Giannis Antetokounmpo proved you don’t have to follow superstar trends to win the NBA Finals
Giannis Antetokounmpo can’t do this, and he can’t do that. That used to define his NBA career. Now being an NBA champion at the age of 26 defines his career with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Greek Freak just proved that you don’t need to follow superstar trends to find success in the NBA.
At every leg of his eight-year NBA career, Giannis Antetokounmpo has impressed but also left a bit to be desired, specifically a lacking shot. For his career, he’s shooting 28.7 percent from beyond the arc and shot a combined 65.8 percent from the charity stripe over the last two regular seasons.
A couple years ago, the Bucks hit an impasse. Blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo being a minimal factor in crunch time began to loom large. Teams could double-team him forcing him to hoist up a contested layup.
Last season the Bucks were stunned in the second round of the playoffs as the one seed in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat convincingly beating them in five games. The same dilemma occurred. Antetokounmpo struggled in the clutch, and the Bucks blew late-game leads.
The NBA is an impulsive, window-driven league. Teams make blockbuster trades and heartbreaking decisions based on fear of missing the golden opportunity of holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end. Last offseason the Bucks were likely in that position, mentally. They failed to win the East as the one seed in back-to-back seasons with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the head man.
So, what was different this season? Well, not too much with the Greek Freak. As for head coach Mike Budenholzer’s rotation, the organization made a bold trade moving Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, three first-round picks and two pick swaps in a four-team trade with the New Orleans Pelicans for Jrue Holiday and the 60th pick in last year’s NBA Draft (Sam Merrill). The point guard gave the Bucks a proven floor general with a scoring ability who defends at a high level.
This season was the culmination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks staying the course. It’s no secret that he’s an at best mediocre shooter from all over the floor. Know what he can do pretty well, though? Impose his will on defenders and overwhelm teams with his tenacity off the dribble and wingspan.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is as dangerous as any player in the NBA attacking the rack. He’s a physical specimen at 6-foot-11. No one wants to be in his way under the basket.
Something had to click for the Bucks to break through, and what changed was their star continually enhancing his strengths. He has only grown more productive and impactful with age. Every season he becomes more prolific off the dribble and improves as a scorer in general.
For the better part of the last decade, every NBA champion had star players who were efficient scorers that could shoot well in spot-up and off-the-dribble situations. The Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks fit the description. The Bucks did but only to a degree. That trend was busted.
The bulk of the aforementioned championship teams had household names leading the charge. Many contending teams that missed the NBA Finals this season had multiple household names themselves. The Bucks had one.
Khris Middleton is another example of the Bucks sticking with and trusting a player and person to come through. Holiday wasn’t the most productive player in the world but clutch when it mattered most. Bobby Portis was instant offense off the bench. P.J. Tucker was a defensive stopper. Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton had their fair share of moments in the playoffs. Budenholzer trusted his core and the locomotive on the tracks.
This wasn’t a superteam. It was a team with a superstar, a handful of great players and a rotation that played as a collective whole and fed off each other. Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t need a Robin. He needed a team, and they needed him.
Antetokounmpo knows what he can do and that’s be an intimidating force on both ends of the floor. He utilized his frame effectively to the point where the Bucks could get around his shooting. And when it mattered most, he answered the bell. In Tuesday’s NBA Finals clinching Game 6, Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped an astounding 50 points while shooting 17-19 from the charity stripe against the Phoenix Suns. The Count wasn’t counting to 10 that night.
No player can do everything, but every player can do something. It’s not as if Giannis Antetokounmpo is in some secluded star category when it comes to having a flaw in his game.
LeBron James has always been a shaky free throw shooter. James Harden’s defense has been hot and cold his entire career. Luka Doncic can get too three-happy. Nikola Jokic could be a bit more assertive in the post. Devin Booker can be a little too reliant on his shooting ability.
The Bucks knew what Giannis Antetokounmpo could do, and they went all in on the positives. That’s another busted trend. Antetokounmpo finished the postseason averaging 30.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 blocks and one steal per game. It was a historic period of basketball from a historically gifted player.
The Bucks have been loyal to their star from the jump. Giannis Antetokounmpo has never been asked to be something he isn’t. They surrounded him with differing skill sets and let him do his thing. They built a sustainable winner and a culture where a new player can be thrown into the mix and succeed in a prominent role.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has dispelled modern-day NBA narratives and perhaps for the better.