MVP for February: Mike James, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan

Mar 04, 2019 by Print

Mike James has been nothing short of breathtaking in his first season with AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. The dynamic guard has shined as the EuroLeague's scoring and performance index rating leader while ranking second in assists. At the start of February, his efforts had put Milan on the edge of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague playoffs zone. By the time February ended, James had carried Milan forward through an undefeated month to capture sole possession of sixth place in the standings. In doing so, he not only impressed with his stats, but also with clutch plays and leadership, all of which made James the natural choice of Euroleague Basketball to be the MVP for February. James averaged 18.8 points while shooting 60.0% on two-pointers in his team's four February victories. He also compiled 3.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 6.3 fouls drawn per game while making 77.4% of his free throws and committing just 1.3 turnovers on average. It all added up to a PIR of 21.8 per game, the highest among all EuroLeague players in February. By continuing the high standard that he had set for himself all season in February, James boosted Milan to a 13-11 record and a promising path to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 15th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance. The award for February covered the four regular season games that all teams played between January 31 and March 1.

The month of February featured trials and tribulation for Milan, starting with the team's Round 21 visit to Herbalife Gran Canaria. Milan lost star center Arturas Gudaitis to a season-ending injury during that game, but James stepped up and tallied 22 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists in 29 minutes before fouling out of what became a 104-106 overtime win. The following week, Milan entered the fourth quarter of a home clash with Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul trailing by a point. James scored the go-ahead basket in a 15-2 run to start the fourth quarter as Milan surged to a 90-78 victory. He finished with 18 points and 5 assists for the winners. In Round 23, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv visited Milan for a crucial battle in the playoffs race. Milan trailed 72-73 in the fourth quarter before James erupted for 5 points and the key assist in a game-deciding 10-0 run. His deep triple to beat the shot clock with less than 3 minutes left for a seven-point Milan lead was the memorable play of the night, and he finished with 19 points and 5 assists. Milan's February finale was a trip to the Russian capital to face Khimki Moscow Region, which was welcoming back Alexey Shved, the reigning Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner, from injury. James flashed his scoring credentials with 16 points, including a pair of late free throws that gave Milan a three-point lead en route to an 88-90 triumph.

Milan's perfect February far from guaranteed as Gudaitis was lost for good, center Kaleb Tarczewski and guard Nemanja Nedovic returned from injuries, and new sharpshooter James Nunnally joined the team. But James was a rock throughout the month, and along the way, he even set the club's single-season EuroLeague records with 479 points and 164 assists, both of which he has plenty of time to increase. James is now averaging 20.0 points, 6.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 24 games for Milan in what is his fifth EuroLeague campaign. He debuted with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz during the 2014-15 campaign and spent two seasons there, helping the club to reach the 2016 Final Four. He spent most of the next two seasons in Greece with Panathinaikos Athens. Now, James has his EuroLeague MVP for the Month award, which is also the first for any Milan player in the award's 15-year history. That will give Milan fans plenty to cheer about when James receives his award at an upcoming home game.