Giannis Antetokounmpo has established himself as one of the best players in today’s NBA, but will The Greek Freak be able to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the promised land, as LeBron James did for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
The Bucks selected Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. With a combination of size, speed, ball handling and defensive prowess, Giannis was a raw yet extremely promising prospect with star potential.
Like James, Antetokounmpo came into the league at the young age of 18. His rookie season wasn’t much to write home about (6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 77 appearances), but with each passing season, his numbers began to rise.
So … will Giannis be able to lift the Bucks to the heights the Cavs enjoyed with James? Financially speaking, the answer would seem to be no, as LeBron’s impact on an arena and its surrounding area are unsurpassed and well-documented. If we’re talking about winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy, though, Antetokounmpo has a fighting chance.
Milwaukee has played well since Antetokounmpo’s arrival, but they’ve failed to get over the hump. The Bucks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, where they were defeated by the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in six games. At the end of that campaign, Giannis was recognized as the NBA’s MVP, becoming the second player in Bucks history to win the award (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
As a point of reference, Giannis was the third-youngest player in NBA history to win MVP, just behind James and Derrick Rose.
At 15-3, the Bucks are off to a great start this season, and Giannis is playing better than ever. He has played in all 18 games thus far, racking up averages of 31.1 points on 56.0 percent shooting from the field (29.4 percent from beyond the arc), 13.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in 33.1 minutes per outing. His scoring output is second only to James Harden, who is currently averaging 37.7 points.
While Giannis and the Bucks look great, it remains to be seen if the team can keep this up and rise to the occasion in the playoffs. Milwaukee was criticized for not bringing back Malcolm Brogdon this summer, especially with Antetokounmpo’s free agency looming in 2021. The Bucks may be racing against the clock to win a title in order to convince their superstar to stick around on a supermax deal.
There are a number of other quality teams in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors (even without Kawhi Leonard), Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers (once Victor Oladipo gets back) are in the mix as contenders. The Bucks will have the best player in any series against these teams, but any playoff opponent will do their best to be physical with Giannis and force him to beat them with his jumper. His woes at the free-throw line could also come into play during a tight playoff series.
If the Bucks do come out of the East, LeBron’s Los Angeles Lakers could be standing in the way of a title. The Los Angeles Clippers are also formidable, as are a number of other West squads. It’s always a tough task winning a title, but Giannis and the Bucks have as good a chance of just about anybody to win it all in the next few seasons.
There are no guarantees, though.