He doesn’t consider himself the current best player in the league because his team fell short of winning the championship last season. So, he was ready to cede that accolade to Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry instead.
“I think the best player in the world is the person that is the last man standing,” Antetokounmpo said Sunday afternoon at Bucks media day. “It’s the person that takes his team to the Finals, the finish line and helps them win the game. … that’s how I view it. I believe the best player in the world is Steph Curry.”
Antetokounmpo, who was named the No.1 player on ESPN’s NBArank, acknowledged that he is one of the best players in the league and could have made the claim for the top spot after the Bucks won the 2021 NBA Finals. But after Milwaukee lost in the second round of the playoffs last season in a seven-game series against the Boston Celtics, he fell short of the claim.
Antetokounmpo also finished third in the voting for NBA MVP after averaging 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists last season, but he pointed out how individual awards failed in comparison to the thrill of winning the NBA Finals.
“The feeling I felt, it was a nice feeling,” he said. “I got jealous of Golden State, seeing them in the parade and the ESPYs. You know that feeling now. You know what is getting stripped away from you.”
With Antetokounmpo at the center, the Bucks believe they have a team capable of winning the NBA championship again. They brought back nearly their entire roster from last season. Sixteen of the 20 players in training camp were on the roster at some point last season, including forward Jordan Nwora, who signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal to stay with the Bucks on Sunday, his agents told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“It’s really hard to keep a good team together,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you’re winning at a high level, teams want your players. They come and take your players and we’ve all watched it if you’ve been in the NBA for a long time. I can’t say enough how excited we are that if you have a really good team, to be able to keep it together. And it’s because we believe in it.”
However, the Bucks roster won’t be at full strength to begin the season while a couple of their wing players work their way back from injury.
Middleton had the cast removed from his left wrist about two weeks ago, and he was hoping to regain his range of motion soon before he resumed basketball activity. He said he began experiencing discomfort in his wrist sometime around the All-Star break, but played through it until an MCL sprain in the first round of the playoffs ended his season prematurely.
“Hopefully it’s closer to the start of the season,” Middleton said. “I know it won’t be that week, but sometime soon after that.”
The one major addition Milwaukee made to its roster was signing forward Joe Ingles, who is recovering from a torn ACL, in free agency. Ingles tore the ACL in his left knee at the end of January and had surgery to repair the injury in February.
Bucks general manager Jon Horst pointed to this upcoming January as a realistic timeline for his potential return.
“It’s a fun thing to say that you brought your team back,” Horst said. “But also I think Joe is a big deal for us. And we’ll either be right or wrong, that’s the way this business works, but that’s just not a minor thing. That’s a pretty big impact to our team.”