Milwaukee Bucks Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo could end up winning the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for this season.
Averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists does that. However, he could end up without winning the prestigious prize since James Harden would be a worthy winner for the second year in a row.
Had it not been for a late season shoulder injury and a drop in wins, Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Paul George would have been a strong contender. Since those factors came in at crucial times in the past regular season, George is out of the running making the race for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy a two lane drive.
Good news is even if Giannis doesn’t win the MVP title, he will win it down next season or a couple of seasons from this point. The strong optimism is down to the scarcity of limitations in Antetokounmpo’s game since entering the league as a long term project in 2013.
The 24 year old who doesn’t turn 25 till December 6, has the speed of a Shooting Guard, strength of a Center, length of a Power Forward and a vastly improving handles of a Point Guard two seasons since the ball was placed in his hands as a creator. Aside developing post moves that made Hakeem Olajuwon famous, the most glaring limitation in Giannis game is shooting.
Milwaukee’s franchise player is still a poor shooter who converted just 52 of 203 attempts from three point range in the 2018-2019 season. That was in the regular season Bucks ended with the best record and his teammates primarily Khris Middleton scored 179 three point shots on 474 attempts. Unsurprisingly in the playoffs, those marks fell as teams with shooting limitations tend to experience; Giannis scored 18 three pointers in 55 attempts.
Despite improving his accuracy and efficiency in the postseason-40 three pointers scored in 92 attempts-Middleton’s performances couldn’t lift Bucks past Toronto Raptors in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals Series. After a successful season, Milwaukee faces a tough immediate future as a host of players are heading to free agency and could sign for other teams.
Middleton is likely to be one, ditto Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez, George Hill and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon. With Giannis and Eric Bledsoe set to make a combined sum of $39 million next season getting new deals for all named above will prove difficult. Worsening matters, Antetokoumpo is in eligible to sign a $247 million contract extension after next season after being named to the All NBA First Team and All NBA Defensive Team this season.
Irrespective what happens over the next few months, improvement in Giannis shooting elevates Bucks title winning chances should the team even fail to surround him with all the pieces that made it to the Conference Final. The Greece International can take a cue from the biggest name in the sport, LeBron James who improved his post moves and three point shooting after falling short consistently in the playoffs.
After losing in his second Finals in 2011, James worked out with Olajuwon on post moves and paid more attention to his shot. Six months later, he won the first of two NBA titles with Miami Heat while picking up back to back MVP Awards. As freakish physical specimen, LeBron and Giannis do a lot of things many players would struggle to do especially with the kind of attention both players get from opponents.
With little time between games to breakdown film and zero in on key traits, the regular season doesn’t expose a lot of player limitation but that changes in the business end of the season which matters above all else. Reports have emerged Bucks chances of retaining Antetokounmpo for the long haul rest on the team’s ability to get to the NBA Finals and win it.
Unlike LeBron who toiled season after season with third tier players at Cleveland Cavaliers, Giannis is playing for a stable organization that completed its first season at the newly built Fiserv Forum, has a top Coach in Mike Budenholzer, players to help in the next couple of seasons-Bledsoe and Mirotic- and players who will help in the future-Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo- to make Giannis happy and Milwaukee Eastern Conference Final contenders. But to get over the conference and every team in the league, Bucks need Giannis to shoot better from deep to rule the NBA.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter