Giannis Is Playing Like An MVP Against MVP Contenders So Far This Year (Anthony Davis Visits Milwaukee This Week)
In his first possession playing in Cleveland since LeBron went West, Giannis had the look of someone who would get to the line 21 times when he was not dunking it eight times, because the defense had a Cedi Osman instead of an answer. He looked like someone who was about to put up, oh, say, 44/14/8, giving Cavaliers fans the closest approximation to what they once had.
(Technically, Matthew Dellavedova was the closest approximation to what the Cavaliers once had, and they did have him, but he was Matthew Dellavedova.)
By the start of the fourth quarter, Giannis appeared to be playing against much younger brothers (nephews?). This was one of the rare times he missed a shot (he was 14–19 from the field).
The Bucks have only lost a few games so far this season against teams with losing records (Clippers, Suns, Knicks, Hornets), but they were all winnable, one-possession games. They will need to clean up against weaker competition in order to maintain a top-four (three? two? one?) finish in the East. Despite an excellent start to the season, they are only 1.5 games ahead of the Celtics for fifth, which means they are perilously close to not even having home-court in the first round.
So the win in Cleveland does matter, and Giannis had the stuff of an MVP there. Last year, Harden and the Rockets feasted on teams they should beat, which turned into home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and an MVP for Harden (as far as teams they should beat, that turned out to be every team except the Warriors).
In early head-to-head games against MVP contender types on real contenders, Giannis has outplayed Embiid in a win over the Sixers, outplayed Durant and Curry in a win in Golden State (and outplayed them again in their home loss), outplayed Jokic in a win in Denver (and then again in a win in Milwaukee), and outplayed Kawhi in a win in Toronto.
If you want to throw the Blazers in there, the Bucks split their two games against them, with Giannis outplaying Lillard in each.
(To find an MVP contender who has outplayed Giannis in a game this season, you would have to go all the way down to Oladipo getting the better of him in Indianapolis. That would be a stretch.)
The thing about Giannis is that so much of the value that he provides shows up not in individual stats, but instead in team stats, such as the Bucks leading the NBA in threes made due in part to how absurdly he opens up the perimeter for teammates. But the other thing about Giannis is, a lot of his value does show up in individual stats, too.
The same goes for Anthony Davis, who visits Milwaukee this week for the only time this season, and who, with a few more wins, may be the top threat (along with the aforementioned Kawhi and LeBron) to Giannis winning an MVP this season. Both rank in the top five in the league in just about every all-encompassing stat, from PER to Box/Score Plus-Minus to Win Shares to VORP.
In 10 career games against Davis, Giannis is 2–8, and the counting stats go against him for the most part. Three-and-a-half years ago, Davis came to Milwaukee and dropped 43/10/6 in a win. Giannis had 29/5/4/3/3, and it looked an awful lot like they were about going to take over the league one day. That day is more or less today.