When naming the greatest players in the game today, two names are dominating the news. Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James are arguably the two best forwards in the game right now, and the two favorites for the MVP Award this season. Both guys have an incredible ability to make an impact on their team and challenge for the NBA title as a result.
Yet, there hasn't been a complete analysis to compare these two players in overall ability without bias. Even when they have slightly different playing styles, NBA fans will find evidence that one player is better than the other. LeBron has the advantage of three NBA rings compared to none with Giannis, but Antetokounmpo has captured last year's MVP with the team that has had the best record for two straight seasons.
It is time to find out who the better player is, and who the real MVP is.
Inside Scoring - Giannis Antetokounmpo
LeBron James was a bonafide high flyer back in his younger days and could jam it over anybody in the league and finish through contact with pure explosive. As he got older, he completely regained his strength and is still the most unstoppable attacker of the basketball the game has ever seen.
But Giannis is a more dominant inside scorer at this point in their careers. He is truly a sight to behold with his length, quickness, and athleticism around the basket. Giannis is limited in his offensive game and prefers to spend his time around the basket more than LeBron James who prefers to run the show on the perimeter. Giannis is the leading scorer out of two, at 29.6 compared to 25.7 put up by LeBron James, and does most of his scoring inside. Giannis averages 7.8 FGM inside vs LeBron James who averages 5.5 FGM.
Giannis is better than James at inside scoring this season and takes this first one.
Outside Scoring - LeBron James
This one is a no-brainer. James has been inconsistent with his jump shot throughout most of his career but has turned a different stroke as he has gotten older. James is averaging 3.0 makes from a minimum of 25-feet this season, compared to 0 from Giannis. LeBron looks stronger from the perimeter this season, and simply cannot be left open anymore.
The biggest knock on the game of Giannis Antetokounmpo is his inability to hit perimeter shots with consistency. As a result, James takes this one.
LeBron evens it up 1-1.
Playmaking - LeBron James
Both players are the main playmakers on their teams. Giannis is a beast at attracting attention and finding his open shooters and is averaging 5.8 APG which is very impressive for a forward. But LeBron James is the best playmaker in the NBA and is averaging 10.6 APG in a spectacular season.
While LeBron James is a phenomenal scorer, this is his second-best trait behind his ability to control the pace of play and always make the right basketball play. James is leading the league in assists, and this is the main reason why the Lakers are the best team in the West this season.
Giannis is a great passer, but LeBron's willingness to sacrifice his own offensive game to be a playmaker gives him the edge.
Athleticism - Giannis Antetokounmpo
This one is a very close one since both players are close even when LeBron James is in the latter part of his career. Young LeBron was one of the best dunkers in the league and a simply unstoppable physical force. He was quicker, stronger, and more explosive than anybody in the league. Even as he ages, he is still one of the strongest players and is in phenomenal shape.
But Giannis is a different species of an athlete right now. He is longer than almost every NBA player, and stands nearly 7-feet tall yet moves like a point guard. Giannis can get from one end of the floor to the other in only a few dribbles, and his ability to be a one-man fast break in just a matter of steps is something we have never seen before. Giannis is younger and more athletic at this moment.
Defense - Giannis Antetokounmpo
While both players are exceptional offensive players, they also made their names on the defensive end. James is a former All-NBA Defensive Team candidate, who had the ability to defend multiple positions with ease. For some reason, James has tapered off his defensive efforts and was not the same defensive force for a few years. Even though LeBron looks re-energized this season on that end of the floor, he is simply not as dominant as Giannis defensively.
Giannis is one of the very best defenders in the league and is a better shot blocked than James. Giannis is averaging 1.0 BPG compared to 0.5 BPG for LeBron.
Rim Protection - Giannis Antetokounmpo
While both players are exceptional physical specimens down low, Giannis edges LeBron here thanks to height and length. Giannis is listed as 6'11", almost 7 feet tall, while James walks around at 6'8". Giannis also tends to float to the paint more often, using his length and wingspan to block any shots out of the vicinity.
While he is a dominant perimeter player, Giannis can defend the rim slightly better than a 35-year old LeBron James.
Rebounds - Giannis Antetokounmpo
LeBron James has been a great rebounder throughout his career (career average of 7.4 per game) but Giannis is a board machine. Giannis averages 13.7 RPG, while James averages 7.9 RPG.
