Giannis NBA’s Most Improved Player

With back-and-forth debates of who will win MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo may have already closed the case for the league’s MIP.

The NBA’s Most Improved Player award (or MIP) is awarded to the player who showed the most progress from one season to the next and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks may have already ended the debate for this season.

Plenty of All-Stars have won this award and in some instances, it has been their coming-out party in terms of propelling themselves into national prominence.

This year’s winner will be the 32nd overall, joining a list that includes Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Tracy McGrady, and Gilbert Arenas.

Hoping to join that list is the Milwaukee Bucks’ 22-year old forward point guard superstar from Greece, Antetokounmpo.

There are plenty of other options for this year’s award; from Otto Porter Jr. to Harrison Barnes to any of the Minnesota Timberwolves, there is some serious talent chasing the award, but no one deserves it more than Giannis.

Giannis is currently averaging 23.4 points per game (up 6.5 points per game from last season), 8.7 rebounds per game (+1.0), 5.5 assists per game (+1.2), 1.8 steals per game (+0.6), and 2.0 blocks per game (+0.6) while shooting 52.7 percent from the field (+2.1) and 29.1 percent from 3 (+3.4).

He isn’t exactly quite averaging the triple-double that I very  boldly stated at the beginning of the season, but his play this year goes beyond being the NBA’s Most Improved Player. There should be some definite conversations about Giannis’ MVP status, but that’s for another article.

Of the past six winners of the MIP award, the minutes played per game tends to trend upward in a big way. Besides Jimmy Butler (who’s minutes stayed the exact same at 38.7 per game), every winner since Hedo Turkoglu in the 2007-08 season has seen an increase in minutes.

Giannis is averaging fewer minutes than last season (albeit, by only 0.1 per game) but his production has consistently increased throughout the season.

Giannis has been improving his offensive game all season and the stats are beginning to back that up. His offensive rating is up from 109 last season to 117 this season and his true shooting percentage has gone up from 56.6 percent to 60.5 percent.

Giannis has one of the deadliest Eurosteps that the NBA has ever seen and it’s due to his innate ability to cover half the court with only three strides.

I mean, my God, have you ever seen anyone play basketball on stilts? That’s essentially what Giannis does, he just knows how to keep himself from timbering over.

Giannis is averaging 10.1 free throw attempts per game, or 2.7 more free throw attempts than last season, while also making 78.5 percent of them, compared to 72.4 percent from last season.

Giannis has struggled with his jump shot since he first came into the league, but he is finally starting to overcome the one glaring weakness in his game.

The Greek Freak is shooting 37.7 percent on attempts within 10-16 feet from the basket, up 8.9 percent from last season. He’s taking the midrange jumper at about the same rate as last season. The big difference is he’s connecting and, more importantly, keeping the defense honest.

Giannis’ ability to shoot a consistent rate from anywhere 10 feet and on gives him the same offensive opportunities that Kevin Durant does.

Obviously he isn’t the shooter that KD is and he probably never will be, but his superhuman length and quickness allows him to blow past defenders who have no choice but to face up and respect his jump shot.

Giannis has become a wizard with the spin move. His timing is always impeccable and his 7’3″ wingspan allows him to extend his Go-Go Gadget arms and slam it down when you thought it would be impossible for anyone to chuck up anything more than a layup.

The second video is simply amazing to watch.

There are maybe two or three players that can match up with the size and length of Giannis and one of them is Kevin Durant, a well above-average on-ball defender, yet Giannis somehow manages to spin around KD’s 7’4″ wingspan AND whip a pass across his own body through the outstretched arms of KD right to Miles Plumlee for the dunk.

A year ago, there’s a great chance Giannis throws that ball away. According to Basketball-Reference, last season Giannis turned the ball over a total of 66 times due to a bad or errant pass.

This season, through 48 games, Giannis has only done so 11 times, which is on pace for a third of last season’s total.

Giannis is becoming a smarter player and doing so with a higher usage percentage, up to 28.5 percent compared to 22.3 percent last season.

It’s common that a player with an increased usage percentage such as Giannis’ would tend to lose some of their efficiency, as they are being used more and more in the offense and during set plays, but that isn’t true with Giannis.

He has seen increases in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage, all while taking 3.5 more shot attempts and 0.9 more 3-point attempts per game.

Something to keep in mind, the Bucks have been missing their best shooter, Khris Middleton, all season to due a hamstring injury.

A majority of the credit for the Bucks’ 21-26 record is owed to Giannis, who is doing everything he possibly can on a roster that will continue to be without their sharpshooter until the middle of February at the earliest.

The Bucks were an easy pick to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season, but much like his team, Giannis Antetokounmpo has raised the bar, putting some excitement into the future of Milwaukee basketball. Much like he did with this game winner.

That step back …