Nigerian-Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the way to being named the Most Improved Player for the second time in a row at the end of the 2017-18 season when he opened the year, following his first All-Star selection and first win as MIP, in spectacular fashion.
There was one issue, though. Unlike the Sixth Man of the Year Award, nobody repeats as the Most Improved Player. Were it possible, The Greek Freak would have given the eventual winner and compatriot, Nigerian-American Victor Oladipo, a run for his money. And although that didn’t happen, it was clear for all to see that Antetokounmpo’s game was getting better every season. And, since the MIP award is no longer an option, he’s been a constant part of the conversation about the Most Valuable Player award.
Since he became a feared name around the league, the Freak has always shown his intent at the start of every campaign.
Three seasons ago, when the 2016-17 season tipped off and the Nigerian-Greek started the journey to being named MIP, Giannis burst out of the starting blocks. In his first six games, he averaged 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and added 6.6 assists. The Bucks won four and lost two games in that stretch. He went on to earn his first All-Star nomination that year.
Last season, he started even hotter. The Freak scored 30 points or more in his first four games, and ended up averaging 34.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 5.6 assists through the first six games. And as it was the previous season, Milwaukee won four and lost two of those six opening games.
This season has been much better. And already it’s beginning to look like the Freak will be a shoo-in for another All-Star selection, and a season-long part of the MVP conversation.
The 7-0 Bucks have made the best start to a season since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the 1971-72 team to the same start. And Antetokounmpo has been a huge part of that opening surge. He is averaging 25.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game through the first six games he played. And while those numbers look leaner than the first six of the past two years, they are more significant.
Firstly, he has played far less minutes (30.7 per game) compared to the two previous years (35.6 and 36.7), largely because Mike Budenholzer is resting him more and partly because he played just 19 minutes and only the first half of the sixth game against Orlando Magic, before he was taken off as a precautionary measure after he received a head injury. He still managed 21 points.
This is also the first season that Giannis will record a positive plus/minus rating in all the games he has played to open a season. Of the six ratings, he only once recorded a plus/minus in single digits. He has been an immense influence in the way the Bucks have swaggered their way to the top of the Eastern Conference to remain the only unbeaten team in the league.
That unbeaten run will be challenged on Friday morning when they face the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in seven games last season, the Boston Celtics. Especially as it’s still not certain if Antetokounmpo, who is in the NBA’s concussion protocol and listed as day to day, will be available.
But on Sunday, when they face Sacramento Kings, the odds are that the Nigerian-Greek would have been cleared to play and will continue his rampage. The Bucks have swept the Kings in the four regular-season games they’ve played the last two years. And given the way they’ve been playing, the odds are that the Bucks, who currently fourth in the league in points (120.0 per game), will outgun the 116.5-points-per-game Sacramento offense.
The Bucks are also fifth in assists (26.9) compared to the Kings’ 24.0, and the Bucks lead the league in rebounds with 55.6 per game. Sacramento Kings keep the ball better, though, with an average of 15.4 turnovers per game and Milwaukee are in the league bottom four with 17.1.
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