With LeBron officially part of the Western Conference now, can anyone take over the spotlight for the best player in the East? It’s anticipated that teams like the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers are likely to run the East for the next several years, but we might be discrediting the Miluakee Bucks and their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Let’s keep in mind that Milwaukee has hired head coach Mike Budenholzer, and that was not only a great move, but they also need him in order to improve upon their underachieving roster. That underachieving roster, however, is headlined by one of the best players in the NBA right now.
Budenholzer has never coached anyone like Giannis. The 23-year old has improved in each of his five seasons in the NBA, but he still has room to get better. He’s only 23 and already had five seasons with the NBA. That’s both incredible and unbelievable. Not to mention, he’s coming off a LeBron type season in which he led his team in points (26.9), rebounds (10.0), and blocks (1.4), and was second in assists (4.8) and steals (1.5). Giannis is listed at 6-foot-11 and 222 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, but he appears even bigger after a summer in the gym. He is right there with LeBron in terms of versatility. He can play all five positions on offense and guard all five on defense.
So why aren’t we talking about him more? A few reasons – to start, everyone is talking about LeBron and the Western Conference. What will that look like this season? The Golden State Warriors will have more to think about in their race to the Western Conference finals, so it seems like we’re mostly concentrated on the West. But there is potential for some big things in the East as well. As I mentioned – Boston and Philadelphia. But what about the Toronto Raptors who just acquired Kawhi Leonard? There’s that aspect of it as well. But just behind that is Miluwakee. Both in terms of talent and ability as well as in terms of making headlines.
It’s entirely possible for them to get into the fourth or even third seed if another team has a bad year. The way that they do this is through Giannis. Defending Giannis is almost impossible. The Celtics had the no. 1 rated defense in the NBA last season, yet Giannis averaged 25.7 points a game on 57 percent shooting against them in the playoffs. He’s not a great 3-point shooter (30.7 percent from 3 on 1.9 attempts per game last season), but he’s so long and quick that he can get to wherever he wants on the floor and elevate over defenders. His performance in last season’s playoffs slipped under the radar because Boston didn’t have Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. It looks more impressive in hindsight after the Celtics killed the 76ers in the second round and took the Cavs to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
As I said, all eyes will be on the Western Conference this season, but I really think we should be more focused on the East – at least in terms of Giannis.