Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo became the second European player to be selected the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, winning the honour on Monday night at the league’s awards show in Santa Monica, Calif.
Luka Doncic, the No. 3 overall selection who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on draft day in 2018, won the Rookie of the Year Award.
Antetokounmpo, a 24-year-old from Greece, joins Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07 Dallas Mavericks) as European NBA MVPs.
The only other non-United States players to capture the honour were Nigeria’s Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94 Houston Rockets) and Canada’s Steve Nash (2004-05 and 2005-06 Phoenix Suns). In addition, two-time MVP Tim Duncan (2001-02 and 2002-03 San Antonio Spurs) was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Antetokounmpo received 78 first-place votes, well ahead of the 23 for fellow MVP finalist James Harden of the Rockets, last season’s winner. The third finalist, Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder, received no first-place votes.
“Two, three years ago, I had the goal in my head, that goal to be the best player in the league,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m gonna do whatever it takes to win, and I’m going to win MVP. And every time I step on the floor, I think of my dad, and that motivates me to play harder and move forward even when my body is sore, I don’t feel like playing, I’m always going to show up and I’m going to do the right thing.”
“The Greek Freak” averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals in 72 games.
Bucks general manager Jon Horst, who was selected the Executive of the Year on Monday, said in a statement, “We are beyond proud of Giannis for earning his first MVP award. This well-deserved honor is due to his relentless hard work and dedication in becoming the most impactful player in the NBA. Giannis propelled the Bucks to great heights last season with his leadership, drive and unselfish play. His grace on and off the court has made him one of the most admired players in the world.”
Antetokounmpo also was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, which went to Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert for the second year in a row. George also was a candidate for the defensive honor.
Doncic received 98 of the 100 votes, with Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks getting the other two. The third finalist was the top pick in last season’s draft, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Trae and Deandre for amazing seasons, and not just them, but the whole rookie class. I think it’s amazing, and we can make something big,” Doncic said while accepting the award.
Named Most Improved Player was power forward Pascal Siakam of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who won the award over fellow finalists De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings and D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets. Like Doncic, Siakam ran away with the award, receiving 86 out of 100 votes.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams was chosen the Sixth Man of the Year for the third time, matching Jamal Crawford for the most times winning the award. The only other two-time winners of the Sixth Man award were Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf.
The other finalists for the Sixth Man award were Williams’ teammate Montrezl Harrell and the Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis.
Coach of the Year went to the Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer, who beat out fellow finalists Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets.
Doncic, a 20-year-old guard who averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 32.2 minutes per game, is Dallas’ second Rookie of the Year winner, joining Jason Kidd, a co-winner with Grant Hill in the 1994-95 season. Doncic played in 72 games last season.
Young, a point guard, averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 30.9 minutes per game last season. He played in 81 of the team’s 82 contests. A year ago, Young, the No. 5 overall draft pick in 2018, was dealt from Dallas to Atlanta along with a 2019 first-round pick in exchange for Doncic.
Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 31.9 minutes and played in 80 games. ESPN noted that Siakam, a third-year player whom the Raptors drafted with the 27th overall pick in 2016, increased his point total by 9.6 points per game over the 2017-18 season, the biggest gain by any player to have played in 40 games in the consecutive seasons.
Williams, 32, put up 20 points, 5.4 assists and three rebounds per game in 75 appearances in 2018-19, starting just once.
Budenholzer, 49, led the Bucks to a 60-22 record in his first season in Milwaukee, their best record since going 60-22 in the 1980-81 season. The 16-win improvement over the previous season was the best mark in the NBA this season and earned the Bucks the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They lost to the eventual NBA champion Raptors in six games in the conference finals.
Budenholzer also won Coach of the Year in Atlanta in 2015 after leading the Hawks to a 60-22 record in his second of five seasons with the team.