The Greek Freak is now the Hellenic SuperFreak … or something both freakish and superlative.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Eastern Conference favorite to be the Most Valuable Player in the 2018-19 season, has been hitting the weights like a latter day Karl Malone, re-sculpting an already sculpted body
“He’s totally cut. He looks bigger than I expected,” coach Mike Budenholzer told GetMoreSports.com. “His arms and chest show how much time he’s put into going to the weight room.”
Nobody has paid too much attention to the Milwaukee Bucks over the course of the summer, with their biggest defection (Jabari Parker) drawing bigger headlines than their two biggest acquisitions, free agents Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez.
Budenholzer is the new head coach following last season’s Jason Kidd/Joe Prunty shuffle, and the new sheriff in town is promising to play faster, shoot more threes and make a stronger commitment to defense — his teams’ strong suits.
Yes, lots of coaches say that in the offseason. Insert your own Lloyd Pierce joke here.
As for chemistry, the relationship between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe has been strengthened, in large part due to a weeklong trip the team took to New York City over the summer to work out and bond together.
“That trip was phenomenal, and since Labor Day pretty much everyone has been back in Milwaukee,” Budenholzer said. “I think what a lot of people are overlooking is how Brook and Ersan can spread the floor, giving us more spacing around Giannis.”
That should lead to more scoring opportunities for Khris Middleton and Bledsoe, and the subtraction of Parker takes away one player who many believed was more interested in his own statistics than the team’s success. The Bucks went out in seven games against the Boston Celtics last spring in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and they are currently 15-1 to win the Eastern Conference and 110-1 to win the championship at BetDSI.com.
Antetokounmpo is 9-2 to win MVP, and Middleton is 100-1.
The only three players pretty much guaranteed to be in the starting five are Giannis, Middleton and Bledsoe, with competition at the 2-spot taking place between Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell, and Lopez, Thon Maker and John Henson at the 5-spot.
The Bucks will be playing in a new arena that Budenholzer has toured during concerts since it opened, and a brand new practice facility is located just across the street.
And while most of the state’s attention these days is focused on the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers, winter arrives early in Milwaukee (usually the first week of October, temperature-wise), and Budenholzer loves what he sees from a camaraderie and a chemistry standpoint.
Most observers group the Bucks in the second tier of Eastern Conference teams behind Boston and Philadelphia, in a group that includes Washington, Indiana, Toronto and Miami. Cracking that top two will be a challenge, but we all know that the real challenge for Milwaukee will be getting further than last season when Game 7 ended with a thud in Boston — a 112-96 loss.
The biggest question mark?
What will the Bucks get out of Bledsoe, who is being paid $15 million in the final season of his contract.
“For me, it’s how much of an impact can he have defensively,” Budenholzer said. “The talent is there, and his talent is very unique. He has every reason to be an elite defensive point guard with his combination of speed, athleticism and strength.
“And we’ll want to play faster with more space for him and Giannis to operate.”
Last season, the Bucks ranked 15th in points per game and third in field goal percentage, but were just 21st in 3-point accuracy. Defensively, they were 16th in points per game allowed, and 19th in opponents’ field goal percentage.
The key stats to look at this season will be 3-point accuracy and points per game allowed.
Individually, one key stat to look at is Lopez’s rebounding numbers.
Once a max-salary talent, Lopez did little for the Los Angeles Lakers last season and signed a one-year deal with the Bucks for $3.38 million. He averaged just 4.0 rebounds — his lowest career total in nine seasons aside from the 3.6 he averaged for the Nets during their final season in Newark before the move to Brooklyn.
“We’ll be on his ass to rebound,” Budenholzer said. “He is looking for another contract, and the cash flow is going to be much different next summer when the faucets are going to open up again.”
If you believe in the Bucks, bet ’em. They may just pay off like the Bingo Jackpot at Potowatomi.
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