NBA champions of the past decade have been characterized by two main factors: Hall-of-Fame star power, or an incredibly effective system. Hall of Fame names like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Stephen Curry, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan have hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy over and over again. Aside from a Dallas cinderella story, the era of power and Popovich has reigned supreme.
For teams to truly cement themselves into NBA history, they need a superstar to kickstart their path to greatness. Teams like the 2017 Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors are all incredibly talented and brimming with star power, but chances are they’ll be watching The Finals in their basements. It takes more to win than having a bonafide scorer, a gifted big man, or a talented passer; you have to clump every aspect of the game into one hell-raiser who can do it all, and do it all well. Looking at the names listed above, picking one who won’t make the Hall of Fame is impossible; they’ll all get there. More importantly, they won’t get there after consideration of one part of their game. Rather, their prowess as a whole will influence that decision.
Perhaps the most revered name included on that short list is Lebron James. There aren’t enough words in the English language to characterize how important he’s been to the game of basketball. Being seriously compared to his talent is the ultimate ovation, and that’s precisely the praise 22-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo is getting.
Bleacher Report published an analytical article recently featuring Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy ,who praised Antetokounmpo’s meteoric rise. The written work broke down every aspect of Giannis’s game in comparison to a 22 year old James. At first glance, the two may not be a perfect comparison, with James at 6’8″ and Giannis at 6’11” and playing different roles. However, a look past their immediate comparison and into more advanced metrics uncovers a stark reality: The King and The Freak are hard to separate.
Player Impact Estimate, a statistic that measures an individual’s impact on a single game, is strongly correlated to winning:”‘PIE shows what percentage of game events did that player or team achieve,’ specifically looking at traditional stats such as points, rebounds, turnovers, etc. It also incorporates defense—because if a player were to miss a shot, the five opposing players on the floor would all see their PIE rating improve.” Although the Bucks aren’t winning at a high rate, when they do emerge victorious, Giannis plays the biggest role. James posted a rating of 18.1 at age 22, and Giannis posts a strikingly similar rating of 18.0 this year (for reference, Russell Westbrook is posting a rating of 22.3 this season).
Furthermore, their defensive prowess is equally impactful. Per Bleacher Report, “Opposing shooters have made just 42.7 percent of their field-goal attempts against his pterodactyl-like frame, according to NBA.com’s defensive statistics, which is nearly congruent with James’ mark of 42.0 percent. (For comparison, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard has yielded 43.8 percent shooting this season.)”
It takes more than a star to win rings, it takes constant improvement, and in Giannis’s case, the addition of a consistent jump shot, role players, and leadership. Giannis obviously has not reached the level of greatness James has, nor is it likely he takes his team to The Finals in his 22nd year like Lebron did, but if he can continue this pattern statistically, I see no reason why his name shouldn’t shine among the pantheon of greats.
And who knows, maybe he’ll spend his retirement polishing a few rings.