All eyes on Giannis as the Bucks chase glory
The talk about the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors leading up to Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup had centered on how evenly matched the teams were. They both have star players in Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks and Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors. Many had focused on the supporting cast and their merits and demerits with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol amongst those named as critical pieces. Even the players coming off the bench would make for good matchups. The game has come and gone and it proved everyone right, this is going to be a titanic series with nothing to separate both teams. That’s where Giannis comes in. His impact is so massive for the Bucks and their hopes of making it to the NBA Finals that even when he sits, he influences the game.
Antetokounmpo has been in the MVP conversation for the majority of the season with his dominant displays in and around the basket are putting everyone on notice. The Greek Freak has lead a Milwaukee team with impressive poise and power. Every obstacle they’ve faced in the regular season and in the NBA Playoffs he has helped them overcome. His regular season stats saw him average 27.7 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, 5.9 assists per game, 1.5 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game. He led his team in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game over the course of those 82 games, that saw the Bucks get to a 60-22 record in the Eastern Conference. The postseason has been no different, he is averaging 27.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 4.6 APG and 1.3 SPG, he leads the team in all of those categories. Giannis’ run over the last couple of seasons has seen an astronomical growth in his skill-set. He’s even shooting 3-pointers now, at a far better rate than when he started as he averages 1.3 3-pointers per contest in these playoffs. Giannis’ achievements are simply amazing. He’s now a three-time All-Star and also captained Team Giannis at the most recent All-Star Game. In the 2016–17 season he led the Bucks in all five of the major statistical categories. He thus became the first player in the history of the NBA to finish in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in the regular season. It’s good to remember at this point that he has only been in the NBA for five years and he's only 24 years old.
Giannis has been making his own case for why he should win the Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season. Game by game he is showing what he is made of, both on the court and off it too. He will not be distracted from his mission - to become the best in the world. His NBA journey hasn't been a bed of roses, he's had his hardships. His family has been through a lot as well, his parents moved everyone to Greece from their native Nigeria and there were the associated financial and sociological struggles of being immigrants in Europe. Then Giannis and his brothers found basketball and their lives changed for good. Thanasis and Kostas have both tasted life in the NBA, with Kostas currently on the books of the Dallas Mavericks. But it is Giannis who has been shaking up the world. But success in the basketball world didn't keep tragedy away. In 2017 his father Charles died after suffering a heart attack. It brought Giannis back down to earth, grounding him in a way that nothing else had and it helped him understand that he had to do more, for his family and himself. That same year he was named as the Most Improved Player in the NBA. He now has a shoe deal now, he is the face of a franchise, he’s being talked about as being one of the greatest to don a Bucks jersey and he’s still only getting started.
Giannis next faces the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the usual weight of expectation on his shoulders. He hasn’t flinched when carrying any of that weight yet, as he’s met every challenge head-on and overcome all of the obstacles thrown at him. Leonard, Lowry, Siakam, Gasol, Ibaka et al will give it their best effort to topple the Bucks juggernaut. But they might find that Giannis’ greatest strength is in his ability to bring out the best in the players around him. His unselfish nature and his eye for a pass gets his teammates more involved. His good nature and ability to foster camaraderie in the locker room has seen his teammates lean on him more. When Giannis is around, all eyes are on him. You see it when he enters arenas, restaurants, gas stations, airports, everyone cranes their necks up and looks. We all wait and watch, to see what he will do next. For his opponents there really isn’t much they can do to stop him, they might as well be watching too.