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Is Giannis Antetokounmpo the Best Player in the East Now That LeBron Is Gone?

With LeBron James finally out of the Eastern Conference, could this be the year that the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo finally breakout and show their playoff chops?

With LeBron James preparing to don a Lakers' uniform this season, there appears to be a bit of a power vacuum in the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia are expected to run the East for the next several years but could the Bucks and superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo—finally—breakout and make some noise in the East?

The Open Floor podcast crew breakdown what they expect from the Bucks this season and if Antetokounmpo is the new king of the East. 

(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Sharp: Zach says “why isn’t anyone talking about the Bucks this summer?” and Ethan says, “LeBron is entering the final stages of his career. His focus is turning into non-basketball things. The NBA is in need of a new king. But who can take the crown that LeBron has held for over a decade and do it justice? Kevin Durant the snake prince? Anthony Davis the Brow of the South? The choice is easy because it is destiny, Giannis Antetokounmpo will fulfill his father's name. Antetokounmpo literally means ‘the king from across the seas’. What more needs to be said. The prophecy will be released. Giannis and the Bucks are going to the Finals this year. The media needs to stop sleeping.” What do you say, Ben? I am not all the way there. Where are you on the Bucks hype?

Ben Golliver: What a prophecy from Ethan wow. I do think people are sleeping on the Bucks. I think they have some untapped upside. When I was doing my over/under column pick, I said take the Bucks over actually for similar reasons why I suggested last year that eventually MVP-caliber players will just breakthrough and will so-so rosters to 50 wins. It didn’t happen last year and we went through after twist and turn, whether that was the coaching decisions, the replacement, the trade for Eric Bledsoe, it just didn’t happen.

I do think the door is wide open for him to not only be in the MVP conversation but to get his team into the top four. I think coach Bud is already instilling what he wants to do on offense with the veteran additions they made; whether it is Ersan Ilyasova or Brook Lopez, I think they have the ability to show different offensive looks. They can be more offense happy and they can be more defensive when they need to. I still don’t love the roster but, of course, we love Giannis.

And I do believe the hype within Philly, Boston and even the question-type hype around Toronto with Kawhi, to me that next group after those guys, Milwaukee is right there next to that group. If they were the fourth seed or even sneaked into a three seed because someone had a bad year, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. This is the year they need to win a playoff series. We talked about their ticking clock in terms of building around Giannis and making the right positive momentum before his potential free agency, they need to win a playoff game this year and right now is the time to do it.


Sharp: I agree with everything you said. With Giannis, I would say there is no one in the East; there is no one more terrifying to watch your team play against. Watching Markieff Morris try to guard Giannis is the worst feeling in the world when the Wizards are playing any team from the Eastern Conference. I’m sure that is repeated across the conference and he’s just that incredible and that impossible to stop. I think weaponizing some of the pieces around him and putting him in a scheme that gets the best out of him is going to be more than people realize. That’s the most eloquent way I can put it. Me and you have been big Giannis cheerleaders over the past year.

Golliver: It has worked out great for us. Everything we have predicted has pretty much come true. I am not going to say he is going to make the Finals. I don’t think he is just the most fearsome player in the Eastern Conference, I think he is flat-out the best player in the Eastern Conference. We have talked about everything he can do offensively and how difficult he is to guard. He is also an excellent defensive player. Very versatile. Blocks a lot of shots. Gets a lot of steals. Just creates havoc and turns defense into offense. I hope they find more pace this year and really get him out on the open court more because that would make his life easier in the long run. I think Budenholzer would stress that early on in the season and keep it going the whole way. I am a shameless Bucks optimist as of this moment. It is amazing that we are after being in the same place 12 months ago and it didn’t go exactly as planned.