Greek Freak-onomics


Giannis Antetokounmpo (above) is the two-time defending NBA MVP. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. These are just a few of the NBA greats who have won back-to-back MVP awards. Earlier this month, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo joined this elite company by winning this year’s MVP award. Giannis was electric this season, posting career highs in points (29.5) and rebounds (13.6). He also led the Bucks to the best record in the Eastern Conference as well as the number one seed. However, we live in a world that is “end result” oriented. While Giannis may have had outstanding personal statistics, his team was forced to leave the playoff bubble earlier than anybody expected. The Bucks lost a five-game, second round series to a young and hungry Miami Heat team. Giannis struggled to elevate his squad above Miami’s finest and also suffered an unfortunate ankle injury toward the end of the series. Much like last season, Giannis and the Bucks fell short of expectations. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, critics were speculating if the 2021 NBA season would be Giannis’ last in Milwaukee. The widely accepted argument is that Giannis will find a new home after next season and look to team up with another superstar in order to win his first championship. However, the argument can be made that Giannis has not yet reached his ceiling and could single-handedly lead the Bucks to a title next season. He can achieve this by continuing to expand his offensive versatility and learning from his past playoff disappointments.

Prior to the 2020 season, defenders would consistently force Giannis to shoot behind the 3-point line. While he was considered to be a forceful finisher at the rim and a legitimate mid- range threat, his 3-point shooting was never effective enough to worry defenses. This has been Giannis’ only weakness on either side of the ball. Defensively, he’s been a revelation. Along with winning this year’s MVP, Giannis also took home the Defensive Player of the Year award by averaging one block, one steal and 13.6 rebounds per game. This all boils down to one truth: Giannis is a consistent 3-point shot away from being a complete player in every sense of the word. Over the past three years, Giannis has continually attempted more 3-pointers per game. In 2019 he attempted 2.8 shots per game from behind the arc. The number rose to 4.7 attempts per game during the 2020 campaign. Giannis knows that his 3-point game is key to making a finals run, especially after losing to a Heat team that featured 3-point phenoms like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. There is no reason to believe that he will not continue to take more 3-pointers, and expand his offensive game.

Failure is one of life’s best teachers, and Giannis has unfortunately faced quite a bit of playoff failure. After losing to Toronto and Miami in the past two years, he’s learned that playoff basketball is a much different animal then the regular season. It is apparent that his goal is to win a championship. When receiving this year’s MVP award he stated, “Don’t call me MVP until I’m an NBA champion.” Giannis has the same mentality that all of the greats have. He will undoubtedly continue to work on his game and learn from past playoff experience, following in the footsteps of Michael Jordan. One of Jordan’s most memorable playoff games was one in which he dropped 63 points against the ’86 Celtics. However, he lost the series to a team that had more overall talent. Jordan would go on to become the greatest player of all time, as well as one of the most clutch playoff performers. He learned from his playoff failures against teams like the Celtics and the Pistons and used them as fuel. 

Like Jordan, Giannis will be motivated by his past. The narrative that he “needs help” in order to win a championship is essentially saying that he has already hit his ceiling. This is simply not accurate. We often forget that he was only two wins away from making his first finals appearance in 2019. Nobody is saying that Giannis will be the next Michael Jordan, but he will learn from his mistakes. The Bucks star clearly has the mentality and talent to carry his team and become one of the league’s all time greats.

Giannis will have much to prove this upcoming season. While free agent rumors will certainly circulate, Giannis will ultimately be focused on the current tasks: developing his game, leading the Bucks to an NBA title and becoming one of the greatest to ever pick up a basketball.