In Sports

Giannis may have gotten even better from last year - no, really. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)

Giannis takes another step in his mission to take over the NBA

For the second consecutive year, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is wrecking worlds to start the season.

Last year, Antetokounmpo averaged 29.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game through the first month. The Bucks are only three games into the 2018-19 campaign, but Giannis is already averaging 27.3 points, 16 boards and 5.7 dimes a night.

The difference, however, is that even after Antetokounmpo's ridiculous start last year, it felt like he was maxing out his talents as a 22-year-old in Jason Kidd's rigid, slowpoke system. It would have been almost impossible for him to actually improve on his start to 2017-18, and over the final four-and-a-half months, his production level dropped ever so slightly. Giannis was still one of the five or six best players in basketball last year, but he wasn't quite ready to lead Milwaukee against a superior team, which showed in the Bucks' first-round exit to Boston.

But with another year of seasoning and a new head coach, it feels like Antetokounmpo's best seasons are no longer something we have to speak about in future terms. Peak Giannis has officially arrived.

Pace and space have always been the key principles of Mike Budenholzer-led offenses, and the Bucks are no different this year. The Bucks are up to 13th in pace this year, which may not sound like much, but it's nearly a seven-possession increase per game over the 2017-18 Milwaukee unit. Seven extra possessions per game means seven more opportunities for Giannis to take over, something Budenholzer has taken to heart this year.

Antetokounmpo dominates nearly every facet of the offense for Milwaukee; he leads the NBA in usage rate this season at 36.3 percent, a significant uptick over his 30.6 percent mark last year. He is third in field goal attempts per game (24.3).

Giving Giannis the ball, getting out of his way and flying up the court always seemed like a no-brainer strategy for the Bucks. Now they are finally doing it.

Milwaukee's preseason three-point frenzy has carried over to the regular season as well. The Bucks are third in three-point attempts per game (40), a far cry from the Kidd-era offense (25th at 24.7 per game last year). Antetokounmpo is attempting a career-high four treys a night, and he is reaping the benefits of a wide open floor to attack the paint.

The three rotation big men – Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson – are already 11-31 from beyond the arc. After years of painfully watching Henson, Greg Monroe and other lead-footed centers drag defenders into the paint, the Bucks now run a free-flowing half court offense conducive to Giannis' skillset.

And the scary thing is Antetokounmpo can still get even better this year. Right now, he is shooting eight percent on three-pointers and 62 percent on free throws. When those numbers stabilize – say 30 percent and 75 percent, respectively – he should cruise past 30 points per game, especially if he maintains his remarkable usage rate.

It will be virtually impossible for him to post 16 rebounds a night all season long, but with him manning the four on defense, he will always be around the rim to clean the glass. The Bucks' other big men have never been huge rebounders and will certainly be content to watch Giannis stuff the stat sheet. And now that Budenholzer has the Bucks moving the ball with pace, it's easy to envision Antetokounmpo averaging over five assists as well. A 30-12-5.5 stat line is very much in play.

After years of stagnation and hiccups, the Bucks are firmly trending upwards. A new arena, a new coach and a new system have revitalized the organization, which puts the rising Bucks in lockstep with the flourishing city of Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo didn't put Milwaukee on the map, but he is the perfect face as the city establishes itself as a major player for culture, community and, of course, sports.


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