Since starting this column, I have tried to focus on placing a spotlight on players that do not get enough attention in the media. While I plan to continue this trend, I want to talk about a player that has been dominate the entire year and is a front runner for MVP. The player that will be discussed is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” has been killing it this season averaging 26.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Combine this with the fact that he is shooting a 58.1% field goal percentage, and it is clear that no one can stop the Greek Freak. What makes these feats even more ridiculous is the fact that Giannis is still an incredibly ineffective 3-point shooter. This year his 3-point field goal percentage is only 17%. This s a significant drop from his career average of 26% and is significant below the league average of 34%. This abysmal 3-point percentage should have a huge impact on his game- opposing defenses already know that on most plays he is either going to try and post up on a smaller defender, or simply take his defender off the dribble for either a layup or dunk. But just like many greats before him, this does not phase Giannis as he is able to consistently score and penetrate opposing team defenses with ease. Add his willingness to pass to the multiple snipers on his team, and you have a Milwaukee Bucks team that is making its case as a top contender for the Eastern Conference throne.
In spite of his great success, there were two nagging issues that I have with Giannis. The first being is whether or not he could play high quality NBA basketball with his unique playing style, and I was also unsure about the impact Giannis could have on his teammates. This week seemed to answer both of those concerns. In the beginning of the week the Bucks played two very high quality teams in the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets. In the Utah game, despite missing all four of his three point shots, he was still able to score 30 points. Also consider the fact that the Jazz have the one of the best defenses, ranking 5th in team defensive efficiency. Combine this with Rudy Gobert (one of the best rim defenders in the league) and there is no doubt that the Bucks should have struggled on offense. Instead, Milwaukee was able to continue to play their style of basketball beating the Jazz by 12 points. The next major test was against the Rockets in a prime time game. While Chris Paul and Eric Gordon were out, the Rockets still had a a red-hot James Harden. Though James Harden did end up scoring 42 points, Giannis was still was able to hold his own with 27 points, and 21 rebounds. Furthermore, even when the game got close in the fourth, Giannis was still able to score and hit crucial free throws to secure the win for his squad.
The next two games played were against the Wizards and the Hawks. After beating a very hot Houston team most would expect the Bucks to easily cruise past the wizards. Although Giannis was out for this game, John Wall was also out for the wizards. With the Bucks clearly having the better team but they fell to Washington 113-106. The Bucks were only up for 56 seconds in the entire game. This demonstrates the importance of Giannis within the Bucks’ system. Without him forcing doubles and creating space for his fellow teammates, the offense became stagnant. While Eric Bledsoe, Kris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon are solid players, without Giannis they are still members of a middle of the pack NBA team. However, with Giannis, they are legitimate contenders within the Eastern Conference. After this game, Giannis came back from his injury to crush the Hawks by 19 points (Giannis scored 33). Overall, this week made a strong case for why Giannis should be considered the frontrunner for the MVP in 2019. He demonstrated that without his presence on the floor, his team is simply unable to compete with any of the NBA elite. This week Giannis proved that as long as he is healthy, his Milwaukee Bucks can go toe-to-toe with anybody.