Giannis Antetokounmpo was nothing short of a sensation in the Milwaukee Bucks’ run to the NBA Championship in 2021. The Greek almost single-handedly pushed his team to their first crown in 40 years, defeating the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals by a 4-2 margin. Antetokounmpo was named Finals MVP for his exploits, scoring over 40 points on three occasions, including a 50-point performance in game six to guide his team to the title. It was truly one of the most dominant outings by a player in the history of the NBA Finals, earning comparisons to LeBron James’ display for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
Giannis was under pressure throughout the 2021/22 campaign to carry the Bucks back to the NBA Finals. Although he maintained his excellent form, the Bucks were not the dominant force they were in the Eastern Conference, finishing behind the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. The Celtics proved that they were the superior outfit by overcoming the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals in a seven-game thriller. Despite the setback, Giannis’ presence hands the Bucks a huge advantage if you bet on sports a wager on Milwaukee to win the Eastern Conference crown in 2023. The East has been won by four different sides in four seasons, highlighting the level of competition in the conference.
Although players such as Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler have been impressive, few have been able to match the quality of Giannis on the court. He is simply unstoppable at the peak of his powers, both the attacking and defensive third. The Greek hands the Bucks a huge advantage over their rivals, knowing that even a semblance of support will allow them to compete in the post-season and make a run for the finals. However, the issue in the 2021/22 season was a complete lack of help for Giannis from his team-mates. Jrue Holiday was solid, while Khris Middleton’s injury was costly in the playoffs, but no one else managed to rise to the occasion to ease the burden on their star man.
Bobby Portis impressed as a role player during the regular season, but was not up to scratch when needed the most against the Celtics in the playoffs, while Pat Connaughton was under-utilised as a shooter. Giannis led the way by averaging 31.7 points per game along with 14.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists. That alone highlights the burden placed on the Greek, even though Holiday pulled his weight. The Bucks needed more out of Portis, Connaughton and especially Grayson Allen, George Hill and Wesley Matthews. Allen had a good first season in Milwaukee, but needs to take the step up to become a solid contributor. Hill and Matthews are long in the tooth and may need to be moved on in the off-season as Mike Budenholzer needs younger options from the bench.
Misses in the first round of the NBA Draft have robbed the Bucks of solid options off the bench, whereas the other sides in the Eastern Conference have developed and continue to cultivate talent. Boasting the best player in the conference hands them a massive advantage. However, without support, the Celtics and the Heat, who both play excellent defence, can try to limit Giannis and force others to beat them. It was fine when Middleton among others was nailing their shots, but the last campaign was a different story. The pressure is on the front office and Budenholzer to develop a system and players that support Giannis and drive the Bucks back to the top of the Eastern Conference.