The distinction is clear, and the height of Giannis gives him an advantage of snatching rebounds at an alarming rate. Giannis particularly is good at grabbing the rebound and running on the break, one of his stronger attributes that makes him one of the better players in the league.
This one goes to Giannis.
Clutch - LeBron James
For years, critics bashed LeBron James over his inability to be a clutch player and always opt to not take the big shots in a game. As he has won chips, this has slowly dissipated and LeBron is now a feared player in the clutch.
Most recently this season, he nailed a fadeaway mid-range jumper against the Celtics which ended up being the game-winner. James also has some storybooks clutch moments including the buzzer-beater three against the Magic, and clutch buckets to give his Miami Heat a fighting chance to come back vs the Spurs in Game 6. These historical moments are key to analyzing clutch ability, and James is simply better than Giannis at this point.
Giannis is just getting his career started, so he has time to deliver in clutch moments. But so far, this isn't close.
Leadership - LeBron James
Both Giannis and James are the best players on their teams and are required to do a lot of things on the floor. Giannis tends to lead by his play, and also by his impact both on the floor for the Bucks. He is clearly a fan-favorite, and the reigning MVP, so following in his footsteps is not difficult at all for the Bucks role players.
But there isn't a better leader, excluding Chris Paul, than LeBron James in the NBA today. His ability to control the pace of play, run the show as a point-forward, be a vocal presence, and be an extension of the coach of the year are unique attributes. Even though the Lakers have Anthony Davis and solid role players, it is LeBron James who is the leader and captain of the Laker ship that is number one in the West.
Basketball I.Q. - LeBron James
Both players clearly have a high basketball I.Q., but LeBron James has the highest I.Q. of all NBA players. He has the Lakers atop the Western Conference as the number one seed mainly because he plays point guard. He knows when to run the show through Anthony Davis, and when to attack the basket and score every time.
When double-teamed, he has plenty of experience in picking the right pass leading to a score. Other than Magic Johnson and probably John Stockton, there wasn't a player who can do this as well as James.
Giannis can also find his open players but doesn't have the experience that LeBron has in being a double and triple-teamed year after year. Giannis keeps it close, but LeBron's complete skill set and experience help him take this.
Scoring - Even
Both Giannis and James are phenomenal scorers and tend to do their damage inside.
But James does it all on the floor offensively, including attacking the basket and shooting a high FG%. James shoots 49.8% from the field, 69.7% from the FT line, and 35% from three. These are all solid numbers that outmatch Antentokounmpo's numbers which stand at 54.7%, 63.3%, and 30.6%. Clearly, LeBron can hit outside jumpers better than Giannis who still struggles to find his range anywhere in the perimeter.
But Giannis also is a complete beast inside, averaging 29.6 PPG compared to LeBron's 25.7 PPG. Giannis is one of the best inside players in the league, and his ability to score anytime he wants around the basket evens this one up.
Impact - Even
On both ends of the floor, their impact is very close. Giannis is a better defender than LeBron and could lock you down and then score on the other end with ease. But LeBron James controls the pace of play and is the leading assist-man in the NBA. How does their impact compare?
To start, LeBron is a better passer and is the best point guard in the league right now. His league-leading assist ratio of 29.1 is amazing, and his 10.6 APG ranks #1 in the NBA. LeBron is also averaging 25.7 PPG, which makes his overall stat line all that more impressive. Giannis has a 17.2 assist ratio, which is great but pales in comparison to The King.
Giannis is clearly the better rebounder and averages more points per game. But LeBron's efficiency from the floor counteracts this difference, not to mention LeBron's ability to completely control the game at his own pace. Up to this point, this one is even thanks to Antentokounmpo's defensive ability which gives him the versatility to guard all five positions.
1 on 1 Game - LeBron James
As good as Giannis is one on one, especially down low, LeBron James is simply better at one on one situations. James shoots a better percentage from the arc, has a wider variety of dribble-penetration moves, and has developed a strong back to the basket game.
While LeBron was limited offensively when he came into the league, he has almost no weakness now. Many times LeBron is required to break down the defense when the play doesn't come to fruition, and James usually delivers by beating his man to score.
Giannis relies on his athleticism to score, but he can be minimized by top defensive players who force him to shoot the ball which is his greatest weakness right now. Giannis is improving his game but falls short to The King when it comes to one on one play.
LeBron James vs Giannis Antetokounmpo 6-5