Widgets Magazine

Rosas: In a couple years, this is Giannis’ League

Somewhere in the midst of watching Giannis Antetokounmpo’s adorable ‘mean mug’ and his absurd stride that makes a eurostep dunk from the three-point line possible, I was sold. The “Greek Freak” flashed glimpses of his absurdly high ceiling and the player that he can be — an MVP-caliber generational superstar that dominates the Association.

In a world of hot-take cannons, I honestly don’t believe the pending superstar plight of Giannis is controversial. Many around the league have favored the Bucks’ franchise icon for the Most Improved Player annual award for getting better at literally everything imaginable on the basketball court, as the Greek Freak became the first player in NBA history to be top-20 in the league in points, assists, steals, blocks and rebounds in seasonal averages.

Antetokounmpo raised all his stats while also simply playing better basketball, as reflected in his increase in efficiency from 19.0 to 26.2 that powered the Bucks to its first winning season (42-40 good for 6th in East and 8th in West) since Milwaukee drafted Giannis in 2013. While the Bucks also deepened their rotations with the addition of Matthew Dellavedova and development of rookie Malcolm Brogdon, NBA.com still has the Greek Freak’s Player Impact Estimate — measuring the player’s statistical contribution to the overall game’s statistical contribution — at 17.6 at 10th in the league, which compares to the likes of the Clippers’ point “God” Chris Paul and the Spurs’ MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.

The Bucks’ winning campaign also comes during an injury-marred season for Milwaukee during which key players Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton played less than one combined game together due to unfortunate extended injuries.

What’s even more impressive for Antetokounmpo is his comparison to other superstars during their relative campaigns at his age. Comparing his statline to the likes of LeBron, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant during their respective seasons at 22, the Greek Freak definitely established himself amongst the highest echelon in the NBA with the only question being the ceiling of his potential.

Amongst a handful of the top small forwards that are now household names across the basketball nation, Antetokounmpo leads in rebounds, assists and blocks while also owning the second-biggest player impact behind LeBron to lead an injury-laden Bucks team to competitiveness in the postseason, showing just how impressive this young foreign superstar’s campaign has been. 

Beyond just the stats, Antetokounmpo dominates both the court and spectator’s attention during every game — and for good reason. While eye-popping plays like his elbow block on Toronto’s Norman Powell show up on Sportscenter, his key cuts to the basket — whether he gets the ball or not — demand so much attention that it almost always produces wide open shots for teammates, like this hard-cut off the inbound pass to free Dellavedova for an open three:

Let alone his ability to have freakish capabilities to dish the ball at his size, like this behind-the-back transition assist to a wide-open Plumlee for a layup:

The Bucks’ superstar virtually does it all on the court, from coast to coast highlight dunks to providing stellar pick and roll defense integral to Milwaukee’s defensive capabilities, and a large part of Milwaukee’s return to success falls on the shoulders of this wunderkind and his amazing capacity on the court.

In the young NBA playoffs thus far, Giannis has both earned his second postseason double-double while being a menace on both ends of the floor in the Bucks’ first-round against Toronto. In the four games played in the series thus far, Antetokounmpo actually averages a double-double with 21.3 points and 10 rebounds per game while his ridiculous length makes finding open shots nearly impossible for Raptors’ backcourt All-Stars DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry.

Giannis’ absurd ‘do-it-all’ on the court ability leaves everybody around him feeling like Reggie Evans a couple years ago; not only does the 7-footer display all-around greatness this season, but his ceiling has yet to really be tested. If — at just 22 — the Greek Freak already has been described as “impossible to guard” from frustrated opponents and coaches, I find it hard to believe that Antetokounmpo will have trouble ascending to NBA dominance and becoming a generational legend — only if people can learn to pronounce his name.

Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.