It was somewhat of a surprise when franchises hoping to roll out the red carpet for Giannis Antetokounmpo after this season found out they’ll have to keep it packed away in storage for now.
The future of the Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be bleak just three months ago following an upset loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals inside the Orlando bubble.
The Bucks had become only the second team in NBA history to have the outright best record two seasons in a row and failed to reach the Finals in either season, joining the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers.
It also extended a championship drought that dates back to 1971 and was another missed opportunity with Giannis, who fans and media feared had become disenchanted with the playoff failures and was certain to entertain offers from several suitors in free agency after the 2020-21 season.
The Greek Freak averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists, becoming the first player to receive MVP honors in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016. Now he has a chance to be the first to win three straight since Larry Bird from 1984-86.
But an offseason that opened with more questions than answers took a turn during free agency. Milwaukee chased Bogdan Bogdanovic before ultimately acquiring Jrue Holiday and signing D.J. Augustin, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes and Torrey Craig. The biggest game-changer took place earlier this week when Giannis announced on social media that he decided to sign a five-year, super-max extension to stay in Milwaukee.
“This is a momentous day for the Bucks, our fans and the state of Wisconsin,” Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan said in a statement.
The data certainly backs Giannis’ MVP status as his role in the team’s regular-season success has been glaring. After they had a plus-12.7 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a plus-2.8 without him during the 2018-19 regular season, the Bucks posted a plus-16.4 net rating with him this past season and only a plus-2.6 without him.
Giannis also led the NBA with a 37.7 usage percentage and only Russell Westbrook (2016-17, 2014-15) and James Harden (2018-19) have posted higher usage percentages over the past six seasons.
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So where does all that leave the Bucks heading into 2020-21? With a new-look supporting cast and Giannis locked up, how do they measure up to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers?
Now healthier, how much better will the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors be this season? Can the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers carry over their strong bubble performances?
We’ll answer these questions and more next week when we reveal our data-driven power rankings in Part 2 of our NBA season preview.
Data modeling provided by Matt Scott.
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