The NBA season is starting to hit its stride, and with that comes all types of debates:
Who is the best team? Who is the biggest surprise? Who are the league’s best players? This leads to a quick run off of the usual suspects: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, etc.
But the name that is more frequently getting floated in among the elite is Giannis Antentokounmpo. At first, many are taken aback by the idea of Giannis among the NBA’s cream of the crop. Those people have not taken the time to truly watch what an unbelievable player this guy has become.
On numbers alone, Giannis has become one of the best players in the league. His stat line (22.4-8.7-5.7) alone is enough to leave jaws on the floor. Add on to those numbers his 2.2 blocks/game and 2.2 steals/game and you have one of the most unique statistical years in the history of the NBA. He is throwing these gaudy stats up with relative efficiency as well. He’s shooting almost 53% from the floor, while hoisting just 16 shots a game. That type of efficiency is not unheard of for a player of Antetokounmpo’s height (6’11”), but it is for someone who is the primary ball-handler and creator for their offense. The only comparable player in terms of efficiency in that role is LeBron James during his peak Miami years.
The numbers are incredible, but in order to appreciate the ascension Giannis has undertaken, watching him operate is essential. When he first came into the league, he was a raw block of clay, and now Jason Kidd has shaped him into the super-sized version of himself as a player.
Giannis is absolutely electrifying in the open-court. His ability as a rebounder allows him to crash the defensive glass and then immediately ignite the fast break. This sequence displays just how quickly he can flip defense to offense and create easy opportunities for teammates. The Bucks have struggled in half-court offensive situations due to their lack of shooting and inability to space the floor. Getting out in transition allows them to utilize their athletic ability, especially for guys like Giannis and Jabari Parker. The most impressive thing about Giannis in the open-court is that he always has his head up looking to make the right play, whether it is to pass or to score. This play from last season demonstrates the incredible body control he plays with and how explosive he can be.
As good as he is, Giannis is far from an infallible player. Part of the reason the Bucks have spacing issues is because he has yet to show consistency shooting the ball from outside the paint. His passing ability has come to the forefront since the All-Star break last year, but he is prone to turnovers like any other primary ball-handler. The reason these would be red flags are easy to overlook is because the guy is about to turn 22. He is so young and the parts of his game that are flawed are easily correctable. Many players develop a jump shot later in their career – including Jason Kidd.
When the Bucks drafted him 15th in 2013, few if any thought that Giannis would become this good this quickly. He has established himself as certainly the best player in that draft class, and quite possibly one of the best in the entire league.
The next time a debate breaks out about who the best players in the league are, be sure to throw Giannis Antentokounmpo into the mix.