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Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Star Milwaukee Deserves

Jan. 6, 2017
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When you look around the NBA this season, it’s incredibly hard not to notice how special things are brewing in Milwaukee. If you just glanced from afar you may only realize that the Bucks are 18-16 and a mere No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today. You may also say that Milwaukee has been a team like this before as they float around .500 while battling for one of the final playoff spots. That is true, but there is so much more to this team when you truly take a deeper look. No longer can you describe them as just a young, talented team with future potential. Sure, there’s still that unknown factor of just how good this team will be one day, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Bucks are one of most intriguing teams to watch in large part because they have a one of a kind MVP-caliber player by the name of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The buzz in Milwaukee is unlike anything we’ve seen before. For a guy who didn’t even start playing basketball till his mid-teens, his insane athleticism is unexplainable at times and the things he is capable of doing on a basketball court with his 7’3" wingspan make you wonder if he is even from this planet. Going from the second-tier league in his home land of Greece to one of the leagues premier young stars in a four-year span is truly remarkable.

If you missed their game Wednesday night in New York, do yourself a favor and take a look at the highlights. After forcing a Derrick Rose turnover with less than nine seconds remaining, Giannis unleashed his inner Kobe Bryant by drilling a step-back 15-foot fade away buzzer-beating jumper over the Knicks Lance Thomas to give his team a big time 105-104 win.

It was the 22-year-old’s first career walk-off winner as part of a 27-point performance along with 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and one steal. It not only capped a 16-point comeback, but it left the Garden silent with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony shaking his head just as many teams have done after facing the Bucks this season.

Going back to Monday night, Giannis went toe-to-toe with MVP candidate Russell Westbrook in the Bucks 98-94 win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Westbrook may have had 30 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals, but he turned the ball over five times and shot just 9-28 from the field. Antetokounmpo finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists while making sure Russ felt his presence on the defensive end.

Then he did it again even though it didn’t count.

Finally, he put Thunder rookie Domontas Sabonis in his place with this flush on a fast break.

Those kinds of highlights are what we have been used to seeing on a nightly (or should I say quarterly) basis this season from the Greek Freak. It’s just so much fun to watch because you never know what's going to come next.

The legacy and legend of the Greek Freak is just beginning and building at a rapid pace. The last time the Bucks had one of the best players in the league was way back in the early years of the franchise’s history when they had this guy who wore No. 33 in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With the help of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, Abdul-Jabbar put Milwaukee on the map by helping deliver the Bucks its only NBA title in franchise history in the 1970-71 season. Not to mention, it was the last time we referred to Kareem as Lew Alcindor and it was only the Bucks third year in existence. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and jump to any conclusions just yet, but with the way the Greek Freak continues to progress during his time in Milwaukee, it’s not far off to think that he could one day be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the all time greats.

Let’s slow down a bit. If you don’t have an All-Star on your team, it’s really hard to compete in this league. That is the first step towards building a contender and it seems Milwaukee, who hasn’t had an All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004, is well on their way with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The next step would be two All-Stars and let’s not forget there is another young stud playing along side Giannis in the 21-year-old Jabari Parker, who is now in his third season and playing at an All-Star level in his own right averaging a career best 20.3 points per game.

Photo credit: Bucks.com

Milwaukee hasn't had an All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004. Photo credit: Bucks.com

 

In just his fourth season, Antetokounmpo is on pace to not only being a lock for his first All-Star appearance, but also being named a starter. The latest polls have the Greek Freak second behind LeBron James in frontcourt voting in the Eastern conference. He may not be at the top of the MVP list just yet, but he’s most definitely at the top of the most improved player list. Not to mention, he’s a sure fire defensive player of the year candidate as well for his role in getting the Bucks back in the top 10 in defensive efficiency after finishing 26th last season.

The stats don’t lie. Giannis tied for 13th in the league in scoring at 23.9 points per game, which is a dramatic increase from 16.9 just last season. He’s also averaging 9.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.9 steals per game. Not only are those all career-highs but team-highs as well in each category. What’s even crazier is that those numbers have steadily increased each season he has been in the league and he only turned 22 years old last month. The only four players since 1973-74 to have averaged at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in a season are Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippin with Pippin last doing it in back-to-back seasons from 1993-1995. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only guy in NBA history to have averaged at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and two blocks per game in a season. If Antetokounmpo keeps this up, he will be the ONLY player in NBA history to average those kinds of numbers in all five categories.

It’s no secret that his outside shot has been his only blemish to date but Giannis has continued to better himself there as well. He did make nearly 35% of his threes during his rookie campaign, but was just 7-44 (15.9%) in year two and 28-109 (25.7%) in year three. Through 34 games this season, Giannis is making nearly 30% of his three point attempts going 24-82 including 11 for his last 27 since December 15th. His overall shooting percentage has increased as well up to 54% this season and he’s done all of this as a 7’0” point guard for head coach Jason Kidd. Once he gets defenders to respect that outside jumper on a consistent basis, it’s scary to think how much more he can accomplish.

Cream City Love

It’s fun to throw out numbers and all that, but that’s not all that makes the Greek Freak so special. His commitment and loyalty to the Bucks and city of Milwaukee is what makes him stand out among others. Even before Giannis signed a four-year, $100 million dollar extension this summer, he has constantly gone on record as saying how much he loves the city of Milwaukee and has expressed his desire to play his entire NBA career as a Buck. Here’s a tweet he sent out in July 2014.

When you listen to Giannis talk, it’s impossible to ignore the humbleness that comes with him. Every interview he talks about his how much he loves his teammates and coaches while seemingly never taking credit for his own success. One thing that stood out in his post-game interview with Bucks sideline reporter Telly Hughes after his game-winner over the Knicks on Wednesday night was that even though he did it in Madison Square Garden, arguably the most famous arena in the league, he’s dying to hit one at home in Milwaukee.

He’s truly a unique and one of a kind talent to come through the NBA and someone the Bucks organization has deserved since they lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. I’m not crowning Giannis or saying he will get to a point even close to Kareem one day, but the fact that the Bucks finally have someone who can make that a possibility is incredible in its own right. He’s only 22 and has plenty of time on his side to work with. Where his career takes him is up to him and only him. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, he’s hungrier than ever with the heart and determination to be great. There is no doubt he is ready for the challenge that awaits him.

If you haven’t seen this feature story yet from Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins with the Greek Freak gracing the cover, take the time to read it as he talks about Giannis’ journey.

Vote Bucks!

Lastly, don’t forget to vote to send Giannis and Jabari to the All-Star game, which will take place next month on Sunday, February 19th in New Orleans.

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