NBA

Giannis' future with Bucks drawing focus in Milwaukee

By Sports Desk December 03, 2020

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is optimistic over Giannis Antetokounmpo's future following productive and fruitful communication during the offseason.

Antetokounmpo is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21 season, when he will be eligible for a supermax contract extension worth around $254million.

It remains to be seen whether the two-time reigning NBA MVP will stay in Milwaukee or depart for pastures new amid links to the likes of the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks.

As the Bucks prepare for the start of the season, which tips off on December 22, Budenholzer told reporters: "The conversations with Giannis have been great this summer. He's incredibly supportive of us and everything we're trying to do to make this team the best it can be, and the same for us to support him.

"It's a big decision. I think the communication between he and I has been really good, really productive, fruitful.

"Same with [general manager] Jon [Horst], so we feel really good about the communication with Giannis throughout the summer and offseason."

Antetokounmpo averaged 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season to become the first player to receive MVP honours in successive seasons since Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in 2015 and 2016.

The 25-year-old led the Bucks with 30.4 minutes per game during the regular season. In NBA history, there has only been one team to win the NBA title without having a player average at least 32 minutes per game in the regular season: the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton added: "I have a lot of respect for Giannis. In my situation last year, he told me how he felt, and that's all I can do in return.

"I think we're more than friends at this point. We've spent eight years together. We've been through a lot together also, so, at the end of the day, I want him to do what's best for him and his family.

"He knows that I deeply want him to return and sign this extension, but at the same time, I know he's got a big decision that he's got to work through himself and with his family at home because those are the most important people.

"Whatever he does, he knows that I'll support him to the fullest, so I've talked to him. I give him my two cents and my opinion or try to convince him, but at the end of the day, I'm going to always love him and appreciate whatever he has to do."

The Bucks – eyeing a first championship since 1971 – suffered disappointment in the playoffs last season, going out in a 4-1 Eastern Conference semi-finals series loss to the Heat.

Milwaukee owned a league-best 56-17 record, but their form faded dramatically following the restart at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bucks became the first team in NBA history to have more losses (4-9) in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire campaign prior to that (52-8).

"We always embraced and feel fortunate that we feel we have the roster, we feel like we have players that are incredibly talented on both ends of the court and we're in the mix to be the last team standing," said Budenholzer, whose team will begin their season against the Boston Celtics on December 23.

"But, there's a process that every team's got to go through to get there. I think the goal is real, the opportunity is real, but I think that if you're an organisation or a team that doesn't embrace that, you're probably maybe in the wrong business, but at the same time, to think that a season is championship-or-bust is certainly not the way we've approached it.

"We really embrace competition, we embrace the playoffs, we embrace the opportunity and we want to be that last team standing, but that phrase is just something that doesn't resonate with me or, I think, our group or organisationally."

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    However, had City and Villa played one another in September, most observers would have confidently looked towards Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish to supply the creative inspiration for their respective teams.

    It is safe to say each star midfielder has lived up to his billing over the first half of the campaign.

    Mutual respect

    Grealish earned a long-awaited England debut earlier this season and was a bright spark when England suffered a 2-0 Nations League defeat in Belgium.

    Before the match, the 25-year-old revealed he spent his final preparations casting an admiring eye over a certain member of the opposition.

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    "That's what I've done since I was a little kid and I still do it to this day - I have no shame in saying that and that's what gets me going for football matches."

    After the match, De Bruyne conceded Grealish had also captured his attention.

    "I rate him very highly," he said. "He's somebody I mentioned before, talking to the team-mates at City, in a random conversation.

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    Those warm words from De Bruyne seemed to carry a little more weight when a move for Grealish was rumoured to be one of the topics of discussion during Guardiola's successful contract extension negotiations in November.

    Given the City boss already must try to accommodate the playmaking talents of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva around De Bruyne, it is questionable whether he needs such a reinforcement in his creative department.

    However, Opta data from this season shows Grealish is doing plenty to match the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year.

    King creators

    Both De Bruyne and Grealish have started 15 Premier League games apiece this season, with the latter playing one more minute overall.

    In that time, the Villa man has created 55 chances to De Bruyne's 51, although City's number 17 has 10 assists to Grealish's seven following an outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross for John Stones to open the scoring in Sunday's 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.

    Overall, they are second and third in the Premier League's assists table, Harry Kane's fruitful relationship with Son Heung-min helping the England captain to amass 11 for Tottenham.

    Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes separates them at the top when it comes to chances created, having crafted 54 for his Old Trafford colleagues.

    Those numbers continue to look incredibly strong when projected across Europe's top five leagues.

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    In terms of assists, Kane and De Bruyne are again one and two from Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (nine) and Roma's Henrikh Mkhitaryan (eight).

    Goals, guile and grubby work

    De Bruyne has fired off 57 shots this season (17 on target) to Grealish's 40 (14 on target).

    However, City's designated penalty taker has only scored three, with his first Premier League goal from open play this season coming earlier in January at Chelsea.

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    Grealish has attempted 69 dribbles to his idol's 46, which does a little to explain the frequency with which he draws free-kicks.

    His 73 fouls won is comfortably the highest in the division, with Palace's Wilfred Zaha (51), Liverpool's Sadio Mane (43) and Kane (40) up next.

    A key reason for this could be how integral Grealish is to so much of Villa's attacking play. As per Opta, he is responsible for 11 per cent of his team's passes. By contrast, Zaha and Kane make five per cent and Mane four.

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    The UEFA midfielder of the year has made 74 recoveries, 27 tackles and seven interceptions in the Premier League this season, compared to 79 recoveries, 23 tackles and eight interceptions for Grealish.

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