On Friday, Giannis Antetokounmpo was named NBA MVP for the second consecutive season. While Antetokounmpo was statistically the best player in the league this year, I'm firm in my belief that LeBron James was the most valuable player in the NBA during the 2019-20 season. He deserved the award.
Antetokounmpo finished the season averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting 55.3 percent from the field in 30.4 minutes per game. He finished fifth in scoring, second in rebounding and was first in PER (31.94). He won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in basketball at 56-17. It was a brilliant season. But given what James accomplished, I'm not sure you can actually say Giannis was more valuable.
James finished the season averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a league-leading 10.2 assists in 34.6 minutes per game. He led the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference and finished with a PER of 25.55, good enough for seventh in the NBA while essentially playing point guard. Under Frank Vogel, James led the charge as the Lakers boasted one of the best defenses in the league. James also deserves some extra points, given that he led the Lakers through the gauntlet that was the Western Conference this year.
Both Antetokounmpo and James led their teams from the front and both had incredible seasons. The "most valuable" debate is certainly a tricky one. James had Anthony Davis helping him navigate the season, while Antetokounmpo had a bit more help with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez. While Davis is a first-team All-NBA pick, the Bucks certainly had more depth to their attack.
What separates James for me is what he led the Lakers -- and the league -- through this season. He's the undisputed face of the NBA, and helped us all get through the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. He was the face of the league's restart in the Orlando bubble and has been outspoken on issues surrounding social and racial justice and reform. Those things all matter when you're talking about the value a player brings to the league and a franchise.
This year the MVP award didn't cover games in the bubble. If it had, I think the result would be different. James has been brilliant in Orlando through the first two rounds of the playoffs. He has proven himself to be as valuable as ever, as he's been the key capable of unlocking the potential of the NBA's best team.
Over the last few years the player who has the best season statistically has typically won the MVP award. If that's the way things are trending, maybe the league should add a new category for the player who has the best season. Or maybe add an Offensive Player of the Year award to the DPOY, like the NFL does. The MVP should, as the name says, go to the most valuable player in the league.
Antetokounmpo had the best statistical season of anyone in the NBA, there's no doubting that. But I stand firm in saying James was the league's most valuable player.