Giannis Antetokounmpo is the real deal. One of maybe two or three players in the entire NBA that could immediately replace what the Golden State Warriors lost when Kevin Durant took his talents to the Jersey shore.
So of course teams, including the Warriors, are eyeing Antetokounmpo - a generational talent that has transformed his franchise into a perennial contender. It would take crazy moves to even begin to entertain the concept of adding the Superstar, but it’s a moot point right now anyways, as he’s busy leading arguably the best team in the league. Any discussion of his next move is best left for a later time.
Just a handful of months ago, Golden State sat atop their golden throne, Milwaukee was merely one of the teams clamoring for a taste of the Championship glory. Now, the Warriors are tanking, and the Bucks are destroying teams on their way to a presumed Finals berth. I know this isn’t new, or an especially unique insight, but seeing the Bucks rising season contrasted against the Warriors Icarus-like plummet to the cellar of the league is yet another firm slap to my face as I wake up to the Warriors gap year season.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (9-29) vs Milwaukee Bucks (32-6)
WHERE: Chase Center; San Francisco, CA
WHEN: Wednesday January 8, 2020; 7:00 pm PST
WATCH: EPSN, NBC Sports Bay Area (?)
The Bucks are really, really good
With all the LA hype, it’s easy to miss exactly how dominant the Bucks have been this season. Though it all starts with Antetokounmpo, they are a well-balanced team with strengths on both sides of the ball. And their championship aspirations are legit.
It’s complete and utter dominance on both sides of the ball.
The Bucks lead the league in rebounding, and are second in total blocked shots; from an efficiency standpoint, the have the best effective field goal (eFG%) percentage in the league while holding their opponents to the worst eFG% in the league.
Their team is on pace for 71 wins with the best net rating in the league (by far):
After 547 games, we are 44.5% through the regular season. This is your current League Outlook:— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) January 7, 2020
Bulls have the #1 defense over the last 15 games. I sorted the clutch-time teams by winning percentage, but Utah being 17-6 with a +24 net rating during those minutes is bonkers pic.twitter.com/69vrp7rZTu
As one Reddit user noted, Giannis’ 30 points per game is not even in the top 50 in minutes per game - which would be a first in NBA history if he can keep it up. In fact, he’s one of only three players ever to score at least 30 points a game in less than 35 minutes per night... though I can’t help but notice he’s doing it slightly less efficient than one Stephen Wardell Curry.
He is my (non-existent) vote for MVP this season. The guys just keeps getting better and better at all aspects of basketball, as per 538:
His transformation has been gradual: He has gone from being a 6-foot-9, 196-pound ball of clay to a 6-foot-11, 242-pound point forward who is both the best in-the-paint scorer since Shaquille O’Neal and a dynamic, dominant playmaker. He now has almost complete control over the Milwaukee offense, which, not coincidentally, is one of the best in basketball.
Warriors get Green back, still no Russell or Looney, nor many answers on either end of the court
The excuses have been adequately covered, and now we are all settling in to the cold, dark watch awaiting for the return of Steph Curry and his Weaponized Joy (trademark pending). Even for those of us old enough to remember the Speedy Claxton years are shocked at just how hard it is to watch this team right now.
Remember above how we said that the Bucks had the best eFG% while holding their opponents to the worst? The Warriors are doing the opposite, coughing up the best eFG while owning the worst such mark when they try their offense.
It’s not hard to understand. Kerr’s system is maybe partially to blame, but since there’s really no untapped offensive potential waiting to be utilized, it’s hard to say. Instead, the team ends up passing the ball around with everyone playing hot potato because none of the looks they’re generating are especially good.
But you know what they say: necessity is the mother of invention. If you want an optimistic outlook, then please remember that the complete dearth of offensive options is forcing some of our players to explore and develop parts of their game which will certainly come in handy once the main weaponry comes back online.
Matchup to watch: Rebounds, and the post in general
Draymond Green returns, but at 6’5” he’s going to be playing at his limit trying to keep his hands up amongst the trees. The Bucks, in addition to Antetokounmpo, have both Brook (who’s having a great year) and Robin Lopez.
The Warriors just waived Marquese Chriss, who had been reliably one of their best rebounders and post threats this season. It’s an unfortunate side effect of being hard capped, with Kerr confirming yesterday that the move was made to honor a preseason agreement with Damion Lee that ensured him a spot in the NBA if he consented to a two-way contract that would offer the Warriors more flexibility.
The loss of Chriss is probably not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but is likely to be especially noticeable against the Bucks.
Can the Warriors win and hand the Bucks a two-game losing streak for the first time this season?
My magic 8 ball is extremely dubious, but crazier things have happened in this league.