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Diving Deeper Into Giannis’ Historic Season

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Monday night against the Utah Jazz, Bucks fans saw a historic performance from reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Let’s take a quick peek at his stat line, in case you missed it: 50 PTS, 14 REB, 6 AST, 55% from the field, 3-8 from behind the arc, 2 steals, 0 turnovers, and a plus-minus of +14. Simply put, wow.

 

According to CBS Sports, “he became the first player since Michael Jordan in 1989 to put up at least 50 points, 10 rebounds and five assists with no turnovers.”

We urge all of you to avoid getting carried away about Giannis vs. Michael Jordan comparisons based on one game. We know Giannis and the Bucks are on an absolute tear right now, as they’ve ripped off 8 wins in a row and sit alone atop the Eastern Conference standings. Obviously, Giannis, like Jordan with the Bulls, is the most impactful player on his team’s roster, and probably in the entire NBA so far this year. Not only has Giannis added to his game since winning MVP, but he’s also dominating in an incredibly efficient fashion. As of November 26, Giannis leads the NBA with a Player Efficiency Rating or PER (we explain player efficiency rating and other advanced stats here) of 33.3.

You might be thinking, “It feels like Giannis leads the NBA in everything, so what’s so special about his league-leading player efficiency rating?” Well, PER matters, as we explain below, and NBA experts are going nuts over the dominance so far this season.

*Tweeted before tip-off of the 50-point game by Giannis, which moved him to #1.

If you’re curious, keep reading for some amazing historical context in relation to Antetokounmpo’s hot start.

THE ALL-TIME GREAT PLAYER EFFICIENCY RATING SEASONS

Here’s the top-25 (* means Hall of Famer):

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo 33.34 2019-20
  2. Luka Dončić 33.26 2019-20
  3. Wilt Chamberlain* 31.82 1962-63
  4. Wilt Chamberlain* 31.74 1961-62
  5. Michael Jordan* 31.71 1987-88
  6. LeBron James 31.67 2008-09
  7. Michael Jordan* 31.63 1990-91
  8. Wilt Chamberlain* 31.63 1963-64
  9. LeBron James 31.59 2012-13
  10. Stephen Curry 31.46 2015-16
  11. Michael Jordan* 31.18 1989-90
  12. Michael Jordan* 31.14 1988-89
  13. LeBron James 31.11 2009-10
  14. Giannis Antetokounmpo 30.89 2018-19
  15. Anthony Davis 30.81 2014-15
  16. LeBron James 30.74 2011-12
  17. David Robinson* 30.66 1993-94
  18. Shaquille O’Neal* 30.65 1999-00
  19. Russell Westbrook 30.63 2016-17
  20. James Harden 30.57 2018-19
  21. Shaquille O’Neal* 30.55 1998-99
  22. Dwyane Wade 30.36 2008-09
  23. Tracy McGrady* 30.27 2002-03
  24. Anthony Davis 30.26 2018-19
  25. Shaquille O’Neal* 30.23 2000-01

Any human, basketball fan or not, can take one glance at this list and realize how special it is to be at the top. MJ, LeBron, Wilt, Shaq, Steph, Harden and many more current and future Hall of Famers. But no one has done it better than Giannis has through 17 games in 2019-20.

WHAT ABOUT THIS YEAR IN PLAYER EFFICIENCY RATING?

Take a look at the list below of the highest player efficiency ratings this year. Without knowing what PER means, most NBA fans will recognize that this list, at least most of it, looks like a rundown of MVP candidates and the NBA’s most impactful players. Again, Giannis tops the rankings.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo 33.3
  2. Luka Dončić 33.3
  3. James Harden 30.1
  4. Karl-Anthony Towns 29.0
  5. LeBron James 27.5
  6. Anthony Davis 27.4
  7. Kyrie Irving 26.2
  8. Damian Lillard 25.2
  9. Ivica Zubac 25.0
  10. Montrezl Harrell 24.5
  11. Kawhi Leonard 24.5
  12. Jimmy Butler 24.4
  13. Brandon Ingram 23.4
  14. Joel Embiid 23.4
  15. Hassan Whiteside 23.4
  16. Brandon Clarke 22.9
  17. Trae Young 22.8
  18. Bradley Beal  22.7
  19. Aron Baynes  22.4
  20. Nikola Vučević  22.4

WHY IS PER SO IMPORTANT?

According to the creator of PER, John Hollinger:

“The formula for PER is quite complex, and includes everything from field goals made and missed to steals and turnovers. The eventual output is a per-minute measure and is pace-adjusted – meaning guys who play for teams that slog it up won’t be penalized for having fewer possessions with which to put up numbers. Perhaps the part of PER that made it so immediately popular and widely used was the fact that it has a league-average figure that remains the same every year: a 15.0 PER is the mean, the baseline against which all other players stack up. A guy below 10 is, therefore, a significantly sub-par player by this metric, while anyone over 20 is doing very well and approaching star status in short order.”

Along with Hollinger’s explanation, most will say that PER is a great way to measure overall efficiency, specifically on the offensive end. The outputs tend to conform well with what we believe to be efficient basketball. According to Basketball Insiders, “when LeBron James was dominating the league both in his first Cleveland Cavaliers stint and then with the Miami Heat, where he topped 55 percent shooting with insane box score stats on a couple of occasions, his PER was among the highest in league history — his 27.66 career mark was, at this time, second in NBA history, behind only Michael Jordan.”

If you summarize that last quote one more time — LeBron’s PER was among the highest in league history, at that point, behind only Michael Jordan — it really hits home when you look at the MVP’s numbers.

Do we need any more historical context than that?

Giannis is having an all-time great season — some would say better than we’ve ever seen.

So, let’s not take for granted what we get to see every night when #34 takes the floor in a Milwaukee Bucks jersey, because we’re truly fortunate to witness history.

*Note: All stats current through tip-off on Tuesday night.

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