When the Milwaukee Bucks acquired star point guard Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers this summer, many NBA pundits started ranking the duo of him and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top. Some have even gone as far as to say that Lillard has a chance of winning the 2024 Most Valuable Player Award.
One of those people is former Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas.
On Oct. 11, a clip went viral of Arenas’ podcast Gil’s Arena. In the video, Arenas compared the duo in Milwaukee to when legendary point guard Steve Nash took on the league with center Amar’e Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns.
“If he pulls a Steve Nash and Amar’e type of thing where’s he averaging like 15 and 13 assists, just passing that ball to Giannis the whole time… it can be like Steve Nash [winning the MVP],” Arenas said.
Even though it may be a little far-fetched, Arenas’ comparison is understandable. In his prime, Nash was considered one of the greatest point guards in the league. But before he signed with the Suns in 2004, he never got the level of recognition he rightfully deserved.
Once he returned to Phoenix, Nash led the NBA in assists from 2005 to 2007 (11, 10, and 11 per game, respectively) while capturing the long-awaited Most Valuable Player award in 2005 and 2006. But he wouldn’t have done it without Stoudemire, who was his main pick-and-roll partner.
This take from Arenas is fascinating for a variety of reasons. Just like Lillard, Arenas was seen as one of the best players in his position. However, he was undervalued from the beginning. He was selected in the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft. However, he proved critics wrong when he averaged 20 points for his career and spent his best years in D.C.
Still, it didn’t seem to be enough for some.
Despite being one of the league’s most consistent scorers, he never won an MVP award. He did put himself in the conversations as he was a candidate in 2005 and 2007 but unfortunately, he played at a time when players like Dirk Nowitzki and Nash himself were on top of their games.
As for Lillard, his journey seems to be a bit different. While Arenas’ best teammates were arguably Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood in Washington, Lillard only had one reliable one in power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. They only played together for three seasons and made the playoffs twice.
Now, after 11 years in Portland without a long-term sidekick, Lillard finally has the chance to earn the accolades he deserves, such as MVP and even the ultimate goal, a championship. In hindsight, the move to Milwaukee might have been the best one, considering Antetokounmpo has already proven himself as a true winning player. In 2021, he led the Bucks to their first championship since 1971 while winning Finals MVP.
With the lengthy resume Antetokounmpo possesses, Lillard could benefit hugely and might even win the two most important awards before hanging it up, something Arenas never had the chance to do.