Oct 17, 2021
Giannis vows to get better, no telling how good he can be
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Giannis Antetokounmpo sometimes looks like he might dunk from the foul line.
Other times, the Milwaukee Bucks forward struggles just to reach the rim with a shot from it.
Even with holes to fill in his game, Antetokounmpo is already among the best players in the NBA. He is a two-time MVP who could probably start drafting his Hall of Fame speech without ever adding to what he does now.
Listen to the him for just a few minutes and it’s clear that’s not his plan.
“I want to keep getting better,” Antetokounmpo states matter-of-factly.
That is coming from a player who had one of the finest NBA Finals ever, the unanimous MVP after averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 61.8%. No player had ever reached those numbers.
Maybe because it’s just possible there has never been a player like him.
Antetokounmpo finished off Phoenix with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots in Game 6, going 17 for 19 from the line. Few players have ever displayed such a mastery of their craft in seemingly every facet of the game.
Yet, Antetokounmpo is the same player who was mocked on social media during the postseason for shooting airballs on free throws, who had fans on the road counting to 10 or beyond to show that sometimes he wouldn’t even attempt the shot within the allowed time.
It was such a glaring weakness that it reignited criticism that he is an elite athlete who isn’t all that skilled at basketball.
He’s not as bad as he looked then.
He’s also as good as he could be.
“We continue to say we feel like Giannis has got a lot of room for improvement, which is a lot of respect for how much he already does and how great a player and how impactful he is to winning,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.
But the coach believes there are “some significant jumps that he can take.”
If there was ever a time to ease up, it would seem Antetokounmpo just earned it after carrying Milwaukee to its first title in 50 years. But Richard Jefferson, who won a title with LeBron James in Cleveland, said that’s exactly when the great players take it up another notch because they don’t want to settle for one.
“So, I think for guys like Giannis, he’s the same way” and wants more, said Jefferson, now an analyst for ESPN and YES Network.
“He knows that people still say that Kevin Durant’s the best player, or LeBron James is the best player in the world. And he’s won two MVPs, a finals MVP, an All-Star MVP, and no one is saying he’s the best player in the world … That should make any great player want to wake up and continue pushing.”
Antetokounmpo did rest a hyperextended left knee that forced him to miss two games in the Eastern Conference finals and took a trip back to his home in Greece with his championship hardware. He enjoyed the extra time with his fans and his family, having become a father for the second time.
“But you’ve got to be able to do it for yourself, figure out what you want. And right now, what I want is to get better,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t care about trophies.
“I don’t care about MVPs. I don’t care about defensive player of the year. I don’t care about all those things. I care about getting better, because I know if I do that, there’s more things coming with that and that’s what I’ve done my whole career and that’s why I’m in this position.”
Unlike an Anthony Davis or Zion Williamson, who arrived in the NBA as No. 1 picks with can’t-miss expectations after a year at a college basketball powerhouse, Antetokounmpo was no sure thing. He was only the No. 15 pick of the 2013 draft, averaging just 6.8 points as a rookie on a team that went 15-67. Neither he nor the Bucks were going anywhere without plenty of work.
That comes easily for Antetokounmpo. It’s a trait he learned from his parents, who moved from Nigeria to Greece and he said worked nonstop while raising he and his brothers with little money.
“No matter how they felt — happy, sad, tired — they didn’t stop,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s kind of the mindset I have and that I’m going to keep having.”
It’s one that’s helped him climb from his shaky NBA start to three straight seasons averaging better than 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He’s still below a 30% 3-point shooter for his career but looked quicker and more confident on his release in the preseason.
A reliable outside shot would make the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Antetokounmpo close to unguardable, given his unique combination of speed and strength that makes him too big for most forwards and too agile to be guarded by centers.
Many teams try to stop him by packing a wall of defenders in his path to the rim, but Antetokounmpo could foil that strategy by simply shooting before he got to it.
Then, no wall would be in his way.
“I’m ready for any obstacles,” Antetokounmpo said.
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History is repeating itself at Arsenal as Aubameyang replaces Ozil as biggest name, biggest salary and biggest problem
IT’S starting to look like history repeating itself at Arsenal.
The only change is the name of the player.4Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has become Arsenal's biggest name - but also their biggest earner and biggest problemCredit: Getty 4Mesut Ozil flopped at the Emirates after signing his bumper new contract in January 2018Credit: Getty
For Mesut Ozil, read Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Biggest name. Biggest salary. Biggest problem.
