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Giannis MVP Watch: Season wrap up

The best of Antetokounmpo’s dunks and crazy plays

There was no more fitting end to the Milwaukee Bucks and star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season than the 130-95 beatdown at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. A team more concerned about the “results” than the process was embarrassed on national television by The Process, possibly losing its first-round draft pick in the process (the Bucks will have to send their first-rounder to the Phoenix Suns if, on Friday, they end up with the 16th pick in June’s draft).

Antetokounmpo started the season on the highest of notes, averaging better than 33 points, 10 points and five assists on 63.2 percent shooting through the first month. This MVP Watch was created after Antetokounmpo, in the first game of the season, beat a grieving Boston Celtics team before they reeled off 16 straight wins; went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second game; and dunked home the game-winner against the Portland Trail Blazers in the third game. The Greek Freak was besting team scoring records that had long been held by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and was on pace to have one of the best scoring seasons in NBA history.

But, as predicted in the first entry, there was no way Antetokounmpo could keep up that pace. And he didn’t. And then the Bucks barely stayed above .500, and head coach Jason Kidd was fired, and James Harden had a 60-point triple-double, and Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double again.

Around the halfway point of the season, it became clear that Antetokounmpo was no longer a favorite for the MVP award. So with the regular season coming to a close on Wednesday and end-of-the-year award ballots being filled out, we wrap up the MVP Watch with season highlights.

(The Undefeated tracked Antetokounmpo’s performances throughout the 2017-18 season. Catch up on previous entries here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII, Part XIII, Part XIV, Part XV, Part XVI, Part XVII, Part XVIII, Part XIX.)


What did he do?

26.9 points, 10 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game on 52.9 percent shooting.

Did he dunk on someone?

Tim Hardaway Jr.

There are levels to the amount of disrespect on display here. From it happening on Hardaway Jr.’s home court to Antetokounmpo acting as if he didn’t fully jump over another human being during a routine fast break. To add insult to injury, the Bucks created (and briefly sold) T-shirts commemorating the dunk before the team’s third matchup a month later. In the span of three games over roughly a month, Antetokounmpo hit a game-winner over the Knicks, dunked over Hardaway Jr. and had to stop the T-shirts from being further sold.

Aron Baynes

Aron Baynes has technically been dunked on by Antetokounmpo just twice this season, but it felt like at least 20. It’s arguable that the dunks Antetokounmpo missed over Baynes were better than the makes. It’s inconceivable how Baynes can go home and face his wife after Antetokounmpo has disrespected his honor this many times.

Oh, and the Celtics’ first-round opponent in the playoffs is Milwaukee. So there should be more of this to come:

Rudy Gobert

The “Stifle Tower” never learned the art of the American business decision, and thus the Frenchman was posterized on a meaningless dunk when his team was down by 17 late in the fourth quarter. Rudy Gobert thinks he has beef with fellow big men Hassan Whiteside and Joel Embiid, but he must not forget about the Greek-France war of … 2017?

Did he make a crazy play?

Football hike

The “Melanin Matt Birk” nickname was one of my finest creations, so I am breaking it out here again for one of the most insane non-dunk plays of the season. Antetokounmpo, who knows next to nothing about American football (he told a reporter that he thought a long snapper was called a “pitcher”), snapped the ball through his legs to a streaking teammate as if it were a normal part of a basketball game. This was during the fourth quarter of a key game against a conference rival, mind you.

‘Gyro step’

Does Antetokounmpo travel on most of his Euro steps? Probably. Does it matter? No. Antetokounmpo has perfected one of basketball’s most lethal and controversial moves and practically dares NBA referees to whistle him for it. And what makes his Euro steps so much better than Manu Ginobili’s or Dwyane Wade’s is that Antetokounmpo normally starts his first step from somewhere between the 3-point line and free-throw line, which leads to him traversing the court nearly 20 feet in two (and sometimes three) steps.

What was his MVP moment?

Antetokounmpo only had two game-winning shots this season, but through all 75 games he appeared in, he had roughly five or six baskets that won or solidified a win for the Bucks. His amazing plays and dunks were the highlights of the season, but the 23-year-old turning on the “clutch” gene in crunch time was what captivated most fans.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure, James and the Cavs beat the Bucks in three of their four matchups by a combined 31 points and won six more games. Playoff seeding, schlayoff scheeding. On one night, James was temporarily dethroned when Antetokounmpo reached through the legs of the toppling four-time MVP and scored an easy basket that secured a Bucks victory with less than six seconds remaining on the clock. Bucks in six, as they say.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Antetokounmpo may have both traveled and stepped out of bounds during this sequence, but we’ve seen James take five steps before his first dribble and James Harden initiate contact on personal fouls. Whataboutisms normally signal guilt, but who am I to say where the baseline is or how many extra steps equal a travel? Things happen.

Portland Trail Blazers

This play started the MVP Watch series, after Antetokounmpo caused the turnover on a key offensive possession for the Blazers and then immediately sprinted up the other side of the court for the not-considered-a-game-winner-by-ESPN-standards dunk.

New York Knicks

Ah, the New York Knickerbockers. Not only did Antetokounmpo hit his second game-winner in as many seasons against the Knicks, but the whole thing happened because New York’s “unicorn” inexplicably switched off Antetokounmpo in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter and left lead-footed center Enes Kanter to defend the Bucks forward. While James is the (self-crowned) king of New York, Antetokounmpo came at the crown earlier in the season, so ipso facto, Antetokounmpo is now the true king of the city.

 

Martenzie is a senior researcher for The Undefeated. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said "Y'all want to see somethin?"