Leaving the Bradley Center after the Bucks' rollercoaster win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, you would have been forgiven for feeling a bit dazed, delirious and somewhat oblivious to what you had just witnessed from Giannis Antetokounmpo. After all, the Bucks were this close to a deflating loss to the lowly Lakers, who led by six with 34 seconds remaining until a series of big plays by O.J. Mayo and Brando Knight down the stretch tied the game in regulation and ultimately won it in overtime. It was at turns frustrating, hectic, exhilarating, draining...and generally pretty awesome. But while there was no shortage of heroes for the Bucks, the reality is that at the moment no one matters as much to the long-term future of the franchise as Giannis. And viewed through that lens, his game-high and career-high 25 points (10/14 fg, 5/5 ft) become all the more significant.
So how did he do it? Well, the Lakers' lackadaisical transition defense helped Giannis get on the board with a pair of early buckets, though he otherwise had to really work for his points. With a major chunk of his minutes coming at the four and five positions, Giannis spent much of his time setting screens and working the high post area, finding much of his success when attacking from his preferred spot at the top of the key. It didn't really matter what kind of defender the Lakers threw at him; he drove, spun and slammed on the smaller Nick Young, then used his superior quickness and long strides to squeeze past the likes of Ed Davis and Carlos Boozers for finishes at the rim.
But while we're used to seeing the spectacular from Antetokounmpo, the more mundane stuff is in many ways just as encouraging. He hit two of his four jump shots against the Lakers, and while everyone knows he's not particularly good in that department yet, his confidence -- and that of his coaches and teammates -- is beginning to grow. Via Charles Gardner:
"Yeah, he got a great bounce on one of them," Kidd said of a shot that hit high off the rim and fell back in. "He is learning to take what the defense is giving him. He's very comfortable shooting that jump shot.
"With the game in the balance, he has a wide-open jump shot and he takes it. His teammates encourage that shot. He's growing...fast."
Bucks point guard Brandon Knight said Antetokounmpo can learn to use the jumper to set up the rest of his game.
"If he can make one, two, make that defender uncomfortable, it will open up the rest of the floor for him as far as getting to the rim and creating for himself and other guys," Knight said. "He works on that shot. We just don't want him to hesitate. If he catches and shoots, we love it."
Hearing that sort of encouragement from Knight -- who, fairly or not, has often been perceived as hesitant to share the ball with Giannis -- is in many ways doubly encouraging, especially in the collective way he expresses it. It's not just about Knight being confident in Giannis, but in the team sharing that confidence collectively. You see it in the way Knight, Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks encourage and pick one another up (literally and figuratively) on the court, so it's not just post-game soundbites.
Hopefully that remains a theme going forward. Particularly with Jabari Parker sidelined, Giannis and Knight are the team's two best players both now and in the big picture, which makes their evolving chemistry on and off the court of central importance to the franchise. For all the questions Knight is answering about his ability to score efficiently and make big plays late in games, we can still only speculate about how a 21st century big three of Knight, Antetokounmpo and Parker could evolve going forward. Can Jabari and Giannis grow into the offensive stars their potential suggests? Will Knight be content to play a more complementary role if they do? And can they all make one another better along the way? The jury is out on all accounts, but nights like Wednesday suggest big things could be on the horizon.