Giannis Antetokounmpo has been playing at the MVP level for so long that the media stopped awarding him the prize. It is a level that very few players have reached. Depending on their side of the argument, people complain that Michael Jordan and/or LeBron James should have significantly more MVP trophies for being the best player in the league for most of their careers.
After we wrote Joel Embiid should be the favorite to win the MVP, his campaign has taken off. U.S trendsetting power and my upcoming main question aside, which player stats are better between these two options: 29/11/4, 49 percent of the field, or 29/11/6, 54 percent of the field? The first is Embiidand the last one is twice MVP Antetokounmpo†
I’m not here to discredit my own work, so let me say that Embiid is the evolution of Hakeem Olajuwon, while Antetokounmpo is Shaquille O’Neal 2.0. Watching the center of the 76ers is like looking at a Fred Flintstone bowl or a panda skate. Someone this tall shouldn’t be so graceful or capable. than him thinks about Jarrett Allen and you forget which multiverse you are in.
With Giannis, it’s more like the Bucks made a deal: we’ll let you do everything a big man dreams of – run the break, shoot turnarounds and 3s, handle the rock – when you do everything a big man should. My favorite aspect of Antetokounmpo’s game is that he likes to bully boys.
The reason he put 50 on 17-21 shooting against the Pacers on Tuesday, 48 percent of his attempts this season coming from within three feet of the ring. By comparison, Embiid only takes 28 percent of his photos from that range, which also explains why he’s so fascinating to watch. (As you might imagine, both players are essentially unstoppable this close to the ring, finishing 73 to 74 percent of those attempts.)
Antetokounmpo evokes the same “what the hell are we going to do with this man”, feelings that poured like sweat from Shaq in his prime. No team has one player to guard Giannis, and few have the required platoon of big men and stretchy wings to slow him down.
Embiid also exudes that vibe that can’t guard me, but he doesn’t repeatedly dip on your head until you stop or make a mistake. It almost seems like he is bored and takes a step back to challenge himself.
He doesn’t have to worry about complacency tonight when the Bucks and 76ers go head to head. It will be the 10th overall meeting between the two and the first this season. It is curiously rare for these two to share the court together. You’d think the sample size would be larger over six seasons, with each living in the East, but that’s life in the tax management era and with Embiid’s injury history.
Antetokounmpo is 6-3 in matches against Embiid, and the stats reflect that, with the Greek Freak holding the high ground per game in points (33 to 26), rebounds (14 to 11) and assists (6 to 5). The last time Embiid defeated Antetokounmpo was Christmas 2019.
This year, however, feels different as we both have ‘traditional’ big men working at their peak. I agree that the old-fashioned big man is probably dead or outplayed somewhere off the field; I meant traditional in the sense that they go back to the post moves of the basket, protect the rim, bounce back and generally impose their will near the hoop.
Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett put their will on the game, but you didn’t see many drop steps and baby hooks coming out of them. Big isn’t the right word to describe the kind of players I’m talking about. I think “colossal” is a more appropriate adjective.
The last time two hulking MVPs, who were also the best players on their respective teams, met in the playoffs was Shaq against Tim Duncan in the beginning. If Embiid wins the award this year, and we’re lucky enough to get four, five, six, hopefully seven matches/fights of epic proportions in the postseason, it would be a rarely seen combination of spectacle and substance. Think of the Mountain versus the Hound in Game of Thrones, or a heavyweight fight that doesn’t consist of two overweight behemoths constantly struggling to catch their breath, or a T-Rex fighting a Giganotosaurus. (It’s a real dinosaur. Google it.)
If past match-ups are any indication, we’d get some fun games and insane stat lines, like the March 17, 2019 match when they scored 92 points together, with Antetokounmpo noting a career high of 52. There was the April 4, 2019 meeting when they managed to make just 79 points between the two of them, Giannis matched 45 against Embiid’s 34.
While each player may not be in possession of the ball against each other for the entire series, there will be pieces where they at least try to control each other. And let’s not forget the clashes on the brink that inevitably happen when two men of their stature share a court; there will be a few clashes over the paint’s dominance, and let’s hope they are as visceral as possible. (I’m afraid James Harden might just bounce after seeing so much testosterone.)
Phenomena like this don’t happen very often, so pray to the basketball gods you worship that we get a Bucks-76ers playoff fight. Tonight is going to be fun, but hopefully it’s just a harbinger of the main event.