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From Prospect to Star: The Rise of the Greek Freak

Nov. 10, 2016
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When John Hammond drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, he was just a mere 6’9” 18-year-old project that the Bucks took a chance on. Two inches and three years later, he has already evolved from a raw project to one of the NBA’s premier prospects. With his 22nd birthday a month a way, it’s safe to call him a star.

After getting the point guard reigns post All-Star break last season due to injuries, the Greek Freak has flourished to say the least. Coming into this season, many were excited to see if he could continue where he left after posting averages of 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.9 blocks in just 28 games. Oh and no big deal, but he also achieved a franchise record five triple-doubles during that span. Despite a disappointing team record of 11-17 over those 28 games, his play opened the eyes not just to Bucks fans, but the entire NBA universe. 

There’s been a big elephant in the room for over a decade, which is that the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t had a player make the All-Star game since former 2nd round pick Michael Redd in 2004. During that season, Redd averaged 21.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in what would be his only All-Star appearance. Since then, the only Bucks player that came close to making an All-Star game appearance has been Brandon Knight, who averaged 17.8 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 steals in 52 games for Milwaukee in 2014-2015. It was down to a final vote between Knight and the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, who eventually was awarded the spot despite players such as Dwyane Wade lobbying hard for Knight. Ironically, Knight was traded during the All-Star break that season to the Phoenix Suns. Nonetheless, its time to get back to the present as Giannis is on pace to make his first All-Star appearance at just 22 years old.

Through Milwaukee’s 4-3 start, the Greek Freak has resumed his role as point guard for Jason Kidd, and he’s producing a plethora of highlights every night while filling up the stat sheet with ease. Each year has seen him grow physically and mentally while he continues to rapidly increase his basketball IQ. I’ve said this before, but it’s scary to imagine what he will be playing like when he reaches his mid-twenties, which are still years away! 

Over the seven game start, Antetokounmpo is the only player in the NBA to be in the top 25 in points (21.1), rebounds (8.4), assists (6.0), steals (1.9), and blocks (1.9) per game. I know it’s a small sample size, but not even players such as LeBron James, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, or Anthony Davis can claim top 25 status in more than four of those categories. 

One guy who hasn’t been surprised in the least bit has been head coach Jason Kidd, who boasted how much of an impact Giannis has had since last season.

 “Once we gave him the ball, he’s had a big impact offensively and defensively for us," Jason Kidd told ESPN.com. "That’s why he has the ball. And so, I think it’s been a carryover. It’s not a surprise.”

There have been a ridiculous amount of examples throughout his career and so far this season of the athleticism the Greek Freak has showed. Not only has he seemed to nearly perfect the euro step, but his strength to get the rim and finish has put the league on notice. Giannis dunks have become a spectacle. After taking the ball from Demarcus Cousins during the Bucks 117-88 win over the Kings last Saturday, Antetokounmpo threw down an impressive two-handed windmill dunk that was pure joy to watch. 

Currently, Giannis is second in the NBA this season with 23 dunks behind DeAndre Jordan, who has 24 dunks through eight games. While we used to get excited about seeing plays like this every now and then, it’s great to see that he is producing plays like this at a high premium these days all the while becoming a better player every time he hits the floor.

I’m not sitting here and putting Giannis on a pedestal yet considering there’s areas he still has plenty of area to improve on. He still seems a bit lost defensively from time to time, while getting overaggressive and picking up early fouls. However, he’s just 21-years-old and it will take some time for him to understand his athleticism and when to pick and choose his spots. That being said, he’s in the midst of playing his first full season as the team’s primary ball-handler so I can live with those growing pains.

He’s working on refining his offensive game particularly with his outside shot, which he has shown the ability to knock down but still has a ways to go. He still sometimes wildly forces his way inside the paint. However, once teams start to respect his outside shot, it will only do him wonders moving forward.

Giannis Antetkounmpo is no longer just another prospect on the Bucks roster. He is the focal point of this young team and everything runs through him. The Bucks feed off his energy, and his play dictates the flow of every game. That sounds like a lot of pressure to put on him night in and night out, but Giannis is no typical 21-year-old. The Greek Freak is built for this role and you can bet his teammates have his back and are willing to help him in any way.

As fun as it is to see the Bucks finally have a star again, let’s not get upset or disappointed if he’s not perfect every game. No one said he is even near the level of a LeBron James or Russell Westbrook yet, and we shouldn’t expect him to be. For now, lets appreciate what we have and continue to watch this guy grow up before our eyes because he is the future of this team for the next decade and beyond. Once he figures everything out and starts to master his skill set, I can’t imagine what great things will come for him and the franchise. What a great time to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan. Let’s not take it for granted.

The Bucks play tonight at home against Anthony Davis and the winless 0-8 Pelicans, who the Bucks beat 117-113 on Tuesday, Nov. 1 in New Orleans.

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