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The Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP Campaign Has Begun

After just one night, the Bucks point forward drew plaudits from Brad Stevens, played like an upgraded Karl Malone, and put himself in the conversation for the league’s most prestigious individual award

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At 22 years old and with a December birthday on the way (a Sagittarius ... interesting), Giannis Antetokounmpo will never get to be the youngest MVP in NBA history. That honor will still belong to Derrick Rose, who was exactly 22 years and 5 months old when he won the award in 2011. With that caveat out of the way, it’s still incredibly rare to see someone this young be in the conversation for basketball’s most prestigious individual award. Thirty-seven minutes into his fifth season, that’s exactly where Giannis is.

On Wednesday night, Milwaukee beat the Celtics by eight points. It was a good win for the Bucks, though it’s worth noting this was a Boston squad playing the second game of a back-to-back, and that had just lost Gordon Hayward to a tragic, likely season-ending injury. The real talking point after the game wasn’t the final score, it was point forward Giannis’s stat line: 37 points, shooting 59.1 percent, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals, going 11-for-13 at the line.

He coaxed his way through double-teams after pushing the ball in transition, and he roasted defenders with a handle that I’m still not quite used to.

Giannis and the Bucks are a must-watch this season and his presence makes them a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference. He can go into Boston, in Kyrie Irving’s first regular-season home game for his new team, and make himself the center of attention. After the loss, Brad Stevens said, “When you watched Giannis tonight, you thought, that's an MVP candidate right there."

One of the joys of following the Greek Freak is that he’s been better each year, both in terms of intangible importance to the squad and statistically. (Three-pointers excluded.) In a very LeBron-esque way, Giannis has added something to his game each season, like an app upgrade without the glitches. Now he’s bulked up, and his fight in the paint against Aron Baynes on Wednesday showed how strength, not just finesse, will work in his favor underneath the basket.

Last season, he averaged 22.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.9 blocks; after the season opener, those numbers look like his basement, not his ceiling.

If that is the case, with his amped-up stat line pumping a middling Milwaukee team up to an ultra-competitive one in the East, he deserves to be in MVP chatter—an Oklahoma City point guard can vouch for that.