By Ben Golliver

The Washington Post

SANTA MONICA, CALIF. — During the 2013 NBA draft, analyst Fran Fraschilla introduced Giannis Antetokounmpo, a raw and relatively unknown 18-year-old from Greece, as the evening’s “most mysterious” prospect. Six years later, the Milwaukee Bucks forward earned a significantly more prestigious superlative: Most Valuable Player.

The NBA announced Monday that Antetokounmpo had claimed MVP honors by beating out Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, his fellow finalists. The league made the announcement at its annual awards show, held at the Barker Hangar.

Antetokounmpo, 24, averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game — all career highs — while leading Milwaukee to a league-best 60 regular-season wins. His first career MVP award marked another step in a steady ascent for the three-time All-Star, who was named first-team All-NBA and All-Defense last month. Antetokounmpo became the first Bucks player to be named MVP since Kareem ­Abdul-Jabbar in 1973-74.

Antetokounmpo slowly attracted attention while playing in Greece’s third division. The hype around the “Greek Freak” propelled him to the 15th pick in 2013 and a bench role as a rookie.

Antetokounmpo’s advance continued from there: He became a full-time starter in 2014-15, a lead scoring option in 2015-16, the NBA’s most improved player in 2016-17 and a clear-cut franchise player in 2017-18. This season, his first under coach Mike Budenholzer, ­Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference in All-Star votes, guided the Bucks to their most regular-season victories since 1980-81 and delivered the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2001.

If Antetokounmpo began that journey as a shy and foul-happy teenager who famously had never tasted a smoothie, he has become a fearsome and versatile presence who dunks like Shaquille O’Neal, runs the break like LeBron James and leads quietly like Tim Duncan. The sixth-year pro was the central force of Milwaukee’s third-ranked offense, driving hard to the basket to set up his teammates’ outside shots, and the linchpin of its top-ranked defense. Antetokounmpo was also one of three finalists for defensive player of the year, an award claimed by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

Harden, the 2018 MVP, placed second in this year’s voting after averaging a career-high 36.1 points per game, the highest average since Michael Jordan in 1986-87.

The 29-year-old George was an early MVP favorite before fading down the stretch because of a shoulder injury that led to surgery this month. After re-signing with the Thunder in July 2018, George averaged a career-high 28 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists while being named first-team All-NBA and All-defense.

In addition to crowning Antetokounmpo as MVP and naming Gobert the defensive player of the year, the NBA handed out its other biggest annual awards. Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic was named rookie of the year, Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams was named sixth man of the year, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was named most improved player, and Budenholzer was named coach of the year.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal received the NBA Cares Community Assist award for his work with Washington’s Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. Beal, who was presented with the award by teammate John Wall, donated sneakers, held movie screenings, led a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and served as a mentor for the school’s students this season.

23508194