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Giannis Antetokounmpo has to keep the switch flipped

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He is the new king of the East, and is the star player on a playoff-bound team. However, at times early in the season, something has been amiss.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently leading all players in the KIA MVP race. He is averaging 27.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game. Phenomenal numbers from a phenomenal player.

However, at times in the first month of this season, something has been amiss. Having just touched on his numbers, being able to say that is a testament to just how good Antetokounmpo is. Having seen him at his best, Giannis can’t simply be held to the same standards as almost all of his peers.

Antetokounmo is different. He’s special. And so, on the occasions when he’s struggling with turnovers, or bricking free throws, or closing out on shooters just a little half-heartedly; it’s impossible not to watch him and eagerly wait for the Greek to move into a higher gear.

The same applies for the moments late in games when it’s all set up for him to take over. Everyone knows he can do it, and yet sometimes he doesn’t manage to assume the required alpha dog persona.

It’s there. It’s always ready to be unlocked, but the time has come for Antetokounmpo to find a way to go to that well even more frequently than he currently does.

I know, you’re likely calling me crazy right now.

“But Jacob, he worked out with Kobe Bryant during the offseason! Mamba mentality!”

Like Billy Joel said, ”You may be right, I may be crazy.”

I’m insane enough to tell the sole leader in the MVP race that he still has room to get better, and that he in fact needs to.

Like I did in exploring Eric Bledsoe‘s often challenging fit with the Bucks, let me justify my reason for saying this.

Go back to the Bucks’ loss against the Clippers. You know, the one where Lou Williams crushed all Milwaukee’s collective hopes and dreams by nailing that clutch, circus-like running floater?

Yeah, that one. Remember who took the last shot?

That’s right, it was Khris Middleton.

Most of the time, Middleton is a stellar late game performer.

Go back to Game One of the 2018 NBA playoffs against the Celtics. With 0.6 seconds left on the shot clock, Middleton banged home the kind of clutch three I had not seen the likes of since Kyrie Irving‘s dagger against the Warriors.

In that situation, sure, Middleton was the right guy.

But in the Clippers game, Middleton wasn’t lined up for a three. Instead, he drove it to the hoop. Some may argue that at the last second he tried to dish the ball to Giannis out of the pick and roll, but came up short.

Regardless, this is an obvious time to get the ball to your best player.

Antetokounmpo should have the ball in such situations. Giannis can dominate virtually any opponent in his path, and should be given the green light to do so.

In the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Antetokounmpo had an “off” game, again by his incredibly high standards. Giannis is the rare case where a stat line of 23 points, nine rebounds, and six assists is considered “off”.

That being said, the soon to be 24-year-old is a superstar. In games like this, Antetokounmpo has got to step it up and simply take over.

Giannis can do almost anything he wants on the basketball court — the three-point shot is coming — so he has to recognize that he is close to unstoppable, and can bully his way to the rim at will.

He’s got to be an alpha dog.

Need examples?

Take LeBron James against the Miami Heat in November. James took over the game and was incredibly efficient. LeBron knew of the talent around him, but asserted himself as the go-to guy to ensure the victory by blasting the Heat with a sweltering 51 points.

Giannis is the King of the East now, and he can take a page from the previous King, and learn to rule the court.

Once Antetokounmpo develops enough confidence, this will surely change. The more chances he gets to shine, the brighter he will become.

I have no doubt in my mind that Giannis will get it figured out. In fact, there’s even been signs of progress on this front in the past few days alone.

The prime example of this issue came against the Suns, when Antetokounmpo scored his final points at the 3:59 mark, and in spite of his 35 points and 10 rebounds on the night, then watched on as his team lost following missed shots from Middleton, Bledsoe and Brook Lopez.

The very next night, the Bucks closed out a narrow win over the Spurs as Antetokounmpo contributed five points and an assist in that same span, finishing with 34 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists overall.

That’s the difference. It’s what Antetokounmpo is capable of doing on a nightly basis, and it’s what he still needs to learn to do just a little bit more often.

Giannis is unselfish, and often defers to his teammates in the clutch, but he needs to understand what’s best for the team will frequently be backing himself to deliver the win.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: How much is Brook Lopez worth?

Perhaps the flip switched for Giannis in the final minutes against the Spurs, but if that’s the case, the next step for Milwaukee’s franchise cornerstone is ensuring it stays flipped moving forward.

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