As we inch closer to actual NBA games, the challenge that the players will face in their quest for a championship becomes clearly. Early this week the NBA passed its first test by having every NBA player in the bubble test negative for Covid-19. This has bolstered the hope that the bubble concept will be able to hold off as Covid-19 rages outside of it.
Nobody quite knows what the product will look like – though with inter-squad – scrimmages this week we will get our first peak at an empty NBA game. While it’s foolish to argue that this restart will decide the legacy of an NBA player or organization, it certainly can help to build up one should they go the distance.
Just as Hercules had to overcome 12 challenges or labors in order to prove himself to be worthy, NBA superstars will be taxed in a way they never have before. Superstars will be responsible for carrying their teams on the court like usual but they will also have to keep their groups focused, engaged, and united in their quests for a championship. Here are the biggest challenges that 12 NBA superstars will face as they seek to win the title. Coming third is the Greek Freak.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a GAME WRECKER. At a nearly 7′ tall and with a handle like a guard Giannis does things on a court most people can’t even dream of. The growth that he has shown in his game over the last 7 years has been remarkable; in particular the last 2 seasons under Mike Budenholzer. As the focal point of Milwaukee’s 5 out offensive attack Giannis has flourished thanks to the driving lanes that have been created. The Bucks have also done a great job of getting the ball to Giannis in downhill, point of attack situations that allow him to drive on stationary and flat-footed defenders ill prepared for Giannis’s speed and force. The one aspect still missing from Giannis’s game is the 3 ball. However, this season he is pulling nearly 5 game and shooting it a tick above 30%. Should his percentage continue to rise, god help the defenders of the NBA. Defensively, Giannis can do it all. On ball. Off ball. Rim protection. Rebounding. The guy could and should win Defensive Player of the Year this season. His versatility on that end allows for coach Bud to tinker with all kinds of lineups and match-ups that most teams don’t have the luxury of.
With all the natural gifts, talents, and skills that Giannis has at his disposal his teams have not achieved the ultimate goal. Last season they seemed poised to run through the East defeated the Pistons in 4 games, the Celtics in 5, and going up 2-0 on the Raptors. In the next 4 games the Raptors would take each of them and send the shocked Bucks home. While Giannis’s counting stats looked pretty solid – 23 ppg, 6 asts, 14 rebs on shooting splits of 45/33/58 – they hide the bigger issue. His field goal percentage dropped over 10% from 58%-45% and his foul shooting fell off a cliff from 73%-58%.
The entire Bucks offensive system is predicated on Giannis’s ability to convert high percentage shots around the rim. If he’s not converting at a high rate then teams are less incentivized to slide in and help defensively, and if teams don’t need to aggressively help on Giannis’s drives then it makes it that much more difficult for them to shoot it well from three. Additionally, the massive dip in his foul shooting is a major concern. He has to make a solid percentage in order to make teams pay for “hammering” him when he gets inside.
All of this leads to the biggest obstacle in Giannis’s path towards a NBA Bubble title. In the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Raptors Giannis displayed many of the struggles a young Lebron faced in Cleveland. Both had systems built entirely around their ability to carve up defenses, finish at a high rate around the basket, and distribute when defenses over-helped. Giannis needs to be able to handle the physical toll this will take in a grind-it-out playoff series. He also needs to overcome the mental hurdle of having all the pressure rest on his shoulders.
In conjunction with that Giannis must prove capable of delivering late in games, against defenses loaded up on him, be able to punish defenses that sag off him, and be willing to accept the challenge. Although it was an all-star game, it was telling that in the closing possessions of the game it was not Giannis making plays, attacking the rim, or demanding the ball.
Giannis never even touches the ball. Now obviously that will not be the case for the Bucks, but it is telling that guys like Embiid, Lowry, and Siakam all got touches before Giannis did. Giannis will be the guy for the Bucks. He will have to be the late game creator. It will be against a set defense with the other teams best defender on him. He struggled last year against Kawhi. He was mentally alright with not getting the ball in a hard fought all-star game. For Giannis and Bucks to win the title this season he will have to overcome the mental hurdles of being the late-game decider, the punishment of attacking the rim, and be dominant finisher that he is in the regular season.