Nick FriedellESPN Staff Writer
MILWAUKEE — As Giannis Antetokounmpo carves his way into the highest stratosphere of NBA stardom, the 22-year-old wants to make one thing very clear as it pertains to comparisons against LeBron James.
“I’m not on that level,” Antetokounmpo said after a 116-97 loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. “LeBron James is one of the best players in the league, and one of the best players to ever play the game. It’s great going against him, but I don’t think about that.”
While there’s little doubt among many around the league that Antetokounmpo has the kind of game-changing talent to one day approach some of the huge numbers James has stacked up in his career, the young All-Star wants to make it known he still has a long way to go to be compared to James. As the plaudits continue piling up for Antetokounmpo, his coach, Jason Kidd, wants to make sure his star player focuses on improving his own game, not worrying about anyone else’s. Antetokounmpo did everything on Friday night, scoring 34 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out eight assists, but he didn’t have enough help from his supporting cast to topple James and his teammates at the end.
“I thought Giannis did a really good job of trying to find the open guy and also be aggressive,” Kidd said. “He’s scored a lot of points, but he needs his teammates to be able to make open shots to take some of the pressure off of him. Again, it’s not between him and LeBron.
“It’s the Cavs and the Bucks, and unfortunately we lost tonight.”
Antetokounmpo acknowledged that it was “real hard” to guard James, as the future Hall of Famer racked up 24 points and eight assists on the night. When asked before Friday’s shootaround about Kobe Bryant’s MVP challenge to Antetokounmpo, James, like many of his peers, was complimentary toward the Greek Freak.
“Well, I think at the end of the day, it’s all about team success,” James said. “That’s what we all want. I’m not here to piggyback on what someone else has challenged him on. That’s for him and his teammates and the response that he had from Kobe. But he has the skill set, he has the talent and he has a great coach that can help him get to that point.”
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) August 27, 2017
As the Bucks try to break into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference this season, they are going to need more people to help Antetokounmpo to be successful. Malcolm Brogdon was the only other player in double figures for the Bucks with 16 points on the night. He knows that when Antetokounmpo is not on the floor, the Bucks must continue to find ways to play an uptempo style.
“Continue to be aggressive,” Brogdon said. “When he’s not in the game, play hard, play with the same energy, play with the same pace. The big thing that Giannis brings to the game for us is pace, being able to get up and down the floor and play fast. We got to continue to do that and not lost momentum when he comes out of the game.”
For Antetokounmpo, the ability to measure up against James and perform at such an individually high level only reinforces to everyone around him just how much better he can become. The young star can feel how much his mindset has already changed during his short time in the league.
“I think my mentality,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin before the game, while discussing how he feels he has improved most during his five years in the league. “The way I approach the game. The way I approach just a simple practice. That’s my mentality.
“I take this more serious. I’m not taking this for granted no more. I think my rookie I was just having fun. I was 18 and I was living the American dream. Now, I think it’s like, it’s time to like work hard and achieve goals and do whatever it takes for your team to win. So I think my mentality has changed since my rookie year.”