Do the Bucks Need Giannis Antetokounmpo to Reach the NBA Finals?
If Bucks’ star Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t already one of the best players in the NBA, he’s on his way to being so. He started as a role player and has gotten better every year both on the stat sheet and in the game. He is oversized for his skillset and still lightning quick. Any team that has the luxury of an Antetokounmpo is in good shape. However, what makes the Milwaukee Bucks especially lucky might not have anything to do with Antetokounmpo, but with the team as a whole.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and the Bucks’ rise
Last year, the Bucks became a favorite in the NBA overnight. Although there were some mild successes under former coach Jason Kidd, the team’s surge under Mike Budenholzer brought them from good to great throughout a single offseason. Out went the days when the Bucks looked like they couldn’t win and. In came a team that was among the league’s top contenders for the title. Even scarier, Antetokounmpo was an MVP player, and he was still getting better.
Eventually, the Bucks fell short of the NBA Finals after facing Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in the Finals, but that didn’t mean that their death knell was near. Leonard went back west to the Los Angeles Clippers after just one year in Toronto, and the league was wide open. Furthermore, Antetokounmpo was not yet 25, had an MVP award, and still was getting better by the game.
The team took some offseason gambles, such as letting Malcolm Brogdon go via free agency. Still, they added some pieces to their depth and banked on having another year of development under their belts for Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and company. The results have been even scarier than last season.
Antetokounmpo improves on his MVP season
Antetokounmpo is having an even better season than his 2018-19 NBA MVP campaign, and the league should be worried. Through 39 games, his 30 points per game are a career-high. His 10.4 assist would also be a career-high, his defense is comparable, and he is continuing to add to his game.
Perhaps the scariest part of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rise is the massive increase in his 3-point percentage, which was a negative on his NBA draft scouting report. Although 33% is nothing to write home about, Antetokounmpo has raised his long-range percentage by nearly eight points, and he is shooting an additional two treys a game in the process. If that improvement continues, the league may have no chance.
When Antetokounmpo is on the floor, the team is deadly and nearly unbeatable. However, there might be something even scarier without him on the floor.
One stat that shows the Bucks might not need Giannis Antetokounmpo
With Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, the Bucks are a defensive juggernaut and an offensive powerhouse. According to Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN, their interior defense is far and away the best in the league, allowing only 51% of shots at the rim to go through. The Raptors, the second-best team, are five points behind them at 56%.
The most stunning stat about the Bucks, however, is how they perform when Antetokounmpo is off the floor. Their Net Rating without Antetokounmpo playing remains an astronomical plus-6.8. That’s six points more than the 76ers without Joel Embiid and the Clippers without Kawhi Leonard. The Houston Rockets are two points worse than opponents when James Harden is off the floor, and the Los Angeles Lakers are nearly six points worse than opponents without LeBron James.
The Bucks are not just wearing down opponents when Antetokounmpo is playing. They are wearing down opponents when he is resting too. Teams who want to beat the Bucks need to play 48 minutes of basketball, and additions such as Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez and the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo have made the team even tougher to face.
The NBA better watch out for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Giannis is better than last year. The defense is improved, and they excel when the defending MVP takes a breather. They are better than last year, driven by defeat, and never give up during any game. All of that combined could be the key to a deep playoff run and possibly more.