Giannis vs LeBron: Who Should win the 2020 NBA MVP Award

With the NBA MVP announcement on the horizon, fans around the NBA are wondering who will win. The competition is mainly down to two players, with Giannis Antetokounmpo trying to seize his second consecutive MVP award while LeBron James is driving the western conference one seed Los Angeles Lakers after having a down year in 2019. Each player has a case for the award, but who deserves to win? Which player should the voters pick as the 2020 NBA Most Valuable Player?

Stat Comparison

Per Game Stats

The first comparison I will look at is the most simple one: per game statistics. I chose seven players for these comparisons and the future ones, choosing the players based on who I think are the most likely to get votes. The average statistics give a nice general overview of player performance, but miss key components of a player’s impact, such as how much better they make their team while they are on the court. James Harden leads the scoring category by a large margin, with Antetokounmpo and Lillard following. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s stats are even more impressive due to his 30.9 minutes per game, a small number for a modern day NBA superstar. Meanwhile, the rebounding category is lead by Antetokounmpo and the assist category is lead by LeBron James, the other front runner. Finally, team winning percentage is a crucial part of an MVP’s resume as historically the best players on the best teams win the award. The Bucks and Giannis lead this category, with James, Davis, and the Lakers right behind them. Giannis is the player that stands out most by looking at just per game stats, ranking 1st among the candidates in win percentage and rebounding, while ranking 2nd in points even with under 31 minutes a game.

Advanced Stats

Next, we will look at the advanced stats for each of these seven players. The stats I have chosen are metrics that are supposed to summarize a player’s total impact on a team.

Win Shares and Box Plus Minus (BPM) are the stats featured in this section. Both are split into offensive and defensive categories, with a cumulative stat measuring total combined offensive and defensive impact. Looking at these graphs, Harden and Lillard seem to have a significant advantage offensively while Davis and Giannis have the largest defensive advantages. Meanwhile, Doncic, Leonard, and James seem to have equal effect on both ends of the floor. If you look at the scale for the offensive and defensive win shares and BPM, you can see that defense has a smaller impact overall. Giannis again stands out in these graphics, ranking 1st in BPM and 2nd in win shares. Meanwhile, James ranks 4th in BPM and 5th in win shares, showing that the advanced stats favor Giannis over LeBron.

MVP Win Probability

The next step is to put a specific number on how likely it is that each player wins the NBA MVP award based on their statistics. While this method effectively captures each player’s impact on their team, it does not account for non numerical factors in MVP voting such as narrative (like LeBron James coming off a bad season).

In order to produce these results, I ran a simple logistic regression with just 4 inputs: usage percentage, win shares, BPM, and team winning percentage. Each of these inputs has a logical reason for being included, with usage percentage showing how much a team relies on a player, win shares and BPM capturing overall impact, and team winning percentage showing how a player’s stats has translated into team success. Here are the results.

Of the seven front runners, it seems that only 5 have an actual shot at winning (meaning over 5%). Doncic and Lillard were heavily hampered by their team records, with the Trail Blazers ranking around 10th in the West and the Mavericks ranking around 7th. Meanwhile, the three players with the best shots of winning are Giannis, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis. As you can see, Giannis has about 40% while James and Davis each have about 23%. Giannis’s high numbers in both win shares and BPM, combined with his high usage and being on the team with the best record in the NBA, gave him a significantly higher chance than all of the other players. One surprising result was Anthony Davis, who actually ranked above James in the probabilities (by under a one hundredth of a percent). Davis and James had similar numbers for BPM and usage rate, but Davis’s significant advantage in win shares is likely what put him in second place.

CONCLUSION: Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves to win the 2020 NBA MVP Award

BONUS: All NBA Teams

In addition to finding who has the highest chance of winning MVP, I also found the players with the best chances of making the All NBA team. With these probabilities, I can give what the predicted All NBA 1st, 2nd, and 3rd teams are. For these probabilistic models, I used similar inputs as the MVP logistic regression, although not all the variables were the same. The results are shown below.

Using the players with the greatest chances of making an All NBA team, we can find the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd team this year using purely statistics.

Note: Value in parenthesis is the chance that a player makes any one of the three All NBA teams

All NBA First Team

G James Harden, Houston Rockets (99.9%)

G LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (99.3%)

F Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (99.9%)

F Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (97.1%)

C Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (99.6%)

All NBA Second Team

G Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (95.9%)

G Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (91.3%)

F Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (82.2%)

F Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (62.3%)

C Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (85.6%)

All NBA Third Team

G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors (44.9%)

G Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics (37.3%)

F Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (58.2%)

F Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (43.6%)

C Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (42.3%)

Honorable Mentions: Rudy Gobert (39.5%), Russell Westbrook (37.1%), Chris Paul (34.8%), Donovan Mitchell (30.3%)

Using ESPN’s Zach Lowe’s All NBA team predictions, we can find some players that the stats like more than normal. The first thing that stands out when looking at the statistical All NBA teams compared with Zach Lowe’s is that the first team is exactly the same, meaning that the stats and Lowe agree with the very best players. However, the second team has some differences, with Luka Doncic at the forward position (he is eligible for both the forward and guard position), replacing Khris Middleton while Chris Paul takes his spot. Meanwhile, the third team has more differences, with Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, and Rudy Gobert replacing Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, and Joel Embiid. While the model thought the Gobert was neck and neck with Embiid for the third center spot, it did not think Simmons had a case for All NBA at all, giving him just a 13.7% chance to make one of the three teams.

Every single player that was predicted to make one of the three All NBA teams will be playing in the NBA Bubble at Orlando starting tonight. The first game will feature Mitchell and Gobert, two of the honorable mentions, faving off against rookie phenom Zion Williamson. The late game will be a must watch as LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both who are projected to make the All NBA First Team, face off against Kawhi Leonard and the deep Clippers. Both games should be entertaining and a great way to restart basketball again.

As for the MVP race, which is scheduled to be announced sometime soon, the winner seems clear. Although this year’s race seems closer than it has been in recent years, the stats heavily favor Giannis over LeBron as the front runner. Additionally, this study helped to find that Anthony Davis seems to be underrated by most NBA followers, likely due to him being the second option in Los Angeles behind LeBron James. Lastly, by looking at the projected All NBA teams, we got a better sense of who is favored by the stats, although there were many similarities. But for one things, the MVP race seems settled. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the deserving winner of the 2020 NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

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