When NBA players are asked if “this year will be different,” responses typically come in one of two forms. When the question is, admittedly less often, posed to defending champions or proven winners, the answer is a quick no. They’ve won in the past, so why would anything change in the future? When the question is asked of players and teams that haven’t won, the answer is yes. The team has invariably figured out what went wrong in the past and is ready to put their new plan into action and win the championship.
Giannis Antetokounmpo broke that template with a refreshing bit of honesty at his press conference Thursday. He is exactly the sort of athlete that typically gets asked this sort of question. He’s a reigning MVP coming off of back-to-back postseason upsets based in large part on his own struggles late in games. But when he was asked whether or not this year will be different, he admitted the only possible true answer: he doesn’t know.
“I don’t know if this year is gonna be different. I’m not gonna lie to you. It might be the same. Who knows. The results are gonna talk for themselves in the end. But at the end of the day, I don’t get too high, don’t get too low. I feel like last year, probably because of the bubble I wasn’t able to get away from basketball. Like, losing a game and just going to the hotel and seeing the players that just beat you, you got too low.”
While there is a degree of pessimism in that sentiment overall, it’s not as though Antetokounmpo is plotting an exit from Milwaukee. He just signed a five-year contract extension during the offseason. He isn’t going anywhere, and he isn’t doubting his team either. He’s just being honest. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs, and there’s little to be gained from bold proclamations otherwise.
The Bucks don’t know if this year will be different, but they’ve done everything in their power to ensure that it will be. After finishing with the NBA’s best record in back-to-back seasons, they’ve scrapped much of their regular-season formula to build a team better equipped for the playoffs. Most of their depth was replaced by Jrue Holiday. They added P.J. Tucker to give themselves the option to play small in the postseason. They’re switching on defense in an effort to take away more 3-pointers from opponents.
That guarantees nothing. The Bucks won’t pretend otherwise. They’re just going to go about their business and put themselves in the best position possible to win. Whatever happens after that is out of their control.