Giannis Might Be The MVP And He Might Be The Defensive Player Of The Year Too

It did not go down as a missed shot for Kemba Walker and it did not go down as a block for Giannis or Brook Lopez.

It was just another stop for the team that (yes, still, despite some recent dips) has the top defense in the league this season.

Defensive Efficiency — 2018/19
1. Bucks: 104.7
2. Pacers: 105.2
3. Celtics: 105.7
4. Jazz: 105.8
5. Thunder: 105.9

Figuring out who gets credit for that stop on Kemba and who gets credit for the overall success of the team defense is a luxurious problem to have, one fitting for a 50–17 team.

Personnel is similar to last year, to the team that finished with a below-average defense, and Mike Budenholzer’s coherent (and empowering) scheme deserves high praise. Brook Lopez blocked like five shots in the first six minutes of the game in Utah the other night, and he is doing far more than blocking shots. Eric Bledsoe is back to being one of the best on-ball defenders in the league at the point of attack. From top to bottom, from Tony Snell to D.J. Wilson, the Bucks have plus defenders at every position.

Giannis is far from alone out there. In fact, he is often left to freelance a bit, knowing his teammates have their assignments covered and then some. That allows Giannis to prowl, not only to create turnovers through blocks (still in the top 15) and steals (top 25), but also to dissuade opponents from even attacking the rim, and thus from attempting the highest-percentage shots.

The ironic thing about leading the story with that shot clock violation is that the Bucks rank dead last in forcing 24-second violations. They tempt opponents into shots, sure, they just happen to not give them good shots.

Fewest Shots Allowed Per Game Within 5 Feet— 2018/19
1. Bucks: 27.5
2. Grizzlies: 28.5
3. Spurs: 28.6
4. Heat: 28.8
5. Warriors: 29.0

The lurking presence of Giannis steers traffic away, one reason why it may sometimes look like he is not in the middle of the action on defense. But he is not standing around out there (he ranks in the top ten in the league in loose balls recovered).

When an opponent does challenge Giannis one-on-one, it does not tend to go well. Among players facing a high volume of shots, he has one of the best defensive field goal percentages in the league.

Defensive Field Goal Percentage — 2018/19
1. Jayson Tatum: 39.9
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 40.1
3. Pascal Siakam: 40.2
4. Derrick Favors: 40.4
5. Torrey Craig: 40.8

Just as his MVP case goes far beyond best player on the best team, his Defensive Player of the Year case goes far beyond best defender on the best defense,though it is a good start.

Giannis ranks 18th in the league in Defensive Real Plus/Minus (including behind 10 centers on a list that inherently favors centers), and that is about as low as you will find him on individual defensive advanced stat leaderboards. Among regular starters, he has the third-best defensive rating in the NBA, per stats.nba.com.

Defensive Rating (stats.nba.com)— 2018/19
1. Joe Ingles: 100.7
2. Derrick Favors: 100.7
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 100.8
4. Corey Joseph 101.1
5. Malcolm Brogdon 101.2

Slice it basketball-reference.com style, which layers in more data than strictly team points allowed per possession, and worry not because he is on top.

Defensive Rating (basketball-reference.com) — 2018/19
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 99.2
2. Hassan Whiteside: 99.9
3. Andre Drummond: 100.1
4. Myles Turner: 100.3
5. Rudy Gobert 100.9

You will see a theme emerging here.

Defensive Win Shares — 2018/19
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 4.8
2. Andre Drummond: 4.6
3. Rudy Gobert: 4.4
4. Russell Westbrook: 4.0
5. Paul George: 3.9


Defensive Box Plus/Minus — 2018/19
1. Rudy Gobert: 5.1
2. Myles Turner: 5.1
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 5.0
4. Russell Westbrook: 3.9
5. Anthony Davis: 3.9

All-encompassing individual defense metrics paint an incomplete, limited picture. But when one guy consistently rises to the top, and that guy is the dominant force on the best team and best defense in basketball, and when the eye test backs it up, you have something.

There is some debate about whether defensive rebounding should be considered part of defense (or separately, as just rebounding). All I know is:

  1. Being the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA sure does help limit the number of points that the Bucks allow.
  2. Giannis is the top defensive rebounder on the team. (And I get the case for Lopez.)
  3. Giannis has the best defensive rebound percentage in the NBA among non-centers, and is seventh-best overall, just ahead of Gobert.

He might be a little busy being the MVP and leading the Bucks to the best record in the league to gain traction in the Defensive Player of the Year narrative, as voters historically prefer to reward different players come award season. You can’t have it all.

But sometimes the answer is sitting right in front of you. Sometimes the problem is running toward you from behind.