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.

Jabari in the second half of his rehab timetable

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is over halfway through his knee rehab recovery timetable since tearing his ACL on February 8th.

Parker is adamant that his rehab is going well and his knee is feeling good. He expects to return to the Bucks and be cleared for game action sometime in February of this up-coming season.

Parker raised his performance in almost every aspect last season before tearing his ACL for the second time in three seasons with the Bucks. In 51 games last year, he averaged 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game, all career highs.

He also raised his three-point shooting percentage by nearly 11%. The Bucks were hoping he was just starting to turn the corner to complement their other superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Parker will be entering his fourth season this year and will be eligible to sign a contract extension from his rookie-contract scale by the October 16th deadline. If he doesn’t sign an extension by the deadline, he will become a restricted free-agent in 2018.

Giannis Antetokounmpo to miss Eurobasket tournament with knee injury

CHINA — A knee injury suffered two weeks ago in practice will keep Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo from competing in the upcoming FIBA Eurobasket tournament later this month.

Antetokounmpo was poised to lead the Greek national team in the tournament — something he pleased with Bucks management to allow him to do |but the results of an MRI revealed he will be unable to play.

The NBA’s 2016-17 Most Improved Player announced the news Saturday on his Facebook page, which has since been translated by Eurohoop:

I want everyone to be informed by me that I will not be able to play for the Greek national team in the upcoming Eurobasket. All this time I was pressuring myself to practice. I was trying to fool myself and not feel the pain, hoping that I will be ready for the official games. My will affected my judgement, but in the tests I took here in China with the Bucks personnel, it was time for the truth.

I failed in the tests I was put to and the reason was the pain I felt from the first seconds. I can accept the truth and deal with it in a mature manner. I have to work and improve as much as I can the condition of my knee.

Last summer I had the option to “freeze” the deal for my contract extension. This year I have no choice. I am injured, I feel pain and I must heal.

This is by far the biggest disappointment that I have felt until now in my career. I want to wish the best from the bottom of my heart to my teammates and coaches. The national team is my favorite team and in the future I will prove together with my teammates that we can achieve high goals and make all Greeks happy.

However, for now the present is the priority. I urge the fans to not give bigger proportions to my absense and to concentrate on the players who will fight in the upcoming Eurobasket for a success that has been missing for years. History is written by those who are present and I have with great sorrow to accept and announce that I will be absent.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Though no official diagnosis or timetable was revealed, the fact that Antetokounmpo referred to the injury as “the biggest disappointment…in my career” should leave Bucks fans worried about his health for the upcoming season.

The Eurobasket tourmament begins on Aug. 31 and concludes on Sept. 17.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I got loyalty inside my DNA’

Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t even started playing under the 4-year, $100 million contract extension he got last September and already there’s talk of him leaving Milwaukee.

NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski was on ESPN’s “Russillo Show” this week and suggested that the clock on Antetokounmpo and the Bucks has started ticking, with those around the league already trying to figure a way to get him out of Milwaukee.

Wojnarowski pointed toward the messy situation inside the front office where the search for a new general manager was largely viewed as a disaster around the league, with the Bucks bypassing GM-to-be Justin Zanik and promoting little known Jon Horst to the top spot.

“Milwaukee’s going to go through this with the Greek Freak,” Wojnarowski said. “That day’s coming, right? Where he’s going to look and say, ‘Where is this organization? What are they doing here?’ Like, you don’t think Giannis has been watching what went on there for the last several months? Of what they allowed to go on with the front office? He’s watching it. And the clock has started.”

The potential for star players to move on has ratcheted up in recent years, first with LeBron James taking his talents from Cleveland to Miami, and then Kevin Durant bolting Oklahoma City for Golden State, and most recently, Gordon Hayward saying goodbye to Utah in favor of Boston.

The stigma attached to those who shun theier hometown team in a desperate search for a championship could very well be gone by the time Antetokounmpo becomes a free agent in 2021. And if the Bucks’ front office is in disarray at that point, and the team is still trying to #ownthefuture instead of winning big in the present, it would be hard to fault him for leaving. But for now at least, the Greek Freak has eyes only for Milwaukee, and he took to Twitter on Thursday night to express that.

https://twitter.com/Giannis_An34/status/883118398695239680

Report: FA guard Derrick Rose meeting with the Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks could be in the market for some help at point guard.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday morning that the team is hosting free agent guard Derrick Rose, most recently of the New York Knicks. Milwaukee is already over the salary cap, and would need to shed contracts to sign a high-priced player such as Rose, according to Wojnarowski.

