MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing at such a high level to start the season that even his Milwaukee Bucks teammates acknowledge how tough it is not to defer to him every time down the floor.
"It's very difficult," Bucks center John Henson said. "Because sometimes ... when he's got the ball up top I'm thinking, 'All right, save us.'
"And it's kind of hard not to do that with how he's playing. He's shooting over what 55 percent from the field. He's playing phenomenal right now and we just got to help him, make it easier on him. And that will translate to wins."
The Bucks enter Friday's game against the Detroit Pistons still trying to find the balance that many teams struggle with in regard to young stars. At 22, Antetokounmpo has proved to be one of the very best players in the league -- an early-season MVP candidate. He is averaging a league-leading 31.3 points and is fifth in minutes per game at 36.8. Had it not been for an uncharacteristic off night in Wednesday's loss to the Charlotte Hornets (5-for-16 from the field for 14 points in 32 minutes) the numbers would be even higher. A lack of offense surrounding Antetokounmpo wasn't the issue in the 126-121 loss to the Hornets, but it's one of the single biggest issues the Bucks should be concerned about throughout the season.
"It's tough sometimes because he can do it all," Bucks swingman Khris Middleton said. "We have to do a better job of letting him know that he doesn't have to do it by himself, that we're here with him. As he gets us open shots, we have to try to get him easy looks also; he's not always pounding his body or trying to take on two or three guys. So we have to do a better job of recognizing that and making it easier on him too."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Antetokounmpo has taken 160 field goal attempts already this season, ranking behind only Houston Rockets star James Harden (184) and New Orleans Pelicans All-Star DeMarcus Cousins (164). His 160 field goal attempts make up 24.69 percent of the Bucks' attempts this season, which is also third most in the league behind only New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis (25.5 percent) and Harden (24.70 percent).
Over the past week, both the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder gave a blueprint to the rest of the league on how to slow down the man known as the "Greek Freak." Both teams kept a primary defender in front of Antetokounmpo while making sure there were always several other bodies near him wherever he went. The Thunder, in particular, made it a point not to let Antetokounmpo get into the paint, thus making his life admittedly "difficult."
"If I can't get the ball it's four against four," Antetokounmpo said. "The floor becomes bigger, we got more space, so the other four guys on the floor that [are] able to make a play ... but it's four against four, we got to make something happen."
Teams are daring somebody besides Antetokounmpo to beat them.
"I think we watched that in the playoffs," Kidd said. "In Game 6 [vs. the Toronto Raptors] they deferred to him. They got him the ball every time down and hoped that he bailed us out. For us we can't have that. You're going to probably see throughout the year where guys are going to defer because he is so talented, but there is going to be times where he needs help and we can't just ask him to bail us out every time."
The numbers show that, at least up to this point, Antetokounmpo is still trying to carry much of the burden. The Bucks have taken 501 field goal attempts when he's been on the floor, which means he has taken 31.94 percent of his team's potential shot attempts while playing. Kidd knows he is going to constantly have to remind his players that they have to trust themselves, not just Antetokounmpo's special ability. The future Hall of Fame point guard stressed ball movement after the Thunder loss earlier in the week.
"Instead of trying to force it to Giannis, we have four other guys on the floor, you just got to trust," Kidd said. "Right now, our trust is kind of short in the sense of we think we have to get it to Giannis. There's other guys who can make plays and we just haven't done that on a consistent basis ... we have to find that flow and trust of letting the ball out of your hands. Don't over-dribble it, let a teammate make a play."
The rest of the league isn't feeling sorry for Kidd as he tries to find the right path for his team. Antetokounmpo has accumulated a 33.2 percent usage rate this season, good for sixth in the league. In just his fifth season, the young star is still learning the game, but he's doing it at a faster rate than many in the league have ever seen.
"Obviously his shooting's improved," Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He can make enough shots to keep you honest and that sets up everything else. Since he's come into the league, I think where he's improved is his decision-making. He's really a good decision-maker with the ball. He can see over everybody, he can make every play. He's making really good decisions."
The defining question to the Bucks season will be whether or not Antetokounmpo's teammates can help their star-crossed leader make those decisions look even better over time. For his part, Antetokounmpo believes it's only a matter of time before his teammates start helping carry even more of the load.
"Our game plan hasn't changed even though I'm having a good day," Antetokounmpo said. "Our offense is still the same. Guys are going to still get their shots, guys are going to get their open looks. That's the great thing about this team, we play for one another. No matter who is having a good day, everybody is going to have open looks, not just me."