While LeBron James went into the 2018-19 season widely considered the best player in the NBA, a groin injury and stretches of inconsistent play and intensity have cracked the door open for some debate. Most consider Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant as the next heir apparent.
It can be argued the majority of that crowd has bypassed Durant as who’s taken the torch from James, as Antetokounmpo has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the NBA and established himself as an MVP candidate.
Antetokounmpo’s continued progression drew praise from Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, who of course was ultimately fined for his remarks.
The league doesn’t police compliments lobbed from one player to another, which allowed for James to similarly speak highly of Antetokounmpo. “You just look at every single year, how he’s been able to evolve as a player. Obviously, his physique has evolved, his mental approach has evolved, and the franchise has evolved from his first year,” James said.
“I think it’s all going in the right direction. It’s greatly appreciated to see someone that gives their all to the game. I think when you do that, the game automatically gives back to you. That’s the result of what Giannis has been doing these last few years.
“I can only speak from the outside looking in. That’s what my observation is. Just watching his approach to the game, it’s great to watch.”
Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.0 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game in what’s his sixth NBA season. For comparison, James averaged 28.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists in his sixth season.
He too had begun to enter the conversation for best player in the NBA as a 24 year old, though James noted there still was a difference at that point in his career with respect to Antetokounmpo.
“I mean, I went to the Finals at 22. I was thinking about being the best ever. I was thinking about how can I elevate this franchise to take them places they haven’t seen before,” he said. “So at 23, the previous year we went to the Finals; something that the franchise hadn’t seen before.
“But I wanted to continue to elevate that franchise every single day, with not only my play on the floor but also my leadership off the court. At 23, you’re still trying to figure out who you are. I knew one thing about me, I knew I was always going to be pure and true to the game, work my tail off and just try to lead a franchise at that age and be the best I could.”
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