“Giannis can be the greatest, he just needs a shot.”
Six weeks into the Pat Connaughton era and that is the dominant refrain round these parts. Giannis Antetokounmpo has metamorphosed into one of the best players in the league. A man who regularly works miracles on the court.
Miracles like this:
And oh yeah, did you see how he did this, and no one could stop him?
No wonder Jabari Parker thinks defense is pointless. Every practice for years he had to guard that.
The dominant theme of Giannis’ career to this point has been the rise, the ascension, the knowledge that tomorrow he will be even better. However, that becomes more exceptional over time. He is already putting up numbers that rival the greatest in their primes.
Shaq and Hakeem and Wilt are legendary, and he’s only 24. There will be a moment when his game crystallizes into something less malleable, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s how it is for every player.
When Wilt Chamberlain was Giannis’ age, he averaged a brain-breaking 38 points and 27 rebounds a game in an era that had no answer to his physical power. Hakeem had 23 and 11. Shaq had 26 and 12 in a season shortened by the bout of injuries that taught him to take the regular season easier for the sake of his career.
Giannis’s 27 and 13 is right there with players that are greater than Hall of Famers, they are All-Time legends, and none of them had an outside shot. They won rings on the power of dunks, because we’re here to get whatever is best gotten, and Giannis can dunk in game like other players dunk in their dreams. Even better, even though those old timers could pass, none of them has the skills of Giannis as a passer or the system to provide ample opportunities to drive and kick.
He’s mold breaking. Giannis doesn’t need to be constricted by the early comps to Kevin Durant. Nobody thinks he’s a rangy and lean Small Forward anymore.
Giannis is amazing, but is he starting to peak? Does that matter when his peak is setting the bar for interior performance in the modern era? Does anyone really have an issue if Giannis turns what used to be a respectable league of professionals into a rolling exhibition for his unstoppable dunktronic flair?
I have to think this is not the end point, that he will continue to refine his game. He has been challenged to work on his shot, and Giannis has shown that he is up for the challenge. The shots will fall eventually if that is the goal, so don’t be surprised if the moment it all comes together isn’t as epic as the rest of our young hero’s career arc.
However, that’s not today, and it might not be for some time. That said, he’s not the only player on this team that’s going home with assignments. These Bucks have work to do.
This team was not built over the past half decade to shoot threes and play zone. Mike Budenholzer’s system has proven effective, but no one can argue that we started this season with the perfect personnel for the system. The road has been bumpy, and teams we should put away in our sleep have given us grief in the final moments.
That we are not experts at our own system is not anybody’s fault that should be blamed for the here and now. In this business you clean up other people’s messes, and the tail end of the Herb Kohl era and the transition for an ownership group new to the game was messy indeed.
We have a pair of guards whose instinct is to charge. A 3 and D wing that spent the Jason Kidd era working on his post-ups. Thon Maker is as haphazard as the day he came in, Rashad Vaughn is out of the league, and D.J. Wilson is getting what might be his last shot at a pro career in Oshkosh.
The Bucks are doing well for a contender. For a team that struggled in the first round, we’re doing spectacular. Even Tony Snell manages a grin from time to time. We should be dancing in the streets.
The Bucks might not have started out with the right personnel for this era, but they have something else, a core with a bond forged in the fires of adversity. The veteran core of this team has known the depths of mediocrity, and it is clear that they are ready and willing pupils if the lesson is how not to suck.
After the meat grinder start to the season, things start to settle out. The Bucks play 14 of the next 16 games going to January 5th against the Eastern Conference, and while that includes games against the Warriors, Celtics, Raptors, and the sleep-on-em-and-they’ll-kill-ya Pistons, it also includes five nice softballs against the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks. Those games ought to be good practice for a team that has struggled to dominate the lesser competition.
We will have a much clearer picture of what this team is and what they will need after a month battling the competition, which should put us in a strong position going into the trade deadline. There are a lot of moving parts, but the Bucks are in the best position this early in the season that they’ve enjoyed in two decades. We are relatively healthy, and even our scrubs are putting it together in the limited minutes they’re getting.
Our assets are flourishing in the system, to the point where guys we slept on seem too good to give up. We aren’t putting teams away in the first quarter every night, but we are learning how to do the little things to win close games. Each player is learning how to be better together, but that process takes dedication. 10,000 hours to mastery.
This is our process. Our journey towards the promised land. Our struggle is making us stronger. The worst thing for this squad would be blowouts every night.
Believe, and savor the journey Bucks fans.