The oddity that is Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks

I don’t know why I continue to find myself writing about the Milwaukee Bucks.  I’ve never seen them play basketball live, don’t watch them any more regularly than I do any other NBA team and am not a fan of them in any significant way, shape or form.  I suppose they’ve become a regular occurrence on your SportsChump feed because, having bested the Brooklyn Nets and now on the doorstep of disposing the Atlanta Hawks, they’re on the verge of becoming NBA champions.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a fine basketball team, one I’ve suggested quite wrongly in the past that didn’t have enough to win a title.  They’re six wins away from proving me wrong.

Recognizing just how incorrect I was, I later ate my words.  The Bucks still may not win it all but it’s clear they have the talent to do so.

Oddly enough, however, they are still an enigma to watch primarily because their best player, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is not the guy you want taking the shot in the final minutes of a game.  In fact, you probably don’t want the ball in his hands at all.

I went back and looked at every single MVP in NBA history and struggled to find one who you didn’t want taking the final shot.  In Golden State, Klay Thompson could shoot lights out but Steph Curry was still the alpha.  Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shifted roles in Miami but you were okay with either launching one at the buzzer.  Pippen was essential to Jordan’s six championships but you still wanted Jordan with the ball at crunch time.  In fact, name an NBA MVP who you don’t want taking the final shot and I bet you only come up with one.

Don’t get me wrong.  Giannis is an athlete the likes the game has never seen.  He’s a seven-foot gazelle who is near impossible to stop in the open court. He’s a nightmare to cover… unless, of course, you can keep him away from the basket, which is easier said than done.  At least then you can force him into a shot outside his range.

For the longest time, head coach Mike Budenholzer seemed to struggle with this logic but in this Hawks series, he has adjusted, realizing there is another superstar he can trust.  That man’s name is Khris Middleton.  The Batman-Robin analogy has been bludgeoned to death by every joker of a sportswriter and isn’t even entirely accurate in this instance for it assumes one player wears a larger cape.  In Milwaukee, this is not the case, unless you’re bold enough to consider Giannis the Robin. 

Basketball is a team sport.  No one player makes a championship, most certainly not Giannis.  But, as we witnessed in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals, with Khris Middleton scoring 20 in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hawks by himself, the Bucks have finally come to terms with the fact that they don’t need, or even want, their MVP taking the final shot.

Giannis still can’t hit a free throw (he’s shooting 56% for these playoffs), a major drawback for someone who gets to the line as much as he does.  His mid-range game is iffy at best.  While aspects of his game remain a detriment, Milwaukee has taken great strides to develop an identity that doesn’t solely revolve around the Freak.  It might finally win them a championship.

I just don’t know that I’ve ever seen an MVP who I don’t want taking the final shot which is why a) so many people still doubt this team and b) why the uber-talented, and still young (26), Giannis remains an anomaly.  He’s not get-him-out-of-the-game bad like Ben Simmons who, similarly, can’t hit a jump shot or free throw.  But Philadelphia doesn’t have a knock-down shooter like Middleton to bail Simmons out.  That’s a big reason they’re no longer playing basketball.

I heard an interesting statistic that, in retrospect, shouldn’t surprise us at all.  When Khris Middleton shoots over 40% from the floor this post-season, the Milwaukee Bucks are unbeatable.  When he shoots under that mark, the Bucks have a losing record.  If Nate McMillan isn’t designing plays to cool off Middleton, then he needs to fire his research department.  Continually forcing Giannis to take ill-advised shots until he proves he can beat you is Milwaukee’s Achilles’ Heel.  The problem for opposing defenses is getting him to do that.

Milwaukee may very well win an NBA title.  Giannis might even win Finals MVP.  After all he’s leading the Bucks in points, rebounds and player efficiency rating.  But I still sit here, scratching my bald head and marveling at the fact that we’ve never seen this before.

Memo to the rest of the NBA: I’d beat the Bucks now while you still have the chance because if a determined Giannis develops a mid-range jump shot, and I wouldn’t put it past him to work on that all summer, that could be all she wrote for several years to come.

Until then, I highly suggest beating them while you can.

6 thoughts on “The oddity that is Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks

  1. It would seem that the Bucks like our much esteemed sportschump is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. That my friend is why they play the games.

  2. Facts, Deac.

    I’ll take that as a compliment.

    Although I feel bad posting a piece about Giannis the day they might lose him for the rest of the playoffs.

    Knees are not supposed to bend that way. Here’s to a speedy recovery for the Freak.

