Four years ago on an early-February night in Milwaukee, the Bucks had lost 15 of 16 games and were about to tip off against the Knicks in front of a crowd of 11,147. As the story goes, among those in the stands, watching their first NBA game together in person, was the family of Giannis.Modest box score numbers (15 points and seven rebounds) belie the blue-fire glow of Giannis that night. This was his original you-had-to-be-there game. His family was.Giannis did not hit the game-winner (Brandon Knight did), but he was unequivocally the story. He ended up ranking 13th on the team in scoring that season (just behind Nate Wolters and just ahead of Chris Wright, by the way), and the Bucks went on to lose a franchise-worst 67 games. But from that night on, you also had the hint that Milwaukee was going to be his.Turns out, so is New York City.One day after the four-year anniversary of his rookie-year breakout game against Carmelo and company, Giannis hit his second (annual) game-winner against the Knicks. Last season, of course, he hit the step-back jumper in the Garden.
This time, he did it more in trademark fashion, spinning his way to the basket and flipping in a shot past the league’s leading shot-blocker.
A few games before, he had dropped 41 on the Nets. The game after, he beat Brooklyn for the 10th straight time. (Programming note: Giannis goes back to the Garden on Tuesday.)To take over Milwaukee and conquer Manhattan and Brooklyn is one thing. The latter is a rite of passage for a superstar (see: Jordan and LeBron).Giannis is after a bit more. After finishing tied for seventh in MVP voting last season while winning Most Improved Player, he has improved so dramatically this season that any half-jokes from last year about him winning Most Improved Player again this season are not far off.Fifty or so games in, James Harden is the MVP favorite. In the past week alone, he dropped a 60/10/11 game and then helped destroy the Cavaliers in Cleveland, prompting LeBron (probably his top challenger in the MVP race) to say that the Cavaliers should be taken off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season. Harden making more threes and more free throws than anyone in the league makes him one of the most efficient high-volume scorers (he leads the league in scoring, too) in league history. The Rockets are on pace to win 60 games.This is not the column to dive into all the numbers (stay tuned for that), but after Harden, the top five in some order right now should be LeBron, Giannis, Curry, and Durant. This is his company. This is his company.
After that, you have Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and then maybe Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan to round out the top 10.The Bucks are 1.5 games out of third in the East after Sunday’s win in Brooklyn, but also only half a game ahead of seventh. If they fall to seventh or lower, Giannis is unlikely to improve on that seventh-place MVP finish of last season. If they push past the Cavaliers though, they would do it because of Giannis. And if that happens, he may rightfully bump his way up past LeBron and all the way to two. That would not mean he is better than LeBron; we all watch the playoffs. But it would make for some playoffs to watch.