Let’s say you’re Mike Trout, the best everyday baseball player on the planet, and you walk into the Angels’ clubhouse one day and see you’re going to be the closer for that night’s game with the Mariners. Crazy, right? Trout isn’t his teammate, Shoehei Ohtani. You’re one or the other. There have been 20,021 players in MLB history. Almost all picked one or the other.
Let’s say you’re Patrick Mahomes, the best football player on the planet, and you walk into the Chiefs’ locker room for that afternoon’s tilt with the Chargers and Andy Reid sidles up next you and says, “I think I’m going to use you as the long-snapper today.” Crazy, right? Chuck Bednarik has been retired since 1962, dead since 2015. You do what you do well.
If you watched Game 3 of the Bucks-Nets series, you know where this is going, because Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the three or four best basketball players in the world right now. He is 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds, built like a brick wall, graceful and powerful at the same time, a deadeye in the paint, not bad up to 15 feet out.
Thursday, Antetokounmpo tried long-snapping for the Milwaukee Bucks.
And it was nearly the nicest thing anyone has ever done on behalf of the Nets.
The Nets kept daring Antetokounmpo to shoot 3s. Antetokounmpo complied. He shot eight 3-pointers. He made only the seventh one, and Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum went crazy — partly because it came at a critical time of the game, giving the Bucks a 74-70 lead with just under 10 minutes left in a game Milwaukee won 86-83.
But you couldn’t help but notice the 16,310 inside the arena — and the few thousand gathered outside the building in the Deer District Plaza — were also reacting the same way a baseball crowd does when a pitcher throws a strike after 10 straight balls.
Milwaukee is a polite Midwestern city, and Antetokounmpo is Wisconsin’s biggest athletic star now that Aaron Rodgers is enjoying a sabbatical away from football, so you aren’t likely to hear boos, inside or outside, no matter how many times Giannis fires up a trey.
Now, if we could see thought bubbles …
“You’ve got to shoot,” Antetokounmpo told reporters afterward, before editing himself: “Not necessarily ‘You’ve got to shoot.’ You’ve got to make the best decision at the time. If I feel like, if I can knock it down, I’m going to shoot it.”
If I am Steve Nash, that isn’t just music to my ears, it is a symphony.
So is this:
“Basketball is all about instincts. If my instincts tell me that’s the best decision to take, you know, I live with that. I was just trying to make the right decision at the right moment and today that was shooting eight 3s. Maybe next game, it will be zero threes, who knows.”
The Nets should instantly take their hands-off policy to a much different level. They were already daring him to take 3s. Make it even more extreme. Tell Blake Griffin or Nic Claxton to slough off him as much as they can live with themselves. It serves two purposes.
For one, it will help guard against what Antetokounmpo does as well as anyone in the world, which is take the ball to the basket, where his array of rare gifts makes him virtually unstoppable. As an added bonus, it might also inspire Giannis’ instincts to tell him to make it 10 3s, or 12, or 14.
Who’s going to tell him no, his teammates, who revere him? His coach, Mike Budenholzer, who forever looks like a man simply grateful to breathe the same air as Antetokounmpo?
Are his instincts going to make him pass up an open 3?
A coaching friend of mine, Tom Pecora, tells a story about one of his players at Hofstra or Fordham who took several awful 3s and bricked them all. Pecora called time out and in the nicest possible way in the heat of the moment said, “Do us all a favor and stop doing that.”
“But coach,” the player protested, “I’m open!’
“I’d say there’s a good reason why you’re open,” Pecora replied. “Wouldn’t you?”
Look, when he is clicking on all cylinders Antetokounmpo can actually make 3s. He made four of them in each of the Bucks’ regular-season wins over the Nets. But he is not clicking now. He is shooting just 52 percent from the foul line in the playoffs, 31.6 percent against the Nets. He’s at 4-for-32 from 3, which is 12.5 percent in any league.
Dare him. Taunt him. Play with his ego, which surely is annoyed watching the ease with which his fellow 6-11 player, Kevin Durant, splashes 3s. Make him question his instincts. If he finally cops to reality, fine. If he doesn’t? Better. Let him long-snap to his heart’s content.
#Nets #Giannis #Antetokounmpo #shooting