Let me start this off by saying that the 2021 NBA Finals is far from over. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the Milwaukee Bucks have stormed back to take a commanding 3-2 series lead, but they’d be the first to tell you there’s still plenty of basketball left to be played.
But assuming the Bucks do win, there’s been some chatter about Khris Middleton potentially winning the Finals MVP award. Some NBA players have at the very least thrown out the idea, while a ton of fans on #NBATwitter are firmly in the Khris Middleton for Finals MVP camp.
But after five grueling games of NBA Finals action, there is no true argument for Khris Middleton over Giannis Antetokounmpo as the most valuable player of the series. If there’s a ton of debate about Andre Iguodala’s Finals MVP win over a struggling Stephen Curry in 2015 even now, then a supernova Giannis Antetokounmpo being robbed of the award would be an even more egregious mistake.
Let’s look at the numbers, shall we? Although raw production doesn’t always tell the whole story, it sure does tell a huge part of it. There’s no denying that Khris Middleton has stepped up his scoring in these NBA Finals. He’s putting up 25.4 points per game, after never once averaging 21 points in the regular season. Middleton’s 6.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists per contest are in the same range for what he averaged this year, however he’s playing nearly 10 additional minutes in the Finals to do it.
One eye-catching number in the debate for Finals MVP is his plus/minus. While five games isn’t the greatest sample size, it’s interesting to note that Khris Middleton has a negative figure at -0.8 for the series. His superstar teammate, on the other hand, is posting a positive +4.0.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has simply been downright superhuman for the Bucks in the NBA Finals. He’s posting 32.2 points per game on 61.2% shooting with 13.0 rebounds, all figures well above his season averages. The fact that his field goal shooting has breached 60% despite shooting miserably from the three-point line this series is a testament to how dominant he’s been from inside the arc. He’s doing all this all while being the best defender on the floor at all times.
The only real argument to be made is that Khris Middleton is the true closer of the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s Middleton, not Giannis, handling half court offensive possessions when the team needs it most, and he’s delivered for the most part. But that’s the entire reason the Giannis Antetokounmpo-Khris Middleton tandem works so well. The Greek Freak can handle literally every other aspect of the game except for conjuring up his own perimeter shot. Are we really going to fault Giannis for his solitary flaw when he’s been the best player in virtually every other area of the game?
What Giannis Antetokounmpo lacks in clutch shotmaking, he makes up for in clutch everything else. His block against Deandre Ayton in Game 4 will be immortalized in NBA history if the Bucks win the title. His mind-blowing alley-oop over Chris Paul to seal Game 5, then the ensuing back tap after his missed free throw could potentially win them this series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been clutch in the most unorthodox of ways and that’s exactly why they call him a Freak. His late-game impact isn’t felt in the conventional sense, like a midrange isolation move or step-back jumper from Khris Middleton looks. That’s why we might not be giving enough credit to what we’ve been seeing, just because we can’t quantify it as easily. Giannis might be the only guy in the NBA with the speed, strength, and defensive awareness who could have blocked Ayton in that moment. A lesser athlete who isn’t a 7-footer doesn’t catch the lob from Jrue Holiday to win Game 5.
With all due respect to Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up the biggest numbers in the entire series by a mile while also having a handful of signature moments that will stand the test of time. Should the Milwaukee Bucks make history and win the whole damn thing, there’s nobody else that deserves the Finals MVP award than him. But of course, they have to finish the job first.