  3. Perhaps tonight’s game answers your article. Holiday and Lopez are a better duo than Giannis and Middleton. Putting your focus on Giannis is as stupid as putting your focus on Steve Stamkos was eight years ago. The Bucks are developing the same kind of team chemistry that the Lightning developed seven years ago

  4. So, as a guy who hasn’t taken in much NBA this season, riddle me these:

    1) What was all the love about the Nets based on? Granted, I’ve working with a small sample size, but I just didn’t see it. Perhaps its a factor of my distrust of James Harden and Kyrie Irving, and a lot of that roster is sooooo five years ago.

    2) Why was there not more love for the Jazz throughout the season? I get it’s a small market nobody cares about, but most of the times I saw them, if they \weren’t the best team in the league they were sure as hell in the conversation.

    3) Theory which might explain #2: Is it possible there’s a social construct around the NBA media which is having a hard time digesting the fact this league is now getting a significant number of it’s stars from non-American sources? Something that’s a bit more than the fear of having to learn to spell “Antetokounmpo” if you know what I mean…

    4) A Suns-Bucks final? That might have been an interesting match 50 years ago with Paul Westphal and Gar Heard taking on Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson. Do you think the NBA is less than pleased with this match between two markets nobody cares about…especially with the possible absence of the aforementioned spelling challenge?

  5. Greg…

    As usual, I’m not sure I entirely agree with you.

    In a game of two on two, I’m taking Middleton and Giannis over Hoilday and Lopez eight out of ten times… and probably more.

    Not to disrespect the two you chose. Lopez has been in the league 13 years and is playing some determined basketball. He probably realizes more than most of his teammates that these opportunities don’t come along very often.

    In Gianni’s absence, those two, along with Middleton (he had 20+ points in that third quarter), both stepped up.

    I’m also not entirely agree with your assessment that these Bucks are the next Bolts. We’re talking about arguably an all-time great team, with their impending repeat. I’m not quite sure the Bucks are there yet or whether they’ll ever be. The Bolts are a far more sound team in nearly every aspect of the game while the Bucks remain flawed and beatable.

    Either way, they’re un underdog to beat the Suns… but I’ll still take ’em to do so.

  6. Dubs…

    To give your inquiries their just due…

    1) With the Nets, I guess I fell for the banana in the tailpipe. I mean, they did feature three of the league’s best modern scorers, a seemingly re-inspired Blake Griffin, and let us not forget, before he bowed out with medical concerns, this team had signed LaMarcus Aldridge. I still maintain that with Harden and Irving healthy, the Nets probably would have won that series. Heck, they should have won Game Three… but didn’t. That being said, they lacked depth, had a rookie head coach and Mike D’Antoni on their bench. That should have been what I was wowed with and not the other way around. In the words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype.

    2) I talked to several people who thought the Jazz had a shot but I wasn’t a believer. I mean, it’s still the Jazz. They’re talented. They’ll be contenders for years to come if they remain intact. But again, it’s the Jazz. Kinda like how in hockey, the team with the best regular season record always falls short? Again… it’s the Jazz.

    3) I don’t know if you recall a Tweet I sent out into the Twitterverse some months ago but I asked America if they were ready to have the league’s top three players be born outside the United States. Again, I was referring to Giannis, Luca and Jokic. You replied, asking if that wasn’t the case already. The liberal part of me seems to think we’ll be okay with that. I mean, we embraced athletes like Yao Ming and Dirk (keep in mind Pat Ewing and Tim Duncan were also both born outside the United States but we never treated them as such.) I think the NBA’s is a more liberal-viewing fan base. It’s the fringe voter they’re still trying to gather together. I’m an NBA homer, you know I’m the wrong person to ask. Let’s see what kind of ratings a LeBron-less Finals with two small market teams draws. It’s a good story but I’m not sure how many will tune in.

    4) The elephant in the room, Dubs. Look, Chris Paul is on every commercial break ever. America knows him… and his twin brother, Cliff. He’s been in the league 16 years and this is his first shot. Milwaukee, America’s least visited city, makes their return with a giant Greek fellow since the first time, as you mentioned, since the 70s. Just as the league did post-Michael, they’re going to have to embrace the new marketable athlete. That’s not Paul. His time is nearing an end. It is, however, Giannis, among the others we’ve mentioned. The world is getting smaller and while I still have to Google how to spell his last name, I have a memo for ya’, I’m American and after 53 years, people STILL misspell my last name. We’ll see how this young (26) man performs and whether he can begin defining his legacy with a title or whether Chris Paul and company make him wait. Either way, I think it’ll be a fun watch. Let me know if you tune in.

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