Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo Putting NBA Back On Notice

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
NBA Analysis Network

In the Eastern Conference, it was been the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets that have garnered much of the attention in the first half of the 2021-22 NBA season. One team that has been operating perhaps under-the-radar a bit until recently has been the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks.

The early portion of the season was a stretch marred with key players being sidelined for the Bucks and the results showed. Milwaukee was limited to a poor 6-8 record through the initial 14 games, but they have been firing on all cylinders as of late as they have gone a staggering 21-9 since.

The Bucks put the NBA on notice during Thursday’s action when they defeated the Golden State Warriors 118-99 on national television. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with a staggering triple-double consisting of 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists with three blocks.

Perhaps most impressive of all was how Antetokounpmo led the Bucks to a 77-38 halftime lead that featured his box score including 23 points on 9-of-12 (75.0%) shooting from the floor. Again, that’s at halftime. against a fellow elite NBA team…

“We’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to keep building good habits. We’ve got to keep going out there and having fun,” Antetokounmpo told TNT in his postgame interview. “Obviously, we know that we’re the defending champs. Everybody’s gonna come play hard against us. But at the end of the day, it’s about us.”

Two-time NBA MVP has continued to elevate his play for the Bucks throughout the 2021-22 season. He’s now up to averages of 28.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and.61 assists on the season. He’s elevated his game to an incredible level since making his return for the Bucks’ Christmas Day victory over the Boston Celtics as he’s averaging 32.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 7.1 assists with Milwaukee posting a 6-3 record when he’s played.

LATEST NBA NEWS: 3 Trade Targets For Milwaukee Bucks To Pursue At Deadline

While not unique to the Golden State Warriors, it was a real struggle for them to contain Antetokounmpo from getting downhill. Draymond Green was sidelined but no individual defender has an answer for the “Greek Freak” when he’s using his size and explosiveness to get to the rim.

“You get to a position that you’ve seen pretty much everything,” Antetokounmpo said. “Now you’ve just got to let your instincts take over, try to be in the moment as much as possible, and hope that you make the right play. But my mindset always is try to be aggressive, try to get downhill.”

As the NBA trade deadline nears, many teams are trying to add the necessary defensive versatility to be able to slow down Antetokounmpo in a potential playoff series. Right now, no team in the Eastern Conference has a hope of containing him in the paint, or even stopping him from getting there.

LATEST NBA NEWS: 3 Trade Targets For Milwaukee Bucks To Pursue At Deadline

An element that has continued to make the Milwaukee Bucks such a difficult to team to stop has been the continued effort to surround Antetokounmpo with elite perimeter shooting. Milwaukee trails only the Utah Jazz (15.0) in three-point makes per game with an average of 14.4 per game and rank 7th in efficiency (36.2%).

Giannis Antetokounmpo has produced a staggering 1.457 points per possession (PPP) on finishes around the basket within the half-court this season. For a player who is often driving against a loaded defense, to be posting on-par or greater efficiency with some of the NBA’s elite play-finishers is stunning.

“My mindset is, I have something I’m going to take it. I’m not going to second guess it,” Antetokounmpo said. “If somebody is wide open I’m going to try and deliver that ball to him. If I cannot, I’m going to see what’s next. I always try to be in the moment. But having an assertive mindset, an aggressive mindset, that’s how I start the game. That’s what I think in every possession.”

When factoring in that Antetokounmpo has talents like Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to attack favorable mismatches and switches that develop throughout games, the Bucks’ team construction efforts appear to be greater than a ‘lucky title run’ made possible by injuries.

LATEST NBA NEWS: 3 Trade Targets For Milwaukee Bucks To Pursue At Deadline

Keep in mind, Bobby Portis has continued to step up, Grayson Allen and Wesley Matthews have been helpful additions, and key players like Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez are recovering from injuries. Perhaps there will be helpful potential additions to be made in the trade or buyout markets, too.

The Milwaukee Bucks flew under-the-radar in pursuit of their 2021 NBA Finals run. The league is being putting on notice by the reigning champions and Giannis Antetokounmpo appears to be in the driver’s seat to win his third MVP award after recent trends with other candidates have tempered their respective candidacies.

About Grant Afseth 1199 Articles
Grant Afseth is an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network and Dallas Mavericks reporter for DallasBasketball.com. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth).