Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s World Cup disappointment

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo made his return to international competition with Greece this summer, but their wayward run at the World Cup fell way short of high expectations.

After two years away from playing for the Greek national team, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s return to international competition couldn’t have come at a better time.

In a summer that saw him reach the NBA summit by taking home last season’s Most Valuable Player award, as well as launching his debut signature Nike shoe, the Zoom Freak 1, Antetokounmpo set his sights on taking the international stage by storm to continue on the clear upward trajectory that has been synonymous with his rise over the last few years.

And with all of the questions and concerns regarding the many star players that dropped out of Team USA’s selection process that mired their run up to the FIBA World Cup, Antetokounmpo viably looked to be the best player standing among the crop of players from all around the world representing their national teams.

Now Greece has officially been eliminated at the World Cup ahead of the quarterfinals getting underway, despite knocking off the Czech Republic with a 84-77 win Monday and the basketball world is left wondering just how things went south so quickly for the Greeks and Antetokounmpo specifically.

The differences in the international game and the NBA are impossible to ignore as well as the nuances of selecting through a player pool to construct and fill out a squad that’s worthy of contending for a potential medal as Greece aspired to do at the World Cup.

Antetokounmpo’s two-year hiatus from playing for Greece also served as the basis for which he’s reintegrating himself back into the fold. It all stemmed from a knee injury that flared up in the run up to the most recent Eurobasket that ultimately prevented him from playing in that tournament, and from which the Greek federation accused the injury of being an ‘organized, well-staged plan‘ on behalf of the Bucks and the NBA to keep him out of competition.

With the tension from the last time Antetokounmpo represented his country having thawed since then, it seems that a new slate of questions will be asked in the wake of Greece’s quick exit from the World Cup, most of which center around the 24-year-old’s usage and fully fleshing out his wide-ranging talents to the fullest.

Not only that, but the physically dominant way Antetokounmpo carries himself on the court to dismantle opposing teams was kept in check for the majority of the tournament as foul trouble significantly hampered his output and overall availability to lead his squad to victory. The Greek federation has already gone about filing a complaint to FIBA about dismissing the three officials that worked their win over the Czechs, a game in which Antetokounmpo fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.

We’ll see what, if anything, comes of that, but what remains the bigger issue is maximizing Antetokounmpo’s strengths within the core of their national team to not let these prime years go to waste, even as he’s only hitting his personal prime.

It’s a topic that Greece head coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos addressed head-on Monday and in light of the criticism he has faced all throughout the squad’s troubled run in China as Dionysis Aravantinos of Eurohoops recounted:

“If we had the opportunity to set up a team from the start for Giannis… I constantly read comments online saying why the Greek national team doesn’t play like the Bucks, and I don’t know how to react. We’re not the Bucks; it’s that simple. We don’t need to say anything else”, he said.

Skourtopoulos, 54 also talked about the differences there are between the way Milwaukee uses him and the situation in the national team: “The Bucks are a well-structured team with Giannis as a centerpiece. We are a team that also has Antetokounmpo as a centerpiece, but with some players around him who have their own personality, and value and they are also a big part of the team.”

Overseeing a national team doesn’t have the same benefits of running a club/team and the Bucks have spent years fully leveraging Antetokounmpo’s strong suits for the majority of his career, with the 2018-19 season finally acting as the Bucks’ breakthrough toward contending for an NBA title under reigning NBA Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer.

With that said, curious decisions, ranging from Antetokounmpo essentially being frozen out in Greece’s nailbiting loss to Brazil in the first group stage last week to sitting him throughout the fourth quarter of their loss to Team USA over the weekend, will naturally spark some level of ire from die-hard Greek fans and Bucks fans who have adopted Greece as a go-to team to follow Antetokounmpo on the international stage.

What makes this all the more difficult is that the path for Greece qualifying for next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo still remains murky as they now will have to compete in a wild-card tournament next year to lock down a berth in the games.

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Considering Greece didn’t qualify for the previous two games, a lot will be riding on Skourtopoulos and Co. finding the answers to the questions they couldn’t solve with one of the most gifted players in the world at their disposal at the World Cup.