. He’s popular, and guys are rooting for him. That emotional boost matters.
Let’s not pretend this is a fairy tale with a happily ever ending. Anthony is still a liability on defense, and he’s got a dreadful 47.7 true shooting percentage overall. Anthony is getting buckets and hitting threes, but he has not been efficient overall.
He has been, however, what Portland needed along their depleted front line.