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Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are stuck in a made-for-TV time loop

·4 min read
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There wasn’t a way to encapsulate the Milwaukee Bucks' disappointing Game 5 performance against a hobbled Brooklyn Nets team, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has given it to us.

When asked whether Giannis and the fellas stood a chance against their second-round opponents, the former Bucks legend and essayist was quick to answer "No."

"K.D. would kill those guys," Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "I'm serious. He'd score and then he finds the open guy. He could do that by himself. They've gotta do a better job, the whole team has to play differently so that K.D… one guy can't dominate like that."

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Considering how Abdul-Jabbar’s career has been used as a potential roadmap for Giannis’s future as a superstar big man, hearing him openly doubt his old team’s odds because of the opposition’s megastar is a tough look. Even more so when one remembers that "the Tower from Power" led the midwestern city to its first and last championship in 1971—to the tune of The Carpenters and a 13-year-old Michael Jackson (yes I checked the music charts from 50 years ago.)

Boss Level, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Edge of Tomorrow, Russian Doll, The Milwaukee Bucks 2018-2021. As of late, the Budenholzer-led team seems to have hopped on the recent, reignited trend of made-for-TV (but not really) time loop shows. The story goes as follows: the Bucks dominate in the regular season with the utmost professionalism, they crush their first-round opponents with ease and, eventually, they crumble as soon as they face their first worthy adversary. Then everyone wakes up in bed to an annoying alarm only to do it all over again, and we are left yelling at unsuspecting bystanders about how we’re sure this has happened before.

The prevailing theme for Milwaukee has been the contrast between its polished and choreographed regular season play, and its ISO-heavy, uninspired fumbling at the first hint of adversity. No stat illustrates this juxtaposition more effectively than the percentage of self-created 3s for the postseason. Compiled by Owen Wilson using data from stats.nba.com, Giannis leads all playoff players at 91.9 percent — ahead of proficient perimeter creators like James Harden, Luka Doncic, and Kevin Durant. Not catch-and-shoot 3s, but self-created looks from distance — the frequency of which simply hinges on whether they can do it at a decent enough clip or not…

Antetokounmpo is shooting 11.8 percent on such shots.

This uncharacteristic behaviour when "the going gets tough" signals a broader issue. When the Bucks’ best player goes rogue, it shows that he may not trust his coach’s methods when it matters most. It’s hard to think of something more detrimental to a young player's playoff development.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, on paper, when the Greek Freak continues to rack up his typical stats, but the inkling of distrust and hesitancy he shows in his postseason shot selection — punctuated by slowly cranked 3s early in the shot clock and head-down euro steps into the abyss — has had an obvious impact on his teammates.

The star looks lost, erratic even. Without any other floor commanders on the court, his teammates look even more lost and erratic. With Jrue Holiday cosplaying as Eric Bledsoe circa 2018-19 it's hard to deny. The otherwise poised and surgical guard has been making a series of questionable decisions, evidently iffy about his purpose on the team as a combo guard. That's a bad sign after his springtime, four-year contract extension and hefty trade cost. This is a team with a pretty clear identity; it’s just not one that they seem to particularly enjoy.

The Bucks are on the brink of another disappointing playoff exit. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Bucks are on the brink of another disappointing playoff exit. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

But all the blame thus far can’t be placed squarely on the players. It isn’t like the self-doubt they’re signalling was pulled out of thin air. Enough people have piled on coach Bud, but after a couple seasons of very public critiques about rotations, minutes distribution and offensive/defensive white-breadedness, who wouldn’t post-up an injured James Harden in the clutch only to take a turnaround fadeaway? Who wouldn’t panic and throw uncharacteristic passes or take uncharacteristic shots?

Whether the Bucks squeak past the hospital Nets or not feels besides the point. This is a team with a nagging issue, and no one is quite sure yet.

No need to worry though, I’m sure it’ll happen all over again. And as with your favourite time loop Amazon/Netflix/Hulu original, we’ll be less perplexed at the repetition and instead dodging incoming cars and thrown coffee — to the confusion of our peers.

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