Believe in Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the Milwaukee Bucks?



I usually wait until after the N.B.A. I was wrong and issued a Mea Culpa. But with a little less than half of this campaign, I find that the season has inspired me more than any other in my years of playing basketball. So many trends that I thought I saw have already reversed, some in a spectacular way.

So I have to come clean. New year, new me, as they say.

There was time I predicted the Knicks would make the playoffs. I considered according to The Toronto Raptors were much better than the Knicks after losing Kawhi Leonard. I speculated that after his hot start, the Karl Anthony cities in Minnesota would become a candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award. I wrote that the Philadelphia 76ers "look like a top contender" with their approach of estimating height above shooting and starting four players with at least 6-foot-8. I wondered ironically whether the Phoenix Suns were real.

It's easy and fair to laugh at me now. And many of you have! The raptors seem tough and deep. The Knicks went into the game after three wins on Friday evening at 10:24 (and minus one head coach). The Timberwolves are in the middle of another disappointing season, and the talk is that the cities want to get out.

The suns are the suns, and the Sixers, as big as they are, were just OK.

I tried to find out where I am wrong. At Knicks, I overlooked the importance of being fit and put too much emphasis on new talent. With the Suns, I thought that a new culture under Monty Williams and the addition of solid veterans like Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio would undo years of building a lackadaisical franchise.

Above all, the game was more difficult to predict than usual due to the larger parity. And injuries – a lot of them. They have influenced league rankings more than any other season recently.

I was more Nostradonotbelieveme than Nostradamus. But here's a new batch of takeaways as we enter a new decade, and hopefully along with it, more accuracy.

The Milwaukee bucks are 31-5, easily the best record in the league. They beat teams over an average of almost 13 points per game. You have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been with M.V.P. Award winning campaign last year. They are the best defense team in the N.B.A. and play at the fastest pace. They have several fun role players, including Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill and the Lopez brothers. There is a possibility that the Bucks will win 70 games.


I predicted that the bucks would reach the final this year. And now I'm taking it back, especially after watching Christmas Day's loss to the Sixers. I underestimated how much better the rest of the Eastern Conference is compared to previous seasons. And I'm skeptical of a team with only one elite playmaker.

The early national television games with the Denver Nuggets were fraught with disappointments despite their 10-3 start. It was found that something was missing from this team. This Nikola Jokic was not himself. The Nuggets needed more from Jamal Murray and Will Barton.

And yet Denver is in second place in the Western Conference. It has won 10 of its last 12 games. Jokic, after a less than outstanding start to the season, prevailed in December with an average of 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists for an efficient shooting percentage of 62.9. The Nuggets have done all of this, although they have defended below average since December 1st. And much of their last schedule was premature, including a double-digit win at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers that James had missed that night. But there is no discount for a street win on Thursday against the Indiana Pacers, which were predominant at home.

The nuggets are among the teams that are extremely difficult to assess. You have a good M.V.P. Talent in Jokic, and every top candidate needs one of them. Murray, Barton and Paul Millsap have solid talent and productive players like Mason Plumlee who don't try to do too much. Rookie Michael Porter Jr. made the most of his recently extended game time (due to team injuries), averaging 15.5 points per game in his last four competitions with 74 percent shooting. If he makes himself comfortable on the court, watch out.

The Nuggets are second in the West – just three games behind the Lakers before Friday – and more wins than last season.