The rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 6-foot-11 20-year-old who goes by the nickname ‘Greek Freak’, has been one of the best NBA stories of the year.
Giannis is way better, way sooner than anyone predicted he’d be after only one year in the league, and it looks like he’s on track for superstardom for the Milwaukee Bucks.
That’s why it was so strange that coach Jason Kidd, with no advanced noticed before the game or explanation after it, pulled him from the starting lineup and didn’t play him a single minute in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Typically this the sort of thing that could cause a rift within a team, or even serve as a sign of a preexisting rift. But, surprisingly, it seems like everyone involved was fine with it. In fact, Giannis himself has implied that it was a good idea.
After the Cavs game Giannis said he viewed the benching as motivation:
Giannis said he views as motivation: “Hopefully, yeah, he’s trying to motivate me. Whatever he’s trying to do, he’s doing the right thing.”
— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) April 9, 2015
Kidd didn’t give a real clear reason for his decision. But he did say that no one on the team was surprised and “change is always healthy.”
The Bucks were in a 4-9 rut before the benching. After the benching, they’re 2-0.
In his first game back Giannis scored 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting against the Knicks. He also got to the free throw line 11 times, which is tied for his second-highest total this year.
In the second quarter he threw down this vicious dunk, and mean mugged:
Two night later he nearly got a triple double, scoring 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting with nine rebounds and seven assists in a blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“I learned my lesson you know. I went to the game with the Knicks, I was angry. Coach Sweeney told me, ‘Why [are] you angry?’ Because I didn’t play, I was fresh, I’m angry. He told me if you do it for that game, you gotta keep doing it in all the games. So I try to be angry when I play, I try to be mad…mean man!”
The Bucks are one of the league’s biggest surprise teams, making the playoffs a year after winning just 15 games. While they aren’t exactly title contenders, their Round 1 series against the reeling Toronto Raptors (if that’s how it shakes out) could be a coming-out party for this newly revitalized Giannis.
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