Giannis Antetokounmpo can reach MVP levels, but isn’t there yet

Milwaukee, WI | Giannis Antetokounmpo has had an outstanding start to his 2017-18 campaign for the Milwaukee Bucks There has been talk nationally and locally about where he ranks among the NBA’s best.

The supremely talented 6’11” Filathlitikos, Greece native is working his way into the upper-echelon of basketball players. It’s not crazy to think that he will find himself in the thick of the NBA MVP conversation when voting commences next spring.

Friday night the world was reminded just how far he has to go to be the best in the world, and LeBron James reminded the world that he’s still on that throne.

Midway through the final period of Friday night’s 116-97 Cleveland victory over Milwaukee James put an exclamation mark on that thought. Antetokounmpo had a one-on-one fast break opportunity with only James standing between him and the basket. Antetokounmpo stretched his incredibly long legs in an effort to go to the left side of James and lay the ball up and in the hoop and cut the Cavs’ lead to 10. James seemingly let Antetokounmpo glide past him and elevate the ball up near the glass.

The sports world has seen the ending to this story many times. James pinned Antetokounmpo’s layup attempt off the glass, in a block that the star has been able to repeat time and time again, most famously in the 2016 NBA Finals.

The sequence continued as the Cavaliers were able to recover the ball after James’ block. They brought the ball up the court before and moved it gracefully around the floor. That created confusion amongst Milwaukee’s defense, leaving a wide-open Cavalier at the top of the three-point arc.

The Cavalier was, you guessed it, James.

The missing member of the Bucks was Antetokounmpo.

James knocked down the wide-open three to push Cleveland’s lead to 15 with less than 6:30 to play.

Looking at the stat sheet from Friday night’s game will tell you that Antetokounmpo outplayed the four-time MVP. The eye test will tell you a different story. Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists on 15-of-22 shooting. James finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and eight assists on 10-of-16 from the floor.

The 22-year-old Antetokounmpo certainly can reach a level close to the one which James operates, however he isn’t there yet.

There’s no shame in that for Antetokounmpo, and there shouldn’t be. He knows he isn’t the player that James is at this point in his career, no one is.

“I am not on that level yet.” Antetokounmpo said following the loss. “LeBron James is one of the best players in the league and one of the best to ever play the game.”

Antetokounmpo’s statement does offer one key word, ‘yet’. If he can reach a level even slightly below James he will go down as one of the best players to ever touch a basketball. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s one that he should have.

Antetokounmpo has all the physical tools to be a legend in the NBA, the place where James is far past him is mentally. James has one of the highest basketball IQ’s to ever set foot on a basketball court, and that’s something Antetokounmpo needs to improve upon.

Moments where Antetokounmpo can be better include when he has mismatches on the offensive end and fails to take advantage of them. On Friday night there were multiple possessions in which he had Cavaliers’ center Tristan Thompson on him. Instead of attacking the less athletic big man, he deferred to his teammates. Those moments need to be where Antetokounmpo takes over, and eventually they will be.

Antetokounmpo has an extremely bright future, and one day can take the throne as the best basketball player alive from James, but Friday night reminded us how wide that gap still is.

Bucks lose home opener to Cavaliers 116-96

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks started their last season at the BMO Harris Bradley Center with a 116-97 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers despite a stellar night from forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists but it wasn’t enough to supplant the Eastern Conference favorites. The Bucks hung with Cleveland in the first half, but were unable to keep up with Cleveland once their offense started to roll. LeBron James lead the Cavs with 24 points, five rebounds, and eight assists, but it was a total group effort from the Cavaliers, having six players in double figures scoring.

“One thing about Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is he never settles.” Cavs’ head coach Tyronn Lue said postgame. “He’s stronger than people give him credit for.”

The turning point in the game came in the third quarter. Antetokounmpo closed the gap to three points after he scored five straight points. The score was 71-68 Cavs. Over the next 90 seconds the deficit became 12 as Kyle Korver knocked down three consecutive shots from behind the arc. The Bucks were never able to recover following that stretch.

“We have a lot of respect for them.” Korver said following the game. “They’re a young team with a lot of talent.”

Another stretch that sealed the Bucks’ fate came in the fourth quarter, where Antetokounmpo had the opportunity to matchup with the player many hope he can be compared to one day, James.

Antetokounmpo had a fast break opportunity with James in the paint. James seemed to let Antetokounmpo stride by him before reacting at the last second and pinning the ball against the glass at one of the last moments possible. That’s a staple of James’ game that has been seen over and over since he has been in the league.

On the following possession, the Cavaliers’ ball movement created chaos for the Bucks. It was Antetokounmpo who seemed to lose his assignment which was James. James knocked down a wide-open three-pointer from the top of the arc as Antetokounmpo scrambled to contest the shot.

After the game, Antetokounmpo was asked about how he compares to James.

“I am not on that level yet. LeBron James is one of the best players in the league and one of the best to ever play the game. It’s great going against him, but I don’t think about that. I am just Giannis. I just try to do whatever it takes for my team to win.”

Friday showed that the Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks have been tested early in their season, beating Boston on Wednesday night, and losing to Cleveland Friday.
The win over Boston was great for the Bucks. The game against Cleveland was a very early measuring stick for the two teams, and the Cavaliers, who are without all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, are on a different level than the Bucks at the moment. Milwaukee has a long way to go if they’re going to compete with Cleveland in a seven-game series come May.

“I thought Giannis did a really great job trying to find open guys and also be aggressive.” Bucks’ head coach Jason Kidd said postgame. “It isn’t between him and LeBron, it’s the Cavs against the Bucks and unfortunately we lost tonight.”

Milwaukee is in action Saturday night against the Portland Trailblazers. Tip-off from BMO Harris Bradley Center is at 7:30.