Giannis Antetokounmpo: Latest ankle sprain a cause of concern?

Just as he was gearing back up into his dominant form, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the pine again.

Antetokounmpo went down to the floor after turning his ankle 32 seconds into the Bucks’ embarrassing loss to the Houston Rockets Thursday night after trying to drive through veteran Rockets big man Kelly Olynyk. With the Bucks on a back-to-back, Antetokounmpo was unsurprisingly held out of Milwaukee’s 108-98 win over the Chicago Bulls Friday night.

After the Bucks got back in the win column Friday night, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer gave an encouraging, albeit very vague comment about Antetokounmpo’s latest status more than 24 hours removed from going down on the court.

While we shouldn’t expect nothing more from Budenholzer, this is just the latest injury setback that Antetokounmpo has suffered in recent weeks.

After all, Antetokounmpo had missed six games due to left knee soreness last month that kept him out of action for the longest stretch of his career. Bucks general manager Jon Horst spoke not long after Antetokounmpo’s return that his knee soreness wasn’t a source of long-term concern:

“Not at all. This is something we’ve dealt with and been through before. We have a great plan in place, we have a great medical staff in place and I think most importantly, we have an incredible compliant, hard-working, serious individual that has the circumstance that he knows how to deal with it. And he has a lot of confidence in dealing with it as well. So not at all.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo has suffered similar late-season ankle sprains in years past

While no Bucks official could have foreseen this injury, it repeats a concerning pattern that has followed Antetokounmpo near the end of his last two regular season campaigns in particular.

Antetokounmpo suffered a spate of ankle sprains down the final stretch of the Bucks’ 2018-19 season that he went on to overcome going into the Bucks’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals that year. And just last season, Antetokounmpo’s second MVP-winning season was cut short after suffering a sprained ankle during Game 4 of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat, their lone win that series.

The fact that the Bucks play such a compressed schedule for their nine final regular season games doesn’t help matters in terms of bringing back Antetokounmpo up to speed and maintaining his health going into a crucial playoff run. Even as the Bucks are likely locked in as the third seed in the East.

That, in some ways, takes the pressure off the Bucks to continue fighting for playoff positioning, even as they gear up to host the Brooklyn Nets for a big back-to-back series that will serve as their biggest test before the playoffs began. Of course, that test will be hindered by the health of both team’s stars, with Antetokounmpo rehabbing his ankle and James Harden sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury.

Still, the reigning MVP’s health continues to loom over the Bucks’ final stretch of the regular season. If we see any diminished version of Antetokounmpo moving forward, the Bucks simply won’t realize their contending aspirations in any form.

All of that makes how the Bucks treat Antetokounmpo’s ankle injury very fascinating and we’ll continue to track his progress and road to recovery with any updates that come from the team itself.