The Race for NBA MVP 21/22: A Little More About The Talent
Karla Louise Hallett provides all the information about the two frontrunners for this season’s NBA MVP award, highlighting exactly how Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić have reached this point.
Over the last year, NBA fans have experienced their ups and downs with players across both conferences. However seeing the rise of Giannis Anetetokounmpo and Nikola Jokić has been nothing short of spectacular, especially because these two players have both been considered outsiders. There is a thrill behind having two European players at the peak of a sport that’s been mostly dominated by Americans for the past 75 years. Although that may seem distasteful, it really just means seeing more diversity in the NBA is nothing short of refreshing. It is also incredible to see this because the game, and the way it is managed, is already more distinct and embracing in comparison to other sporting events and teams around the world.
Here is what you need to know about your top picks for the NBA MVP 2021/22:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as “The Greek Freak”, was drafted back in 2013 for the Milwaukee Bucks and has made a major impact over the last couple of years. Giannis started out his basketball career back in 2007 in Athens, Greece, where he played for Filathlitikos, in the semi-pro Greek B Basketball League. After a year, and once the young up-and-coming star turned 18, he was signed by Spanish club CAI Zaragoza on a four-year contract. Over the 26 games he played during the 2012-2013 Greek A2 League season, he averaged at 9.5 points a game. He was also commemorated by his coaches and made a special guest at the Greek League All-Star Game.
Soon after his semi-pro basketball career took off, he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and welcomed into the NBA. He signed his rookie contract with the Bucks and has enjoyed a massively successful nine-year career at the franchise, which showcases a real appreciation for the fans and the city of Milwaukee. At the age of 18 years and 311 days, Giannis was one of the youngest ever NBA players when he made his debut and at the end of his first season, he was named in the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. His average points-per-game dropped from 9.5 to 6.8, but this was to be expected, as the Greek was coming up against higher quality opponents.
Between 2014 and 2016, Antetekounmpo showed more and more development and skill as both an individual player and teammate. In 2016, he signed a four-year contract extension with the Bucks, worth a hefty $100 million, which lead into the first of his truly top level seasons. Antetekounmpo went from averaging 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game to a whopping 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks. From 2017, his career and skill skyrocketed as the Bucks began to transform into a truly formidable outfit, as Giannis combined with the likes of Khris Middleton to create an incredible starting team.
From 2018, with new coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks started out their season with seven straight victories as Giannis had a tremendous individual season. The Greek won the Eastern Conference Player of the Month Award in October, November, December and February and went on to win his first NBA MVP award, as he lead the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Final, where they lost out to eventual NBA Champions, the Toronto Raptors.
The best was yet to come for Giannis, as the forward claimed his first NBA Championship in the 2020/21 season, with the Bucks taking a 4-2 series win over the Phoenix Suns. The Greek was a major doubt for the final series of the season after suffering a bad knee injury in Game Four of the Easter Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, but much to the delight of the Bucks fans, there was no serious ligament damage and he returned for Game One against the Suns. After the six-game series, in which Giannis averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, he was unanimously selected as Finals MVP, becoming the youngest man since Kawhi Leonard in 2014 to take the award.
Giannis has truly blossomed into one of the league’s finest players. An NBA All-Star since 2017 and a two-time NBA MVP in 2019 and 2020, the Bucks have a modern day legend leading them forward. With the Milwaukee franchise currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, fans of the Bucks will be looking towards their Greek god to fire them into the playoffs and, potentially, another championship.
Nikola Jokić, also known as “The Joker”, started out his basketball career in his native Serbia, joining KK Mega Basket in 2012. The majority of his first season was spent with the Serbian outfit’s junior team, only playing five times in the Serbian League, but in the 2013/14 season, Jokić broke through more prominently. The Serb averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 25 Adriatic League games, while also averaging 0.9 points, 6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per Serbian League game.
After being drafted as the 41st overall draft pick in 2014, Jokić spent one more year in Serbia before joining up with the Denver Nuggets in 2015. Jokić arrived in the summer and went on to average 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in the NBA’s Summer League, which gave him a surefire route into the pool of starters. In November of 2015, the 6’11 20 year old lead an incredible individual game against the San Antonio Spurs where he scored 23 points and 12 rebounds in a 109-98 loss. The following year, Jokić started in 55 of his 80 appearances that he made for the Nuggets, averaging 10.0 points, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per game during the season.
Over the years, Jokić built up a great name for himself, dominating the court whenever he can – he plays to win. His style of offensive play as a centre and power forward is unique. Like many other big men on the court, Jokić uses his frame to his advantage and puts the extra strength he has behind his throws. Like Giannis, Jokić is his team’s leading scorer and this is thanks to his incredible skill as a driver. Watching him play is like watching a master artist with a paintbrush – his range of passing is bordering on perfect.
His offensive efficiency and in-game IQ is what has led him to winning NBA MVP in 2021 and appearing in the NBA All-Star Game in four separate occasions. Fans can be sure to see Jokić develop more as a player and to keep bringing art to his game. As he increases his skill in the game, he brings up his average points in each season – he’s already improved massively, going from 10.0 points per game (2015-2016) to an incredible 26.4 points per game (2020-2021). I, like many other basketball fans around the globe, am eager to see what Jokić will bring to the table in the upcoming All-Star Game, and in the rest of his sure-to-be successful career.