Named the 2011 NBA MVP while with Chicago, Rose played in just 49 games the next three years due to knee injuries and was eventually traded last summer to the Knicks. He averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game, as New York struggled to a 31-51 record.

Rose is originally from Chicago and could be looking to get back to the Midwest.

The Bucks used a combination of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova at point guard a year ago, though Giannis Antetokounmpo served as the primary ball handler and led the team in assists.

Raptors eliminate Bucks despite Antetokounmpo’s 34 points

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks went on a 34-7 run to erase a 25-point deficit, but were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors 92-89.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points on 13-of-23 shooting, but he made perhaps a critical error that could have provided Milwaukee a better chance to win. Down by three with less than 11 seconds remaining, Antetokounmpo dribbled out the clock at the top of the key, but instead of setting up a three-point shot, he drove in for a dunk with 3.5 seconds left.

DeMar DeRozan drained a pair of free throws on the other end to extend Toronto’s lead back to three points and Milwaukee’s in-bounds pass was intercepted, handing the Bucks their third-straight loss in the series.

Milwaukee was leading the series 2-1 before heading back to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for game four. It’s the first time in Toronto history the Raptors have won three straight games in a playoff series.

Khris Middleton returned from an illness to score 19 points in 42 minutes of action. Matthew Dellavedova was next on the team in scoring with 12 off the bench.

Raptors blow out Bucks in Game 5 to take series lead

TORONTO — All five starters scored in double digits as the Toronto Raptors blew past the Milwaukee Bucks 118-93 in Monday night’s game five of the NBA playoffs.

Norman Powell had a playoff career-high 25 points to lead a Raptors team that shot nearly 58 percent from the field. Serge Ibaka followed with 19 points, six rebounds, and three blocks.

Fighting through an illness, Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton only contributed eight points in Milwaukee’s losing effort. Giannis Antetokounmpo poured in a game-high 30 to go with his nine rebounds.

Milwaukee started out sluggish, turning the ball over three times, while Toronto opened up an early lead. That lead grew to 19 late in the first half, but the Bucks were able to close it to six just before intermission. But coming out of the locker room, the Raptors slowly built the lead back up, grabbing 40 of the game’s 63 rebounds.

The series moves back to Milwaukee for a possible series-deciding game six on Thursday, with the Raptors holding a 3-2 series lead.

Turnovers, poor shooting hurt Milwaukee in Game 4 loss to Toronto

With their season seemingly on the line, the Toronto Raptors responded with an 87-76 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series on Saturday.

After not making a field goal in a blowout loss in Game 3 on Thursday night, Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan was the best player on the court, scoring 33 points, grabbing nine rebounds, handing out five assists and collecting four steals.

But Milwaukee didn’t lose the game on the defensive end. The series is tied at two games apiece because the Bucks couldn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t make a shot. Coach Jason Kidd’s team turned the ball over 20 times, including seven by Giannis Antetokounmpo, while shooting just 37 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Antetokounmpo had a series-low 14 points, while guard Khris Middleton could manage just 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Defensive specialist Tony Snell led the team with 19 points, including hitting all five of Milwaukee’s 3-pointers.

The loss gives Toronto home-court advantage back as the series now because a best-of-three, starting with Game 5 on Monday at the Air Canada Centre.

Bucks cruise to a 104-77 win over the Raptors in Game 3

Game 3 was no contest for the sixth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, as they rolled over the third-seeded Toronto Raptors 104-77 Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

From the opening tip the crowd inside the BMO Harris Bradley Center was roaring, and the Bucks responded in kind, outscoring the Raptors 57-30 in the first half on the way to their biggest margin of victory in a playoff game since 1984.

“We know they’re going to come back on Saturday afternoon ready, just like after (losing) game one,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said of the Raptors. “Bu I thought the guys did everything we’ve prepared them to do. Defense is what we’ve always concentrated on and sharing the ball on the offensive end. The guys did that.”

Guard Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee, scoring 20 points and handing out seven assists, while forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had 19 points and eight rebounds. Center Greg Monroe added 16 points off the bench for a Milwaukee squad that shot 52.7 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from beyond the arc.

As good as the Bucks were on offense, they were just as good, if not better, on the other end of the court. They limited the Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen to 21 combined points on 4 of 18 shooting, including the latter going 0 of 8, the first time he’s been held without a field goal in his playoff career.

The win gave Milwaukee its first 2-1 lead in a playoff series since 2001.

Game 4 is set for Saturday in Milwaukee. Tip time is at 2 p.m.