What narrative must Giannis Antetokounmpo concoct to repeat as NBA MVP?


The Eastern Conference is as wide open as the Western Conference. Although the Raptors are still slated to be a playoff contender, they are not strong suitors to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second year in a row. That opens up things for Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Milwaukee Bucks, who met an early end to their season at the hands of Kawhi Leonard in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 2019 NBA MVP was no match for the more well-rounded team and the more determined superstar forward. Meanwhile, separate from Milwaukee’s championship hopes are those for a repeat MVP run from Antetokounmpo.

Well… sort of.

The NBA’s MVP race is all about narrative, and last season it was one that finally came to fruition for the young Bucks superstar. Every year it seemed we had heard about how Antetokounmpo was going to take the leap; how he grown taller; how he’d added additional muscle, and that it was going to be his time to shine. The 2018-19 NBA season was all of that, and more. Antetokounmpo was a revelation, the most important player on both sides of the ball for any one team. And yes, that included James Harden with the Houston Rockets.

But just as Antetokounmpo was the thing that kept Milwaukee going, so too was he partially responsible for their downfall in the playoffs. Teams were able to game plan for Antetokounmpo’s inefficiencies — most notably 3-point shooting — and rely on a dip in performance by his Bucks supporting cast.

Milwaukee lost to Toronto in six games this past May. By the time the Eastern Conference Finals were over, everyone had agreed: Antetokounmpo was the most valuable player in the regular season. But the best player in the playoffs? That alone belonged to Leonard.

It’s not just that Antetokounmpo has to battle the fact that he’s already won an MVP — this is a league that doesn’t hand out a second, consecutive crown unless that player’s team wins the championship (LeBron James, 2013) or is a revolutionary player attaining new heights on a championship-hopeful team (Steve Nash from 2004-06, LeBron from 2008-10, Stephen Curry in 2016).

Coupled with this historical context, there’s also the idea of narrative. Before last season even began, Antetokounmpo was the leader in that department. We enter 2019 with no player at that helm. In fact, Antetokounmpo deficiencies may be the thing that could turn the narrative against him.

There’s no denying that defenses in the playoffs operated differently against the Bucks because they knew that Antetokounmpo could not shoot the three. It’s the one thing missing from his game, and it’s missing by such a disproportionate amount. Antetokounmpo shot 25.6% from beyond the arc last season, elevating to 32.7% for the postseason. That just wasn’t good enough, particularly compared to some of his more envelope-pushing contemporaries.

Antetokounmpo will be one of the most electrifying players in the NBA this season. He has another year of experience under his belt, and time spent figuring out exactly what teams did to him in the playoffs should help him next spring. But even in a league that defined by each player being their own brand, Antetokounmpo cannot stop the groundswell that will burble up underneath of him this season if he can’t shoot reliably.

If Antetokounmpo can’t at least find his way to league average in 2019-20, Twitter, opinion columnists, and folks around the water cooler will lament the idea that a modern, game-changing forward can do so much that we’ve never seen before… but can’t keep up with trends in 3-point shooting. Eventually, that narrative could turn against him and be what keeps him from repeating as MVP.

This takes us back to where we started. Despite the Raptors no longer being the favorites to return to the Finals, the East will be quite difficult to traverse for Milwaukee. The Philadelphia Sixers strengthened themselves this season with the signing of Al Horford. In Boston, the Celtics will have a full year of a healthy Gordon Hayward along with freshly-minted Kemba Walker. The king it may be out of the East, but usurping the throne won’t be easy for Antetokounmpo.

As a team, the Bucks were middle of the pack in terms of 3-point shooting last season. It helps that guys like Brook Lopez have stretched opposing defenses in ways that have made up for Antetokounmpo’s efficiencies. But this year, if Milwaukee wants to make a true championship run they will need Antetokounmpo to find a way to shoot the three-ball. Ironically enough, that’s also same thing that could propel him to a second straight MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: If Bucks underperform whether to re-sign ‘becomes a lot more difficult’

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Around the league, the consensus among team executives is Giannis Antetokounmpo is almost a lock to sign a super-max contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks next summer.


Which is why other teams are keeping an eye on the situation, just in case.

The Bucks are a contending team and the only home Antetokounmpo has known in the United States — the only place he has ever been able to live comfortably and happily with his family — but he keeps leaving the door just a little open. He did that at the end of last season. He did it again over the summer speaking a Harvard University professor who was researching the Bucks turnaround and the challenges of a small market team in the NBA. Via the Journal Sentinel.

“I want the Bucks to build a winning culture,” Antetokounmpo is quoted as saying. “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”

Define “underperforming.” Do the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals? What if they lose in a close seven-game Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia? Anything short of the conference finals — barring a major injury, of course — would be a disappointment. Is this Antetokounmpo just keeping pressure on the organization to spend and put together a winner?

