MVP Race: Giannis isn't in it, and that's okay

I don't believe that Giannis is truly in this MVP race anymore. The ESPN straw poll seems to drive this point home. In case you missed it, Jokic ended up in first with more than twice as many first place votes as Embiid (and six times as many votes as Giannis).

I really don't think that there is anything Giannis can do to change the narrative or the votes. Even if he destroys Embiid tonight. Even if he puts up 8 50-point games in a row. Even if he makes his free throws. Even if he makes a jump shot and a three pointer.

And that's okay. This is the correct trajectory for Giannis to be on. The MVP is a regular season award for regular season players. I would go even further: the MVP is a consolation prize. It's for players who have fantastic seasons, but haven't and likely won't do any damage in the playoffs.

MVP Awards and Finals Victories

In the last twenty years*, only two players have won both the MVP and the Finals MVP in the same season:

  • Tim Duncan (2003)
  • Lebron James (2012 & 2013)

Only one other time were the MVP and eventual Finals MVP teammates:

  • Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala (2015)

What does this mean?

To me this means that the regular season MVP award is, well, a regular season award.

It's away of showing love and giving shine to players that probably won't be on the big stage at the end of the year. Let's go through the list:

2020-21 — Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (so far has only made it to the conference finals once, during the bubble)
2019-20 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (was the definition of a regular season player until last year)
2018-19 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (see above comment)
2017-18 — James Harden, Houston Rockets (lol)
2016-17 — Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (come on)
2015-16 — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (amazing season, lost in the finals)
2014-15 — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (amazing season, but after flaming out in the first round the year before, did anyone think they'd win it this year?)
2013-14 — Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (had great seasons with OKC, but never got over the hump with them)
2012-13 — LeBron James, Miami Heat (see above)
2011-12 — LeBron James, Miami Heat (see above)
2010-11 — Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (really?)
2009-10 — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (a burgeoning phenom who couldn't get it done in the playoffs, yet)
2008-09 — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (see above)
2007-08 — Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (great season after years of mediocrity, lost in the finals)
2006-07 — Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (great player that wouldn't get it done in the finals for many years after this)
2005-06 — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (a regular season player who is now a regular season coach)
2004-05 — Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns (see above)
2003-04 — Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves (one of the greatest power forwards, but wouldn't win a chip for several years after this)
2002-03 — Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (see above)
2001-02 — Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (see above)

What we have here is predominantly a list of regular season players. Or players that were more or less regular season players at the time. Don't get it twisted. Just because Lebron later went to and won many finals doesn't mean those first few awards weren't consolation prizes. Same thing with the other greats on there. To me this looks like a long list of consolation prizes. Acknowledging a great effort for the regular season, but usually for players that come up short when it matters most.

To me this is the primary reason Giannis will not win an MVP. It's not really about narrative, voter fatigue, or his play. It's because this isn't an award for him anymore. Unless he has a season unlike any other, he likely won't win one again.

*I realize 20 years is an arbitrary cut off date. But it kind of coincides with the modern NBA and voter trends that we still see today. (Plus, I don't have all day for this...)

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