As the Gabonese striker missed the last-kick chance at Goodison that consigned Mikel Arteta and his team to their third successive away defeat, what stood out was not the opportunity.
It was the reaction. Not frustration or anger.
Just the smirk of a player who did not seem to care.
Then again, ever since he signed that new, £350,000 per week, three-year contract in September 2020, that has been the impression.Most read in Premier LeagueGUNNERS LATEST Everton defeat REACTION, FA Cup draw, Calvert-Lewin LATESTtransfer news live Bellingham 'cop probe', Tottenham Covid outbreak, Newcastle eye Campbellunited news Ajax target Henderson, Struber rejects assistant role EXCLUSIVE, Dembele LATESTFA CUP DRAW LIVE Prem big boys enter at third round stage with teams ready to learn fate
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On putting pen to paper, the former Borussia Dortmund striker pledged to become 'an Arsenal legend', adding: “I feel like I belong here, I believe in Arsenal.”
At the time, with 72 goals in 111 appearances for the Gunners, it resonated, even if one or two supporters questioned whether giving a 31-year-old striker such a deal made economic sense.
After all, hadn’t Arsenal made EXACTLY the same mistake in January 2018, when Ozil, then 29, agreed a new three-and-a-half-year deal on a similar eye-busting wage.
Any Gooner can tell you what happened next.
After he signed, Ozil became an internal emigre under both Unai Emery and then Arteta, making just 72 further appearances and contributing a meagre eight goals before he was pushed through the exit door.
Seen as the symbol of the club’s decline by some. The answer to turning things around by others.
A player who became more divisive with every passing day, no matter when he actually contributed.
Once bitten, twice shy?
He wants to be up with the best players in the world and leave his markMikel Arteta on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 2020
When Aubameyang signed that new contract, Arteta hailed 'a superb player with an incredible mentality'.
The Spanish manager said: “He’s an important leader for the team and a big part of what we are building.
“He wants to be up with the best players in the world and leave his mark.”
Ambitious words. More trust in 'the process'.
But 14 months on, with 20 goals in the last 52 games, and seven successive non-scoring outings since he scored in the 3-1 win over Aston Villa in mid-October, the logic seems even more difficult.
Once a Prem predator, quicker to 50 goals for the club than either Thierry Henry or Ian Wright, Aubameyang is not a ghost of that player.
Strikers lose confidence. Of course. After all, down the other end of the Seven Sisters Road, Harry Kane has scored just once in the Prem this term.
But the majority of Spurs fans are not doubting Kane’s commitment, not since the arrival of Antonio Conte at least.
Arsenal fans, though, are questioning Aubameyang, with increasing force and vigour.MISFIRING EMERICK
The moans after he struck the post from point-blank range against Newcastle were diminished as the Gunners went on to win the game.
But another sub-par display at Old Trafford on Thursday provoked Arteta to drop his captain, giving Alexandre Lacazette the starting shirt.
Even more significantly, after Richarlison made it third time lucky following two narrow VAR calls, the Arsenal boss sent on Eddie Nketiah, who has declined to sign a new deal, rather than Aubameyang as his first port of call.
It was only when Nketiah somehow conspired to head against the woodwork, with six minutes plus stoppage time left, that Aubameyang was summoned, in place of Lacazette.
Demarai Gray’s stunner turned the tables, leaving Arsenal in dire straits, only for Nketiah’s pass in the seventh minute of added time to fall at the unmarked Aubameyang’s feet, 12 yards out, the goal gaping.
His shot was not even close, yards wide of the far upright, bringing a fusillade of verbal missiles from the Arsenal fans, inside Goodison and watching in pubs and at home.
Not that you would have known it mattered by that underwhelming reaction from the player himself, which fuelled a major social media backlash as supporters demanded he be jettisoned.
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But what does Arteta do?
Aubameyang is 33 in June, his value diminishing quickly, while the prospect of a January move being agreed will be made harder when he jets out - whether to Cameroon or the potential change venue of Qatar - for the African Nations Cup next month.
It is a familiar story. Too familiar. You thought they might have learned. They haven’t. Here we go again.4Aubameyang and Ozil were team-mates between January 2018 and January 2021Credit: Getty 4The Gabon star missed a great chance to snatch a point but fired wide with the last kick at EvertonCredit: Getty