Celtics

What's Greek for MVP? Could be Giannis Antetokounmpo

What's Greek for MVP? Could be Giannis Antetokounmpo

MILWAUKEE – After the Bucks’ practice, Tony Snell, ex-Celtic Jason Terry and coach Jason Kidd were having a 3-point shooting contest.
 
In between them taking shots, you would find Giannis Antetokounmpo knocking down mid-range jumpers from the corner and then taking a step back to drain corner 3’s.

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There was a level of focus and seriousness to his after practice routine that served as a reminder as to what this season is about for him – daily improvement.
 
Despite being just 22, Antetokounmpo is the undeniable face of the franchise.
 
And while the Bucks have played just four games this season (they're 3-1), he has been the pacesetter in the NBA this season when it comes to the MVP race.

“It’s a big compliment, but I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Antetokounmpo said. “I have to play hard, help my team win...it’s a long season. I can’t even think about that right now. By playing hard and by winning, everything will take care of itself.”
 
Antetokounmpo will look to continue on his MVP-esque pace Thursday night when the Bucks host the Celtics (2-2), who come in having won two in a row.
 
The Greek Freak has been flat-out dominant this season, averaging a league-best 36.8 points per game, which includes a 37-point-in-37-minutes performance in Milwaukee’s 108-100 win in Boston last week.
 
Kidd, who was a runner-up to Tim Duncan in the MVP race in 2002, knows better than most the challenge awaiting Antetokounmpo if he continues to put up major numbers and the Bucks steadily rack up victories.
 
But such talk, Kidd says, doesn’t mean much considering how early in the season things are currently.


 
“It’s only game four; I think we played four games,” Kidd said. “Anything that’s talked MVP is way too early. For him, he has a job to do. Up or down, he has to go out and execute the game plan and he’s doing that right now. We’ve talked about, there’s going to be a time when the ball doesn’t go in the basket, but you can do other things. It doesn’t change his game. He’s gonna play both ends. It’s kind of what we need him to do. He’s playing at a very high level.”
 
In Milwaukee’s 113-110 victory over Portland, he tallied 44 points but, more important, he came up with a huge block, steal and dunk in the final minute.
 
One of the keys to Antetokounmpo’s growth as a player has been his never-ending desire to get better. He came into the league with a scrawny, stick-like physique.
 
Today?
 
He’s ripped from head to toe, which has enabled him to rip apart defense after defense due to the conundrum his size, length, athleticism and improved strength presents on a nightly basis.
 
Just a shade under 7-feet, he’s too long and athletic to put a guard or even a small forward on him full time. And bigs don’t have the mobility or lateral quickness to defend him adequately.
 
It’s adding up to video game-like numbers for Antetokounmpo.
 
“As a team, we’re playing hard, we can get a lot better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Of course, get better get to the next level. For me, just try to play hard. I expect before the season to play hard and I just play hard.”
 
And it is that mindset that will guide the Greek Freak to positions of prominence in the NBA that few envisioned would be forthcoming to Antetokounmpo.
 
The game will be played at “the Mecca”, where the Bucks played from 1968-88. Some of the greatest games ever between Boston and Milwaukee occurred on the same floor that the current players will play on Thursday night.
 
As much as folks love the idea of taking a stroll down memory lane, it is Milwaukee’s present that should have fans excited.
 
He comes into the game having scored at least 30 points in each of Milwaukee’s first four games. The only Bucks player who has done that more than Antetokounmpo is Marques Johnson, who did so six times in 1978.
 
Antetokounmpo has fully embraced the history of the building and the flooring which both he had his coach talked about being ahead of its time as far as arena flooring is concerned.
 
And he has his own idea of how to pay homage to the greats that came before him, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I’m going to try and do what Kareem did; get buckets,” said Antetokounmpo, with a chuckle.

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Blakely: An early look at some early exits

Blakely: An early look at some early exits

BOSTON – Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. will undergo back surgery that’s expected to keep him out for the rest of this season, giving him a college career that will likely consist of two points in two minutes of action.
 
Projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft, his injury sent shock waves throughout the college basketball landscape as well as among NBA executives, who now must weigh the injury in their evaluation regardless of how well he recovers or even he aces the physical tests he’ll surely undergo leading up to the draft.

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You can count the Celtics among those to pay close attention to what’s happening with Porter Jr., a player that may be available to them in June courtesy of the first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers (via Philadelphia) that Boston received as part of the Markelle Fultz-Jayson Tatum trade.
 
As talented as Porter Jr. is, he won’t be the only high draft pick counted on to make an impact at the next level.
 
In this week’s Starting Five, we’ll take a look at the top five college freshman (most of whom are expected to turn pro and be in the draft in June) as well as MVP candidates; the top backcourts; the top rookies and my top five teams on the rise.

TOP 5 COLLEGE FRESHMEN
1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke: Has a double-double in four of Duke’s six games this season, averaging 19.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

2. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: Has impressive numbers, but back-to-back losses by the Wildcats? Not a good look for this future lottery pick.

3. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Depending on how his recovery/workouts/physicals go, no shocker if he winds up as the No. 1 pick when all is said and done.

4. Collin Sexton, Alabama: Big-time scorer, Sexton is a tough, tough cover in the half court or in transition.

5. Mohamed Bamba, Texas: 7-footer with a 7-9 wingspan, think Rudy Gobert with better athleticism.


TOP 5 NBA BACKCOURTS 
1. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State: NBA champions two of the last three seasons, Curry and Thompson are the gold standard all NBA backcourts are measured against.
 
2. Chris Paul and James Harden, Houston: The sample size is small, but the three games since Paul’s return have been by an average of 26 points per game which speaks to how well this all-star backcourt has come together.
 
3. John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington: Wall’s end-to-end speed coupled with Beal’s elite shooting has made this one of the game’s most deadly backcourt duos.
 
4. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: They’re the next best thing backcourt-wise to Wall/Beal in the East, but Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown are right on their heels.
 
5. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland: You don’t hear a ton about these two because Portland has been a good-but-not-great program that doesn’t garner a ton of attention. But don’t be fooled. Lillard and McCollum are two of the league’s most dynamic scorers.
 
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES
1. James Harden, Houston: A prolific scorer, Harden leads the NBA in scoring (31.1 points) and assists (9.8) per game while boasting the best record in the West.

2. Kyrie Irving, Boston:  The best player on the team with the best record who has been at his best in the clutch – that’s Kyrie Irving this season.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland: The Cavs are starting to roll up the wins and it is once again due to LeBron James doing LeBron James things.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The MVP front-runner the first couple of weeks of the season, the Greek Freak is still a load for teams to deal with.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York:  Among the NBA’s top-5 in scoring and blocked shots, Porzingis’ biggest achievement has been leading a far more competitive Knicks team than what we’ve seen the past couple of years.
 

TOP 5 ROOKIES
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia: A triple-double in the making, his statistics combined with Philly winning make him a no-brainer if he can stay healthy.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston: His numbers are solid, but he moves to the forefront of those being considered because of his two-way play and his team’s success.

3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah: His 14.3 points leads all rookies who average less than 30 minutes played per game.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: Only Simmons is averaging more points among rookies than Kuzma (16.8 points per game).

5. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago: The Bulls are bad, but Markkanen’s inside-outside is impressive regardless of how his team has fared this season.
 

TOP 5 TEAMS ON THE RISE
1. Cleveland: With Boston’s loss, the Cavs have the longest current winning streak which stands at six wins in a row.

2. New Orleans: Currently with the seventh-best record in the West, the Pelicans have won seven of their last 10 games.

3. Indiana: Only Cleveland has been hotter than the Pacers, winners of four in a row.

4. Philadelphia: Joel Embiid has the Sixers three games above-.500, trending towards entering league MVP conversation.

5. San Antonio: After 4-4 start, Spurs are 7-3 since and very much in the thick of things out West.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the Magic at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Time for Streak 2.0?

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