Leaving Milwaukee would mean leaving a lot of money on the table — only the Bucks can re-sign Antetokounmpo to a five-year, $247 million supermax contract next summer. Bucks GM Jon Horst said Milwaukee will offer it (then got fined for saying they would offer it, even though it’s obvious). If Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign it, the Bucks will be forced to consider trading him (or lose him for nothing), or find a way to win him over before his contract ends in 2021.

Because of money, comfort level, and playing for a contender, most teams don’t think Antetokounmpo is going anywhere as a free agent next summer.

But they are watching. Just in case.

Jamal Crawford makes not-so-subtle pitch on Twitter for spot on Lakers roster

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The Lakers have made LeBron James their point guard this season, the shot creator with the ball in his hands.

That worked with limited success in a season-opening loss to the Clippers. LeBron tried to force-feed the ball to Anthony Davis much of the night (leading to five turnovers). The Clippers adjusted to defend LeBron/Davis actions as the game wore on — switching but having the big man stay back and daring LeBron to shoot or blow past the defender, neither of which he did well. When Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee was on the floor, the Lakers had no spacing, so the Clippers clogged the paint. In the end, LeBron and Davis combined to shoot 15-of-40 on the night, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

Laker coach Frank Vogel was stuck because he didn’t have another good playmaking option (his next best guys for that, Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma, are both out injured).

Free agent Jamal Crawford has an idea and voiced it on Twitter.

Crawford is one of the best veteran free agents available

And no, this is not going to happen.

The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts already and the one non-guaranteed they are carrying is Howard (teams can only carry 15 players). If the Lakers waived Howard they would need to replace him with another center. The Lakers could eat the contract of Troy Daniels or Jared Dudley to create a roster spot for a free agent, but they are nowhere near making that kind of move yet. Even if they were, Crawford might not be the guy, he creates shots more for himself than others.

Crawford could help the right team, the man can still get buckets off the bench. He averaged 7.9 points per game last season and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last year. There are downsides — Crawford is 39, has slowed in recent years, and his defense is not good — but in the right role he can help.

Just not the Lakers.

Good try, though.

Draymond Green opens up about, takes blame for last season’s rift with Kevin Durant

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At the time last November, some wondered if Draymond Green‘s on-court, over-the-top argument with Kevin Durant — which extended into the locker room, where Green reportedly called Durant a “b****” and questioned his commitment to the Warriors because of KD’s pending free agency — would doom the Warriors down the line in the playoffs.

Green was more worried about what it would do to his friendship with Durant.

That’s what Green said on The Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, a  joint interview with Green and Warriors GM Bob Myers. Green also said the team suspending him for a game ultimately forced him to step back and think about the incident.

“I started to tell myself in my mind, ‘Wow, [Myers is] flipping on me,’ and it just felt like, ‘Wow, OK, is this not the guy I’ve known for all these years? Is he turning on me?’ And I started to tell myself all of these things, and then everybody’s like, ‘Oh my God, the Warriors sided with Kevin Durant.’…

“I just had to accept the fact that I was wrong. And once I was able to get over my stubbornness and accept the fact that I was wrong, I was able to move on. I lost [Durant’s] trust. How do I get that back? Not so we can win a championship or we can win some games … but I actually loved this guy, like that’s really my brother. And so not knowing what’s next in our relationship bothered me more.”

Green said he eventually apologized to Durant and he thought the relationship was repaired. However, Green added that Durant’s comments to the Wall Street Journal this summer that he never felt he fit in with the guys in Golden State really bothered him.

The Green and Durant incident ultimately did not cost the Warriors a title, worn-down ligaments and tendons that snapped did that (as well as an outstanding Raptors team).

Did what Green said push Durant out the door, ultimately to Brooklyn? Only Durant knows the answer to that, but it felt like KD was eyeing the door before Green got in his face.

As for their relationship, if Shaq and Kobe can get along now there’s no reason to worry about Durant and Green.


Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet each go off for 34 points against Pelicans (VIDEO)

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Apparently lifting those insanely-large championship rings didn’t wear out Pascal Siakam‘s and Fred Van Vleet’s shooting arms.

Siakam looked like a guy ready to earn that new $130 million contract, and Van Vleet looked like the guy from the NBA Finals who just kept hitting shots and making plays. Each of them scored 34 points — Van Vleet did it on 12-of-18 shooting — helping left the Raptors to a 130-122 overtime win.

Check out the video of Siakam and Van Vleets buckets above.

We’ll see what the Raptors roster looks like after the trade deadline, but as assembled this is a pretty good team that’s going to win a lot of games in the East. Especially is Siakam can continue this level of play and take another step forward off of last season’s Most Improved Player campaign.