When he was drafted 15th overall in 2013, Giannis Antetokounmpo was dubbed the “Greek Freak”. Part of the reason he was given this nickname, outside of the obvious, was because he was a relative unknown. The pre-draft footage of Antetokounmpo looked like it was shot in a YMCA gym, and despite his clear dominance, questions remained about his level of competition. Four years later, there is no denying how incredible Milwaukee’s young star truly is.
There have been numerous stories about how teams wanted to draft Giannis in 2013, but only Milwaukee had the guts to pull the trigger. In retrospect, the Bucks got more than a diamond in the rough; they stole a generational talent with a pick outside the lottery. Coming into the playoffs, most people in the Eastern Conference had at least heard of him, but as the first round comes to a close, everyone in the league knows exactly who Giannis is.
He has continued to put up gaudy numbers, but what has thrown Giannis on the casual fan’s radar has been his jaw-dropping highlights. It started in Game 1 when he tried to block Demar Derozan’s shot across the US-Canada border. What has been most impressive about his playoff performance has been his defensive intensity. Beyond the ridiculous blocked shots, Giannis has shown his versatility defensively, by guarding everyone from Kyle Lowry to Serge Ibaka. His ability to switch and seemingly erase players on the perimeter has been invaluable for this young Bucks defense. As a player that carries a tremendous load on offense, the fact that he gives maximum effort on every defensive possession separates him from many young superstars.
Compared to other up and comers like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic, Giannis is a much better defensive player. He and Jokic are only players among that group that posted a positive net rating per NBA.com, and his team is the only one to make the postseason. While these are certainly not the only factors that should be considered when evaluating potential franchise players, they are still worth noting. Towns, Wiggins, and Porzingis project as plus defenders, but thus far in their respective careers, they have not put it all together in the same way that Antetokounmpo has defensively. Jokic may have had a positive net rating, but he is far from an elite defender, and teams often attacked him in the pick and roll.
This postseason has given Giannis an opportunity to show the league just how spectacular he is at just 22 years of age. Before the season, every GM in the league gets polled about the one player they would start their franchise with. Before the season, Karl-Anthony Towns was the leading vote getter, which was a very fair choice. With that being said, when the GMs are surveyed next season, do not be surprised if the selection is the Greek superhero from Milwaukee.