Tiki and Tierney: What the absence of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley means for the Lakers
The race for 2019-20 NBA postseason awards like MVP, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year is already over. Voters have been instructed not consider the eight remaining Disney seeding games when filling out their ballots, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, and will instead base their selections only on games played before the March 11 hiatus due to COVID-19.
At that time, an interesting debate was emerging around MVP. Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was the presumptive favorite to win his second straight MVP for most of the season while leading his team to historic levels, but Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James was in the process of building his own narrative. With James appearing to take his game to another level as the playoffs approached and Antetokounmpo nursing a knee injury, it was conceivable that James could have done enough in the final month of the season to wrestle the award from the Greek Freak’s clutches.
It’s now unlikely that James will be able to catch Antetokounmpo, but Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on Saturday that his superstar “absolutely” deserves to win the MVP because “nobody impacts winning more than LeBron James.” Vogel also explained how two games — a 113-103 win over the Bucks on March 6 and a 112-103 win over the Clippers on March 8 — showed why LeBron should be the MVP.
“In that weekend, LeBron took the toughest assignment in both games,” Vogel said, via Sports Illustrated. “He guarded Kawhi [Leonard] in the Clippers game and did a great job with him there. And then he guarded Giannis [Antetokounmpo] in the Bucks game when [Anthony Davis] was in foul trouble and did a great job in those two situations. I feel like after what he’s able to do on the defensive end, combined with the dominance that he exhibits with not just scoring the ball, assisting the ball, but orchestrating our offense, leading us on the break, I think that weekend was probably a great indicator or a great measuring stick.”
In his 17th season, James leads the league with a career-high 10.6 assists per game, to go along with 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range on a career-high 6.4 attempts per game. If James is able to win his fifth MVP award this season, it would tie him with Michael Jordan and Bill Russell for the second-most all-time, just behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of six.
Vogel wasn’t done advocating for his players to win postseason awards, adding that big man Anthony Davis should win Defensive Player of the Year. One of the most versatile defenders in the league, Davis is fourth in the NBA in overall defensive efficiency for players with at least 500 possessions, allowing just 0.815 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He’s been essential to the Lakers putting up the third-best defensive rating in the league, allowing 105.5 points per 100 possessions.
“Anthony dominates in his own matchup in most cases, but also has the ability to switch out and guard anyone on the floor at any size and be one of the best rim protectors in the game,” Vogel said. “So that versatility and dominance makes him the front-runner in my book.”
Interestingly enough, Antetokounmpo is likely also Davis’ chief competition for DPOY. The Bucks are dominating the NBA with a 101.6 defensive rating, while the Greek Freak leads the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 0.782 points per possession according to Synergy Sports Technology. Michael Jordan (1987-88) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) are the only NBA players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.