Giannis Antetokounmpo proved himself on the biggest stage in basketball last year by authoring one of the most dominant NBA Finals performances in history. Antetokounmpo dropped 50 points against the series-clinching Game 6 victory against the Phoenix Suns to win his first ring and bring the Milwaukee Bucks their first championship since 1971. In the process, he silenced every silly criticism of his game.
Antetokounmpo’s greatness never should have been in question, of course. He was a two-time MVP by age-25 and had established himself as arguably the best player of his generation. Giannis’ motor was in overdrive at all time, combining elite defense with elite slashing while being one of the greatest physical specimens the game had ever seen. That still didn’t stop some critics from slamming Antetokounmpo for his shaky shooting, among other things.
Giannis hasn’t forgotten the critics now that he’s the top dog in the league. Just look at what he said after an incredible performance against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
Giannis, winking, when asked what it meant to become the Bucks' all-time leading scorer:— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 1, 2022
"It's good because I'm changing the narrative. I don't want to be the guy only that dunks and runs. I can make a three."
That comment is a not so thinly veiled reference to James Harden.
It’s hard to remember the Before Times now, but Harden and Antetokounmpo once went head-to-head for the 2019 MVP award. Giannis won, and Harden — who had won in 2018 — was salty about it. During an interview with Rachel Nichols on ESPN, Harden said this:
RN: Daryl Morey your GM had a great line about that. He said ‘being different doesn’t get appreciated until it works.’
JH: Or when I’m done. When it’s all said and done, they will appreciate it more. But I wish I was 7-feet, and could run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I have to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill. I’ll take that every day.
This was always a ridiculous criticism of Giannis’ game, especially coming from someone who only plays one end of the floor like Harden. Our friends at Secret Base did a full breakdown of the beef:
Giannis was at his absolute best as then Bucks beat the Nets in overtime on TNT on Thursday night. Antetokounmpo went off for 44 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists on 14-of-21 shooting with 15-of-19 shooting from the foul line.
With the game on the line, Antetokounmpo nailed a step-back three for the win.
The best player in the world is either Giannis or Nikola Jokic. Antetokounmpo has been my pick since the start of the season after his tremendous Finals performance.
Meanwhile, it was a rough night for Harden. The guard got what he wanted with a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers, but after a hot start, he’s been struggling immensely as of late. The Sixers lost to the tanking Detroit Pistons on Thursday, 102-94, with Harden finishing just 4-of-15 shooting from the field.
As reporters asked Doc Rivers about a poor performance from Philly’s bench, the head coach said Harden’s off-night was more to blame for the loss.
Harden is losing his status as a top player at age-32 this season. He just isn’t playing like a superstar consistently anymore despite his ability to still reach that status on certain nights. Giannis — still only 27 years old — is ascending more and more each day.
Harden’s numbers with Philly through 16 games look almost identical to his numbers with Brooklyn this season through 44 games. The player we saw average an efficient 36 and 34 points per game only 2-3 years ago seems long gone.
The scary thought for the rest of the NBA? That might have been only the beginning for Giannis. He’s so much more than someone who just ‘dunks and runs.’