Oh what a difference a championship makes! In one amazing finals run (35/ 13/ 5), Giannis Antetokounmpo went from being part of the exclusive, but not entirely flattering, MMNC Club (“Multiple MVPS, No Championships”; Steve Nash and Karl Malone are the others) to an all-timer.
This ascension now begs the obvious questions: where does Giannis stack up among the greatest who ever played the game, and how much might his stock rise given that he’s still only twenty-six years old?
There’s obviously no objective answer to this question and the debate can go on endlessly around how to order the greatest players in NBA history. However, I’ve come up with a simple metric that does a pretty good job of ranking the greatest players in history. Using this metric as a guide – Giannis would now be among the best to ever play.
The metric is simply this:
Regular Season MVPs + Final MVPs = Total MVPs
Using this metric, and making some assumptions on Finals MVPs since the award only started in 1969, yields this list:
Basketball Mt. Rushmore (The Top 4)
Michael Jordan: 11 (5 Regular Season, 6 Finals)
Bill Russell: 10-12 (5 Regular Season, 5-7 Finals*)
LeBron James: 8 (4 Regular Season, 4 Finals)
Kareem Abdul Jabbar: 8 (6 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
The Rest of the Top 10
Magic Johnson: 6 (3 Regular Season, 3 Finals)
Wilt Chamberlain: 6 (4 Regular Season, 2 Finals*)
Tim Duncan: 5 (2 Regular Season, 3 Finals)
Larry Bird: 5 (3 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
Shaquille O’Neal: 4 (1 Regular Season, 3 Finals)
Moses Malone: 4 (3 Regular Season, 1 Finals)
Hakeem Olajuwon: 3 (1 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
Kobe Bryant: 3 (1 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
Kevin Durant: 3 (1 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
Willis Reed: 3 (1 Regular Season, 2 Finals)
Bob Pettit: 3 (2 Regular Season, 1 Finals)
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 3 (2 Regular Season, 1 Finals)
* Projected Finals MVPs due to award starting in 1969
One can argue a little with the ordering, but this feels surprisingly accurate for such a simple metric. Michael Jordan is at the top. Russell, Kareem, and LeBron join him on basketball Mt. Rushmore. Next come Magic, Wilt, Duncan and Bird – and Giannis is tied with Kobe, Durant, and Hakeem as somewhere between the 11th and 16th greatest players of all time.
That feels… about right.
That said, Giannis is still in his mid twenties and has a lot of basketball left in him. So how high up the list might he climb? It’s certainly possible that this is the beginning of Giannis’s reign and he rips off six or eight more MVPs before his career is done. However, given the talent in the league, such a run feels unlikely. In my mind, I’d put the over/ under on total incremental MVPs for Giannis at two. If such were to come to pass, Giannis would have cemented himself as a top-10 all-time player (tied with Duncan and Bird), though not quite at the level of MJ or LeBron.
Of course, all this is total speculation and the reason we watch the games is that anything can happen.