It’s Time To Be Concerned About Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Knee

The Milwaukee Bucks’ championship hopes rest squarely on the shoulders of the reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. That may seem like an oversimplification of an extremely complex and difficult road to the NBA Finals, but as far as Milwaukee is concerned that’s it, that’s all.

Although Antetokounmpo has been far and away the best player in the regular season the past two years, he hasn’t carried that same success deep into the playoffs. Opposing teams have zeroed in on him, loaded up the paint and forced anybody else in a good land green and cream city cream jersey to beat them. It’s come so far that the term “build a wall” is best known in Bucks’ social media circles as a defensive strategy to stop the Greek Freak than a promise from the previous presidential administration. His descending postseason play is a big reason why the Bucks have flamed out early in consecutive playoff outings.

Now, Antetokounmpo has another potential hurdle he must master—a lingering knee issue.

This is nothing new for the face of the franchise, as he’s battled a minor, but notable history of knee aliments throughout his career. This issue last reared its ugly head in March of 2020 when he tweaked his knee in a showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers. However, the seriousness may have been masked after the season was shut down two games later (both which he missed) and didn’t resume until the end of July.

Antetokounmpo is listed as doubtful in Thursday night’s matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, and if he sits out it will mark the fifth time in the last 10 games he’s been out due to this knee problem.

He first sat out the game against the Indiana Pacers on March 22nd before playing a consecutive set against the Boston Celtics (with one days rest inbetween). He then sat out a contest against the New York Knicks which happened to be the second of a back-to-back. For a brief period, the affair seemed to be behind him, as he played in three straight games from March 29th to April 2nd (each with a day inbetween). However, that’s when the drama really ramped up.

In the April 2nd event against the Portland Trail Blazers, Antetokounmpo had some obvious discomfort in pre-game warm-ups. On not one, but two occasions he was seen seriously grimacing and walking to the sidelines. For better or worse, he fought though the apparent pain, played in the game and finished with a whopping 47 points on 18-for-21 shooting (18-for-18 inside the arc) and 12 rebounds.

This is where it starts to get dicey. Antetokounmpo missed the following game against the Sacramento Kings and then was listed as probable for their following contest against the Golden State Warriors. However, he missed the game because of that same knee soreness and is now doubtful against the Mavericks. With Milwaukee playing another game on Friday night there will be a quick turnaround to see how the Bucks continue to approach this issue.

All in all, the Bucks are 3-2 without Antetokounmpo including desperately holding on against the Kings and a late collapse against the Warriors. Not the worst, but they’re certainly not the Brooklyn Nets who went 19-4 without superstar Kevin Durant.

Speaking of the Nets, Milwaukee currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference—2.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers and three behind Brooklyn. They have back to back series against each of those teams in late April and then early May and must stay within striking distance until then. Milwaukee would be best served to at least get home court advantage in a second-round matchup. Anything else and they could be setting themselves up for a premature exit for the third straight postseason.

Circling back around, even more important than the seeding is Antetokounmpo’s health. Milwaukee has absolutely zero chance of achieving their goal of a championship unless he’s 100 percent. That means they need to be extremely cautious with him moving forward and ensure he’s fully healthy before returning to the basketball court. Although they aren’t saying much publicly, you can bet your bottom dollar they are doing their homework and gaining as much information about Antetokounmpo’s knee as humanly possible.

The second half of this covid-shortened season is a grind. Even by previous NBA standards. Counting Thursday night’s game against the Mavs, they have 22 games in the final 41 days of the season. That includes seven(!) more back-to-backs.

Right now, there’s no reason to think this injury is anything major that will shelve him for weeks on end. He’s still being listed as day-to-day and there hasn’t been any information that suggests it’s any serious. However, missing games with a vague ailment such as a knee injury is a scary proposition. Especially when it’s to a player who holds the Bucks’ future in his hands as definitely as Antetokounmpo does.

Persistent knee injuries like this are never a positive development—especially for 7-foot big men who rely on their athleticism so heavily. Milwaukee needs to get this issue under control—at the beginning of April—instead of allowing it to linger for the next 5-plus weeks and into the playoffs. They can’t worry about load management after May 16th (their final game of the regular season) and expect to upend the the 76ers and/or Nets.

In order for the Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals, they need the best version of Antetokounmpo possible. Furthermore, they need him to be the best player on the court in every series. Neither of those are possible if this issue continues. It’s time to get it under control.