It’s easy to see why Bucks fans are singing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s praises even more these days. In the two years since he claimed his second straight Most Valuable Player award, he has improved his game to the point where the green and white, for all their talent, are lost in his absence. His usage rate for the season is at a career high — in part because of injuries to vital cogs, but in larger measure due to head coach Mike Budenholzer’s modified predilections.
There was a time when critics wondered if Antetokounmpo’s strengths would be enough to spur perennial championship aspirations. After all, he wasn’t exactly flawless. And, yes, his weaknesses have remained over time; he continues to sport a spotty outside shot, and his relentless style of play often puts him at the mercy of officials. There’s a reason his foul rate is at a career high even though his minutes have largely stayed the same. He knows it, too; late last year, he posted a video in which he half-jokingly referred to his inability to can three-point shots as God’s way of keeping him humble.
That said, naysayers have been compelled to stay silent in the face of the results. Frailties notwithstanding, Antetokounmpo has become all but unstoppable. Even with double, sometimes triple, coverage, he manages to score buckets in the paint with his long strides, crafty footwork, and constant movement with or without the ball in his hands. He’s not called Mr. Fantastic for nothing, and he’s most certainly why the Bucks are just one and a half games out of first place in the Eastern Conference even with the likes of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing significant time.
Make no mistake. The Bucks are superior at full strength. And, yes, he’s more imposing when other weapons burn rubber alongside him. Then again, there can be no discounting his capacity to carry bigger loads; he has broken 40 points in five of his last seven starts. “I want to get in a position … [where] my game is [deemed] boring. I just do what I do and people don’t talk about it because … I do it every single night,” he said after posting a personal-best 55 the other night. In other words, his goal is to make the spectacular routine, and, silky smooth touch or not, only a fool would dare say he won’t succeed.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.