It’s clear to anyone who’s familiar with the NBA that this season ended in complete disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks. To go from having the best record in the league to getting gentlemen swept by a 5-seed — even if it was an impressive Miami Heat squad — is something straight out of a nightmare for the team and its fans. But if the likely two-time MVP isn’t enough to get the Bucks over the hump, what is?
Through the trials and tribulations that have plagued this team, one thing has remained clear: Giannis is committed to carrying them to the top. In his post-game conference after the Bucks were eliminated, he said he wants to keep bringing a winning culture to Milwaukee. But as we saw in these past playoffs, it will take much more than simply the Greek Freak to get them there. If the Bucks want to make that final push for the title, it’s time Milwaukee sought out superstar No. 2 to pair with Giannis.
Khris Middleton is a great player don’t get me wrong, and that 23-point third quarter in Game 4 will have permanent property in my brain. But in a league dominated by superstar duos like LeBron and AD, Kawhi and Paul George and James Harden and Russell Westbrook to name a few, having one superstar and one great player just isn’t going to cut it. What Giannis needs now is a premiere-level playmaker and shot creator to take defenders’ eyes off of him for just a second to allow him more freedom on offense. If you are unsure why, here are some quick stats:
In the 2020 regular season, Giannis put up 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game on 55% shooting. These are absolutely absurd numbers reminiscent of prime Shaquille O’Neal. In these playoffs however, opposing defenses were able to hone in on Giannis’ strengths and really expose his weaknesses, meaning any shot outside of six feet. Against the Heat, the Greek Freak shot 75% at the rim, but once you expand his range to other 2-pointers and 3-pointers, that percentage drops to 26% and 21% respectively. You will hardly ever win a seven-game series shooting those numbers, hence the tough losses to the Heat.
Going back to the Shaq point I just made, when did he have the most success team-wise? When he was paired up with Kobe Bryant in LA. The two formed one of the most dangerous duos the league has ever seen, with Shaq absolutely dominating the paint while Kobe commanded the outside, taking and most often making any shot he wanted. This is the type of teammate Giannis needs to take that next step toward a title: A player who is a threat from all levels of the court and has no trouble getting there and creating on his own.
A few options I’ve thought about that I consider feasible are players like Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Steph Curry among others. All of these guys can run their own offense, forcing opposing defenses to respect them as well as Giannis which in turn opens up plenty of opportunities for them both. The Bucks have the pieces to make a trade happen if needed, but it’s clear what they have going right now will not win them a championship.
Giannis is still the “Jordan” in Milwaukee, but he’ll need a certified “Pippen” or more sooner rather than later if he hopes to start making waves in the playoffs.