Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks look to be last team standing at season’s end
MILWAUKEE — Expectations for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have never been higher.
After leading the Bucks to a league-best 60 wins in the regular season and losing to the NBA champion Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals earlier this year, Antetokounmpo is putting his league MVP trophy on the shelf and focusing solely on taking Milwaukee to the next level.
“We gotta focus on ourselves, which is getting better each day, competing in practice so you can carry over to the game, and just build that winning culture, the great habits that we built last year,” Antetokounmpo said. “If we do that, we’re going to be one of the teams that will be the last one standing. That’s our goal.”
Antetokounmpo, who is entering his seventh season with the Bucks, had the busiest offseason of this career. He had new press obligations after winning the MVP, launched his signature shoe with Nike, and played on the Greek national team in the FIBA World Cup. Somewhere along the way, Antetokounmpo said he also worked on his leadership skills and his game, specifically his jump shot.
Antetokounmpo largely earned MVP honors for his play in the paint. The 6-foot-11 forward averaged a league-leading 17.5 paint points in the regular season. But Toronto built walls in transition and sent multiple help defenders at him to keep him away from the basket. Struggling to find consistent driving lanes, Antetokounmpo, who averaged a career-high 27.7 points per game in the regular season, averaged just 22.7 points on 44.5 percent shooting and 4.2 turnovers per game against the Raptors.
Antetokounmpo has spent time this offseason shooting with new teammate Kyle Korver, one of the best shooters in NBA history.
“This feels like a more organized version of Cleveland to me,” said Korver, who signed a one-year deal with the Bucks in July. Korver played in back-to-back NBA Finals with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018, and played for Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer when they both were in Atlanta. Budenholzer won Coach of the Year last season and with the Hawks in 2015.
Other newcomers to Milwaukee this season include Dragan Bender, Wesley Matthews — who played his college ball at Marquette —, and Robin Lopez, who joins twin brother Brook. The most notable addition by general manager Jon Horst, last season’s Executive of the Year, was bringing in Giannis’ older brother, Thanasis.
The 6-foot-7 forward, who last played in the NBA in 2016 for the Knicks, signed a guaranteed two-year contract with the Bucks in July.
“My first thing is to compete,” Thanasis Antetokounmpo said. “And gracefully just try to understand how the system works. After understanding that, trying to see where I fit in, trying to see what the coach, what the team wants me to do, and then go out there and do it.”
Despite having the league’s No. 1 defense last season, Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo both said the team needs to get better and tougher defensively. Though the team lost one of its top defenders in guard Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers, Antetokounmpo is confident the addition of his brother will help fill the void.
“I’ve talked with coach about Thanasis,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “(I’ve said), ‘Hey … I trust him. I know that if you tell him to run through a wall, he’s going to run through a wall. And he’s going to get up and say, ‘Which other wall you want me to run through?'”
While the Bucks manage expectations this season, they’ll also have to manage a rather large looming question: How much longer will Giannis Antetokounmpo be in Milwaukee?
He can be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020. At that point, the Bucks can offer him a five-year, nearly $250M supermax extension. Horst recently told a crowd at a Bucks fan event that he intends to offer the extension to the three-time All-Star. The league office handed Milwaukee a five-figure fine, claiming Horst’s comments crossed the line regarding player contract comments.
Antetokounmpo refused to discuss his future on Monday.
“I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” he said. “I think it’s disrespectful towards my teammates talking about my free agency and what I’m going to do. So when the time is right, we’re all going to talk about it. I don’t think the time is right right now. … I’m not going to talk about it a lot this season and I’m not going to try to address it.”
The Bucks open the season Oct. 24 in Houston against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets.