LOS ANGELES — The Clippers have occupied a pleasant slice of the N.B.A. highlight this season. They’ve two new stars and championship hopes. Their advertising division has spent appreciable time and vitality trolling the Lakers. It’s huge information when Kawhi Leonard performs and even larger information when he doesn’t, and that’s when you understand you’ve got some severe cachet as a company.
Leonard rested on Wednesday evening as part of his personalised “load administration” program, so he was a spectator for the Clippers’ recreation in opposition to the Milwaukee Bucks, who’re simple to miss nowadays. Whereas so many different groups, together with the Clippers, underwent flashy renovations this summer time, the Bucks merely tinkered with their roster as they saved their core intact.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, in fact, stays the central determine in every thing they do, and he provided a reminder of his greatness — in case anybody really wanted one — by accumulating 38 factors, 16 rebounds and 9 assists in Milwaukee’s 129-124 win on Wednesday.
None of that is meant to counsel that the Bucks didn’t change over the low season, as a result of they did change — beginning with Antetokounmpo, who could also be higher than ever, a terrifying prospect for the remainder of the league after he gained the N.B.A.’s Most Invaluable Participant Award final season. Most obvious are his refined passing and playmaking, which could possibly be taken as an indication of higher belief in his supporting forged, with roots within the bitter manner that final season ended for the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo has been fueled by the reminiscence of Milwaukee’s loss to the Toronto Raptors within the Japanese Convention finals. Pat Connaughton, a teammate, stated Antetokounmpo had come away from that have with a sharper understanding of what it takes to win on the highest degree.
“It’s concerning the psychological facet, about studying how groups are guarding him,” Connaughton stated. “It’s about seeing what Toronto did in opposition to us within the playoffs, and what bought us caught and disrupted us and saved us from attaining our objective. I believe he’s taking that each one under consideration, the place he’s much more of a scholar of the sport. He’s seeing: ‘Hey, there are alternatives for me to get my teammates concerned. And once I do this, it is going to create much more alternatives for me to do what I do greatest.’”
Antetokounmpo did a whole lot of his greatest in opposition to the Clippers, who had been short-handed with out Leonard and Paul George, who’s nearing his debut for the group after low season shoulder surgical procedure. The Clippers don’t have any plans to play Leonard, their most treasured asset, in back-to-back video games anytime quickly.
Leonard’s absence was a bummer for just about everybody at Staples Heart, together with the Bucks, who may wind up going through the Clippers in June.
“Each group has their very own strategy to function,” Antetokounmpo stated. “Clearly, I used to be excited to play in opposition to probably the greatest gamers within the league. That will get you overvalued, will get the perfect out of you.” He added, “However yeah, I’m excited to see him sooner or later.”
Milwaukee is barely eight video games into its season, however Antetokounmpo is averaging 29 factors, 14.Three rebounds and seven.6 assists whereas taking pictures 59.2 p.c from the sector, all of that are profession bests. If there’s a gap in his recreation, it’s his 3-point taking pictures. Then once more, he was four of seven from 3-point vary in opposition to the Clippers. The Bucks lead the league in scoring.
“It’s enjoyable,” Antetokounmpo stated. “All people will get to the touch the ball. All people will get to shoot the ball.”
When Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer was new to the group final season, what stunned him most about Antetokounmpo had been his imaginative and prescient and his potential to create for teammates.
“Clearly, he’s now taking it to a different degree,” stated Budenholzer, whose group has benefited from the additions of Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews. “Hopefully, we’ve bought extra taking pictures round him and higher spacing. He’s rising as a passer, and we’re rising an understanding of when and the place individuals must be round him.”
Budenholzer stated he spoke with Antetokounmpo fairly a bit over the summer time, and most of their conversations centered on enchancment: How may Antetokounmpo enhance as a participant? How may Milwaukee enhance as a group?
Antetokounmpo doesn’t suppose he has come near hitting his ceiling, which is terrific information for the Bucks, who’ve him underneath contract via subsequent season. However he’s additionally a workaholic, which might trigger its personal set of challenges. The group has cautioned him that he doesn’t want basketball all the time.
“One of many necessary issues as you develop on this league, particularly for a man of his stature, is knowing the standard of labor versus the amount of labor,” Connaughton stated. “And that’s to not say the standard isn’t there. However I believe as he’s developed, he’s performed job of balancing the need he has to at all times be on the ground with the maturity to know that he has a 15-to-20-year profession forward of him. That’s a whole lot of time, and physique upkeep is as necessary because the work he’s placing in.”
Throughout video games, Budenholzer displays Antetokounmpo’s minutes. At follow, the Bucks attempt to be as environment friendly as potential whereas minimizing extra contact. In addition they have “physique days,” that are devoted to bodily maintenance: weight lifting, chilly tubs, remedy, massages. The courtroom is off-limits, no exceptions.
“Placing the ball down for a day,” Budenholzer stated, including, “We’re very conscientious about how we hold him wholesome and hold him enjoying effectively.”
The Bucks need to train preventive care with all their gamers however particularly with Antetokounmpo, as a result of he wants guardrails. Even when he was enjoying for Greece’s nationwide group over the summer time, he nonetheless discovered “home windows of time” to chip away at his recreation by doing particular person work, Budenholzer stated.
Now, in his seventh season, Antetokounmpo is leaning on his teammates greater than ever, by passing the ball and sharing the load. He appears to be managing simply advantageous.