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.
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.