"Two seconds... step-back jumpeeerr... GOT IT! GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO AT THE BUZZER! BAM!"
That was the call from Milwaukee Bucks announcer Gus Johnson on Wednesday as Giannis Antetokounmpo drained a step-back jump shot to beat the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. His 1st career buzzer-beater was more than just a pretty shot for a January win. It was his way of saying "I'm for real, and Stop One is the All-Star Game."
With just over a week left in All-Star voting, Giannis is currently 3rd in the Eastern Conference voting. When you break it down further, he is only behind LeBron James, the King himself in voting. In terms of fan voting, it's virtually a lock that the Greek Freak will be in the All-Star Game. He will be the first Milwaukee Buck to be named to the All-Star team since Michael Redd in the 2003-04 season.
Giannis has built up quite the All-Star résumé this season. He is currently averaging 23.9 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game, and 5.8 assists per game. His scoring has improved by 7.0 points compared to last season, which easily puts him into Most Improved Player conversation. While impressive, the Alphabet has decided to go on quite a tear. At the time this article was written, Giannis has scored 20 or more points in 13 straight games. He is the team leader in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, and blocks per game. The All-Star game almost doesn't do Giannis justice. He should be in the MVP conversation.
I mentioned earlier that the improvement in his scoring is grounds for mention in a discussion about Most Improved Player. While that is certainly an honor, there's another conversation that needs the name "Giannis Antetokounmpo" thrown in it. The conversation is about the NBA's Most Valuable Player.
It sounds ludicrous that a player for the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that 3 years ago was the laughing stock of the NBA with a 15-67 record, could be even considered for MVP. A franchise that has been irrelevant for years can't possibly have an MVP caliber player. That's exactly why Giannis needs to be in the MVP discussion.
The Bucks lost Khris Middleton before the season started to injury. In a panic, they traded for Michael Beasley. It seemed the season that was supposed to see the Bucks make strides to being a better team was lost. It was time to tank and hope for a good pick in the draft. I tried to be optimistic in my outlook for the season, but the thought in the back of my mind was "lottery pick." That's where Giannis stepped in.
The Bucks currently sit at 18-16 (when this was written) and are 6th in the Eastern Conference. They've beaten down the Cavs once and beat the Bulls three times. They competed with the Warriors and Spurs and Hawks. This is a team that has no business being relevant this year, but Giannis has led the team to what so far is the best surprise to come from this team in awhile. In my opinion, James Harden is the MVP this year followed by Russell Westbrook. After that, it's Giannis Antetokounmpo. Without him, we would see this Bucks squad competing for last place in the NBA, not a playoff spot. I think the true definition of "MVP" is the player that is most valuable to their team. Without that MVP, the team would struggle. This is the case with Giannis Antetokounmpo. As I said above, the Bucks could easily be vying for last place in the NBA without him.
High hopes are high hopes, and one day they could be fulfilled. For now, settling for All-Star isn't so much settling, as it is celebrating. Giannis will be the first All-Star from Milwaukee in 12 years. If he can continue developing the way he is expected to, this won't be the only decoration he earns throughout his NBA career.
On a side note, let's take a look at that beautiful buzzer-beater again.