An appreciation for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s greatness

Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks against the Wizards in 2018. KEITH ALLISON / CC BY-SA 2.0

What’s not to like about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game?

He never stops running. He never stops hustling. He never stops inspiring his teammates.

There’s an appealing aggression to his offensive skill set, and throughout every game he captivates you from start to finish.

He attacks the basket repeatedly, throwing down powerful dunks whenever possible. It brings him joy. It brings his fans joy. It sets the tone, the emotional pulse, game after game.

The Milwaukee Bucks once employed two of the 10 greatest NBA players of the 20th century: Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Nowadays, they have one of the three best all-around players, with Antetokounmpo joining Kevin Durant and LeBron James at the top of the mountain.

Antetokounmpo doesn’t need a defined position. He just needs to be on the court. He does it all. He’s a rare player with the size (6-foot-11) and strength and ability to play all five positions.

He’s in his sixth season with the Bucks and on a direct path to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

A franchise player

Drafted No. 15 by the Bucks in 2013, he has revitalized the franchise and the city. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Antetokounmpo was born in Athens. Known as the Greek Freak, he’ll be remembered as one of the NBA’s smartest draft selections ever. But just remember, he was still 18 when the Bucks rolled the dice on him in June 2013. And the rest is history.

In an appearance on “60 Minutes ” in March 2018, Antetokounmpo recalled the emotional moment when he heard commissioner David Stern calls his name, notifying the world that he was chosen by the Bucks.

“I was so excited,” Antetokounmpo told the TV program. “I was like you guys gotta go get my brother. Thanasis came, gave me a hug. We started crying. We just knew our life changed at that moment. From now on, our family gonna have a better future.”

Above all, he is a down-to-earth hero and a role model to millions throughout the world.

Chasing a title

In Game 2 of the ongoing Eastern Conference finals, Antetokounmpo’s masterpiece (30 points, 17 rebounds, five assists) guided the Bucks to a 125-103 victory on Friday over the Toronto Raptors, moving the Bucks a giant step closer to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974.

In the past few seasons, the Greek Freak has shown what he’s capable of doing: dictating the pace of the game. He’s an indispensable player for the Bucks. For instance, in the 2016-17 season, he became the first player in NBA history to be in the top 20 in all five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals).

But Antetokounmpo refuses to be complacent.

“I think my jump shot could get a lot, lot better. I could become a really big threat out there,” he’s been quoted as saying.

He’s always focused on working hard to put his unique stamp on every game.

Furthermore, he knows attacking the basket is a primary objective, but getting his teammates involved is another equally important task.

“I know I can get to the basket whenever I want, but I’ve got to be able to create some plays, like easy play,” the NBA’s 2017 Most Improved Player once said.

Entering his prime

In a couple years, Antetokounmpo will enter his prime as a player.

But he’s already reached the point where his numbers and profound impact on the game can be compared with other superstars. In 465 regular-season games, he has career averages of 18.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

He averaged 27.7 points (No. 3 in the league), 12.5 rebounds (sixth-most), 5.9 assists and 1.5 blocks (10th) in the regular season as the Bucks posted a league-best 60-22 record. What’s more, he was No. 2 in defensive rebounds (739), second in free-throw attempts (686), third in free throws (500), fourth in 2-point shooting percentage (.641), sixth in total rebounds (898) and tied for 12th in total blocks (110, same number as Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers) and 13th in fouls (232).

LeBron James’ career averages in 1,198 regular-season games: 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

Kevin Durant’s figures (849 games): 27.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

In each of Antetokounmpo’s six seasons, he has increased his scoring and rebounding figures. That doesn’t happen by accident; it requires supreme talent and a commitment to excellence.

Scoring: 6.8 points per game as a rookie, followed by 12.7, 16.9, 22.9 and 26.9 before this title-chasing campaign. Rebounding: 4.4 per game as a first-year NBA player, followed by 6.7, 7.7, 8.8 and 10.0 in his first five seasons.

Unique skill set

In 2017, then-Bucks guard Jason Terry summed up his amazing teammate’s unique place in the NBA pecking order.

“Dirk (Nowitzki), in my eyes, is the best European player to ever play this game,” Terry told The New York Times. “He literally changed the way his position is played. But Giannis doesn’t even have a position. He does it all, and he’s still learning what to do out there.”

In 2017, ex-NBA player Steve Smith made these observations about Giannis to Bleacher Report: “I don’t know if you’d call him a point forward. He’s kind of a point hybrid — something we really haven’t seen.”

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knows as well as anyone what 29 teams face whenever they face the Bucks.

“You’d have to say he’s become very confident and gained both skill-wise and awareness of the game steadily each year,” Popovich said in November 2017, according to givemesport.com. “He’s become a leader, he knows what he can do and he plays now to destroy you.”

Ruthless efficiency.

Antetokounmpo was No. 1 in the NBA in Player-Efficiency Rating (30.9) this season.

In June, he will win his first MVP award.

In reality, we are witnessing Giannis Antetokounmpo’s debut as the star attraction on the biggest stage, the latter stages of the playoffs this spring. The East is now his domain. He’s the new king of the conference.

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