When the M.V.P. Gets Better

LOS ANGELES — The Clippers have occupied a pleasant slice of the N.B.A. highlight this season. They have two new stars and championship hopes. Their advertising and marketing division has spent appreciable time and power trolling the Lakers. It is huge information when Kawhi Leonard performs and even larger information when he doesn’t, and that’s when you already know you’ve got some critical cachet as a corporation.

Leonard rested on Wednesday night time as part of his personalised “load management” program, so was a spectator for the Clippers’ recreation towards the Milwaukee Bucks, who’re a bit of simple to miss today. While so many different groups, together with the Clippers, underwent flashy renovations this summer season, the Bucks merely tinkered with their roster as they stored 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 truly wanted one — by gathering 38 factors, 16 rebounds and 9 assists in Milwaukee’s 129-124 win.

None of that is meant to recommend 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 received the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award final season. Most obvious is his refined passing and playmaking, which could possibly be taken as an indication of better belief in his supporting solid, with roots in the bitter means that final season ended for the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has been fueled by the reminiscence of Milwaukee’s loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Pat Connaughton, a teammate, mentioned Antetokounmpo had come away from that have with a sharper understanding of what it takes to win at the highest degree.

“It’s about the mental side, about learning how teams are guarding him,” Connaughton mentioned. “It’s about seeing what Toronto did against us in the playoffs, and what got us stuck and disrupted us and kept us from achieving our goal. I think he’s taking that all into account, where he’s even more of a student of the game. He’s seeing: ‘Hey, there are opportunities for me to get my teammates involved. And when I do that, it will create even more opportunities for me to do what I do best.’”

Antetokounmpo did plenty of his greatest towards the Clippers, who had been short-handed with out Leonard and Paul George, who’s nearing his debut for the crew after present process low season shoulder surgical procedure. The Clippers haven’t 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 Center, together with the Bucks, who might wind up going through the Clippers in June.

“Every organization has their own way to operate,” Antetokounmpo mentioned. “Obviously, I was excited to play against one of the best players in the league. That gets you hyped up, gets the best out of you.” He added, “But yeah, I’m excited to see him in the future.”

Milwaukee is simply eight video games into its season, however Antetokounmpo is averaging 29 factors, 14.Three rebounds and seven.6 assists whereas capturing 59.2 % from the area, all of that are profession bests. If there’s a gap in his recreation, it’s his Three-point capturing. Then once more, he was four of seven from Three-point vary towards the Clippers. The Bucks lead the league in scoring.

“It’s fun,” Antetokounmpo mentioned. “Everybody gets to touch the ball. Everybody gets to shoot the ball.”

When Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer was new to the crew final season, what shocked him most about Antetokounmpo was his imaginative and prescient and his potential to create for teammates.

“Obviously, he’s now taking it to another level,” mentioned Budenholzer, whose crew has benefited from the additions of Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews. “Hopefully, we’ve got more shooting around him and better spacing. He’s growing as a passer, and we’re growing an understanding of when and where people need to be around him.”

Budenholzer mentioned he spoke with Antetokounmpo fairly a bit over the summer season, and most of their conversations centered on enchancment: How might Antetokounmpo enhance as a participant? How might Milwaukee enhance as a crew?

Antetokounmpo doesn’t suppose he has come near hitting his ceiling, which is terrific information for the Bucks, who’ve him beneath contract by way of subsequent season. But he’s additionally a workaholic, which might trigger its personal set of challenges. The crew has cautioned him that he doesn’t want basketball all the time.

“One of the important things as you grow in this league, especially for a guy of his stature, is understanding the quality of work versus the quantity of work,” Connaughton mentioned. “And that’s not to say the quality isn’t there. But I think as he’s developed, he’s done a good job of balancing the desire he has to always be on the floor with the maturity to know that he has a 15-to-20-year career ahead of him. That’s a lot of time, and body maintenance is as important as the work he’s putting in.”

During video games, Budenholzer screens Antetokounmpo’s minutes. At observe, the Bucks attempt to be as environment friendly as doable whereas minimizing extra contact. They even have “body days,” that are devoted to bodily repairs: weight lifting, chilly tubs, remedy, massages. The court docket is off-limits, no exceptions.

“Putting the ball down for a day,” Budenholzer mentioned, including, “We’re very conscientious about how we keep him healthy and keep him playing well.”

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 crew over the summer season, he nonetheless discovered “windows of time” to chip away at his recreation by doing particular person work, Budenholzer mentioned.

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 nice.

Source link Nytimes.com

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