Giannis Antetokounmpo is hungrier than ever to wrestle the NBA crown back in what is the superstar Greek’s 10th season in the league.
Back when he was taken by the Bucks as somewhat of a project with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, nobody could have foreseen the way that he would go on to become the most dominant two-way player in the league.
That’s another way of saying he’s the best player in basketball.
The latest NBA 2K ratings, which as explained in a previous article even the NBA’s top stars set plenty of store by, he is the outright leader with his ’97’ rating.
But the player himself says, without the NBA championship in his pocket to back everything up, he cannot lay claim to being the best player.
He is desperate to win his second crown after leading the Bucks to their first championship in half a century in 2021.
“Do I believe I’m the best player in the world? No,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think the best player in the world is the person that is the last one standing, is the person that takes his team to the final, to the finish line and helps them win the game, win games and become champion.
“I kind of got jealous of Golden State and seeing them in the parade and the ESPYs. You know that feeling now. You know what is getting stripped away from you.”
The Greek Freak has started the new season like someone with a singular purpose. He comes into Wednesday night’s clash with the Brooklyn Nets, live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event from 12.30am in the morning, off the back off of scoring 44 points and grabbing 12 boards in fewer than 28 minutes on the floor in the win against Houston.
Ridiculous numbers. He went 17 of 21 from the floor, including 2 of 3 from three-point range the other night. The 27-year-old, whose shooting from beyond the arc is considered his weakness, is hitting at a 50 per cent clip in the couple of games the Bucks have had so far. If he comes even within 10 per cent of maintaining that figure moving forward (he’s shot 28.9 per cent from three through his NBA career) then he’s going to be absolutely unguardable. It would complete one of the most formidable skillsets in the history of the game.
The records continue to fall for him. After a regular season last year in which Antetokounmpo averaged a career-high 29.9 points and surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the Bucks’ all-time leading scorer, against the Rockets the 27-year-old became Milwaukee’s career free throws leader.
Antetokounmpo went 8 of 13 from the foul line to increase his total to 3,508 free throws out of 4,891 attempts (71.7 per cent). Sidney Moncrief made 3,505 free throws with the Bucks from 1979-89.
“It’s a part of my game that I’ve always tried to get better, always tried to improve,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just being up there, it’s a great feeling.”
“You run out of words to describe a player like that,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said of his team-mate. “I can’t imagine you guys actually have to write. I don’t know how you guys just don’t send the same article over and over with the same adjectives and everything like that because you need some new ways to just describe how his game grows. It’s tough.
“He’s obviously the head of the snake, the engine to everything we do. He just comes out with such great mentality and focus that it trickles down. It gives us all energy.”
The Nets come into Wednesday night’s game still finding their feet in the new season, having gone 1-2 in the early going, but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant got cooking for 37 points each in Monday night’s 134-124 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies. Sadly for them, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane both went one better on 38 apiece.
Ben Simmons is still finding his feet with his new team-mate, finding himself in foul trouble too often to be the defensive menace that he could become. He’s one of the few players with the frame and mobility to try and guard Giannis at least semi-effectively.
Can he lift himself for the battle against the one-man wrecking crew that is Antetokounmpo and the very streetwise and savvy Bucks? Milwaukee are in fact the oldest and most experienced team in the league this year. With Giannis at the heart driving them on in every play, they have every reason to believe they can avenge last season’s surrendering of the NBA crown by winning it all against this year.
Antetokounmpo, by the way, certainly was not to blame for the Bucks’ seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. He averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists against Boston to become the first player to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.
“I’m always going to be desperate,” Antetokounmpo said. “I always try to maximise my potential. I’m blessed to be sitting in this seat, you know, and I’m not going to take that for granted.”
Watch the live NBA action on Wednesday night as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks host Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets – late at night from 12.30am, live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event