Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, ranks second in the NBA in points per game (29.7), notching nearly two-thirds of those from inside the paint (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).
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Since the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, both literally and figuratively. This season, he has planted his name firmly within the MVP conversation, even if casual fans still have trouble pronouncing it. To guide us through this episode wholly devoted to the Grecian phenom, we’ve brought on Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer for ESPN Milwaukee and cohost of the Locked on Bucks podcast. Eric explains how Giannis’ humble upbringing, laser-like focus and basketball obsession have all contributed to his nearly unprecedented development from a lanky, unknown draftee into the all but unstoppable force he is today. Get a sneak peek of our conversation about the Greek Freak this week with these excerpts (time stamps approximate because of tailored advertisements):
10:10-11:20: “There was a part of me that kind of didn’t love it [Giannis’ nickname] at the start, just because I think ‘freak,’ the connotation of freak, there’s something wrong with you, there’s something to be ashamed about. Because I guess at some point I thought he was going to fit into a prototypical kind of archetype of an NBA player. That hasn’t happened. He is a total anomaly, so calling him something not normal? Yeah, that works out…There’s not anyone else really out there like him, so I think ‘Greek Freak’ works and it fits, and it’s ended up being kind of perfect.”
The best season of Eric Bledsoe’s career was cut short due to lingering issues with his left knee (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).
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Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler have already been shut down for the remainder of the Phoenix Suns’ season, but Fox Sports Senior NBA Writer Andrew Lynch isn’t convinced full-on tanking is in the team’s best interest. Andrew’s appearance comes fresh off 20-year-old Devin Booker’s history-making 70-point output in a loss to the Celtics Friday night. He contextualizes Booker’s rare night and breaks down many other integral Suns issues, such as Eric Bledsoe’s projected NBA future, the disappointing Alex Len, rookie Marquese Chriss’ potential and Phoenix’s approach to this June’s draft.
2:31-2:57: “In this season, Suns fans needed something like that, I think. And it’s just perfectly fitting – I tweeted this last night – that it came in a loss. All of my favorite Suns memories are in losses. I know people want to maybe belittle the achievement a little because he was taking so many shots, because they were fouling, because they were calling timeouts…70 points is 70 points in an NBA game. Period.”
Jimmy Butler and the Chicago Bulls halted their five-game losing streak by defeating Charlotte Monday night (Jacob Gaertner/Creative Commons).
A particularly tumultuous period sees the Warriors and Cavaliers dropping to their lowest positions of the season. Meanwhile, every other team has moved up or down at least one spot except for the Clippers and Hawks, who remained at No. 8 and 12, respectively. A handful of sub-.500 squads are recognized for their strong recent play, as the Grizzlies and Bulls are punished for their sluggish performances over the past two weeks. One final fun fact: Last edition, Chicago came in at No. 15, a full 10 spots ahead of the Hornets. This time around, Chicago clings to a single-spot lead over Charlotte after edging the Hornets Monday night.
Biggest Jumps: Milwaukee Bucks (+6), Minnesota Timberwolves (+5), Washington Wizards (+4)
Biggest Falls: Chicago Bulls (-6), Memphis Grizzlies (-5), Dallas Mavericks (-4), Indiana Pacers (-4), Toronto Raptors, (-4) Continue reading
In his first season in Miami, Dion Waiters is playing an outsized role in the Heat’s active 10-game winning streak (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).
Up is down and down is up in this tumultuous edition of the power rankings, which features the most movement of any edition so far, with mighty teams struggling and lowly teams rising up. The Cleveland Cavaliers, still the consensus pick to come out of the Eastern Conference, went just 7-8 in January, giving LeBron James his first losing month since his rookie year. The Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets, both in last edition‘s top five, have lost eight of 11 and eight of their last 14, respectively. Even the seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors, who have occupied the No. 1 spot in our rankings every single edition except for our first, have dropped games since last edition to the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings.
On the other side, the Washington Wizards were just 13-16 before Christmas and have since gone 17-4, steadily climbing up the Eastern Conference standings to the third seed, and up our rankings to fourth. The Dallas Mavericks, at one point dead last in our rankings, have won six of their last seven games, their one loss coming to the Miami Heat. And finally, the twice-aforementioned Heat, unquestionably the NBA’s biggest story right now, were 11-30 and 29th in our previous power rankings, before rattling off 10 straight wins, a streak that is still active. These are some exciting times in the NBA.
Biggest Jumps: Miami Heat (+15), Washington Wizards (+8), Dallas Mavericks (+8)
Biggest Falls: Philadelphia 76ers (-8), Milwaukee Bucks (-8), Toronto Raptors (-8) Continue reading
Markieff Morris has been at the center of a series of problems this season for the Phoenix Suns (Mwinog2777/Wikimedia Commons).
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A season that began with so much promise appears headed downhill and fast for the Phoenix Suns. In a span of nine days, starting in late December, the Suns fell to the 76ers, lost Eric Bledsoe for the season, fired their top two assistants, surrendered 142 points to the Kings and scored just 77 points in a loss to the Lakers. With Bledsoe out for the season, Markieff Morris clearly wanting out of town and Tyson Chandler not fitting in, things are likely to get worse before they get better. Andrew Lynch, NBA coordinator at Fox Sports, helps us sort it all out. Some of the highlights of our talk can be found below:
5:13 – 6:26: On why the Suns’ defense has struggled: “Strong-side pressure defenses require that everyone be on the same page. You don’t necessarily need five above-average defenders. You need guys making above-average decisions…(guys) who are in the right places, who are not cheating outside of the system…and frankly Phoenix (doesn’t) have that. (With) Tyson Chandler…the hope was that he would help with the communication on that, …(but) he doesn’t necessarily have the experience in this system that will lend itself to telling guys where they need to be at all times…You need someone like Bledsoe at the point of attack…putting pressure on the ball…to force the issue when an offense is trying to get into (its) primary actions…Guys aren’t communicating well, and when they aren’t communicating, they aren’t necessarily in the right spots.”