Earlier this year, ESPN’s True Hoops’ Kevin Arnovitz attempted to make sense of the freak of nature that is Greece’s best import to the NBA this far, Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced Yah-niss Andh-deh-toh-koon-boh). He succeeded. Somewhat.
Now the league is attempting to make sense of “The Greek Freak’s” numbers.
As of the date of writing this article, Antetokounmpo is averaging a beastly 22.8 points per game 8.5 rebounds per game, 6.1 assists per game, leading his team to wins in half their games this far in a young season. He is also firing away at 52.5% from the field, second only to Kevin Durant’s 57% for players who attempt at least 16 shots a game. What’s more, all that offensive efficiency does not hamper Antetokounmpo’s production on the defensive end where he averages 2.1 steals (sixth in the league) and 2.1 blocks (seventh) per game.
Let’s add some more perspective by comparing his numbers to Player X.
- GA: 22.8 points per game / 8.5 rebounds per game / 6.1 assists per game / 2.2 shots per game / 2.1 blocks per game
- Player X: 23.5 points per game / 8.1 rebounds per game / 9.3 assists per game / 1.1 shots per game / 0.5 blocks per game / 49.8 Field Goal percentage
Oh yes, Player X is LeBron James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, three-time NBA Champion and is seriously knocking on Michael Jordan’s legacy as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
Most basketball fans would deem it blasphemous placing James, with just three Championships in seven Finals trips, alongside Jordan’s six Championships and perfect Finals record. James’s fans will rightly feel the same way about placing Antetokounmpo in the same conversation as the King just yet.
Yet, against Cleveland on Tuesday, that is exactly what Giannis attempted to prove. That he deserves to be considered the Heir, the Prince, if you may.
“He’s getting better with hard work,” Bucks’ coach Jason Kidd said after the win against Cleveland “He was going against the best player in the world.”
And make no mistake, Giannis Antetokounmpo came to play.
Antetokounmpo matched his career high 34 points shooting a blistering 68% from the field, pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists finishing with a +/- rating of +20. But his most important contribution came at the defensive end, where in addition to stealing the ball five times (also a career high) and blocking the ball twice, he orchestrated the dance of the defensive hydra that is the Milwaukee Bucks’ defence.
Under Kidd’s guidance, and led by the freak-of-nature force that is Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have carved themselves into a match-up nightmare on defence, and the numbers or the past two weeks stand as evidence this rise.
The rise of the Bucks
En route their 4-2 record since November 19, Bucks have allowed teams 101.3 points per game (eighth in the NBA) on just 42.5 FG% (fourth). They have dominated a paint-snatching 75.4% of defensive rebounds (third) while allowing teams only 37.7 points per game in the paint (fourth) and blocking 5.7 shots a game (ninth). They have bullied teams at the half court game by forcing their opponents into committing 15.5 turnovers a game (eighth) and stealing the ball 9.3 times a game (second).
“You can’t simulate how long they are in the passing lanes,” LeBron James said after the loss.
This top-10 defensive grind does not compromise their offence where, in the same two weeks, the Bucks have shot 48.2% from the field (fifth), scoring 107.7 points per game (eighth), and those points coming as a result of 25.3 assists per game (fourth). They are also firing away at 38.7% from beyond the arc (sixth in the NBA), which if adjusted to include teams that attempt at least 26 threes a game, ranks them third behind the San Antonio Spurs (41%) and the Toronto Raptors (48.6%). All these numbers balance out to a healthy +6.3 plus-minus rating (fourth)
But what does all this have to do with Antetokounmpo?
‘The Greek Freak’
No one will readily admit it, but this is undeniably his team. Offensively and defensively, the Bucks look to him for leadership and he, with a calm demeanour and resilient play, shoulders this responsibility, leading the Bucks in nearly every traditional and advanced stats category, both offensively and defensively.
Jason Kidd, a 19-year veteran, accomplished stat sheet filler, and an NBA Champion who finished his career, ranked second all-time in career steals assists, said, “You have special players that we come across, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. You’ve got different players that are rare and I think Giannis is one of those rare birds that we’ll be able to enjoy for a long time.”
Kidd may be biased, though. He is after all Giannis’ coach. So let us give the last word to a 20-year veteran, five-time NBA champion and one of the 10 greatest NBA players ever?
Here’s what Kobe Bryant had to say: “He has the potential to be a great player. He has the physical tools, the intelligence. Now it’s just a matter of believing in himself and going after it. He has the talent to be a great player.”
And if anyone knows anything about why talent should work hard, it is Kobe Bryant.
Best of the week:
Performance Of The Week: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Hard to argue against a 21-year old budding star who hit career highs and led his .500 team in a win against (arguably) the best player in the world and the reigning NBA Champions.
Game Of The Week: Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors; 132-127 (2OT)
Deciding the Game Of The Week has not been easier this season. No game in the past week evoked as much emotion and produced as much edge-of-the-seat display than a much awaited re-match of last season’s first round matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors. Not only did we get two of the best teams in the league go head-to-head, we saw three of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, James Harden, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant battled it out. Deliver they did, and how. Harden has his fourth triple-double of the season with 29 pts / 15 rebs / 13 asts, while Kevin Durant finished with 39 points / 13 rebs / 3 stls / 3 blks, and Curry pitched in with 28 points. This game is an all-time classic.
Player Of the Week: Russell Westbrook
Not since the retirement of Jason Kidd, has the NBA seen a more consistent triple-double threat than Russell Westbrook. And Kidd wasn’t even close to the scorer, overall offensive threat and breathtakingly entertaining player that Westbrook is. Westbrrok finished the month with averages of 31.2 ppg / 10.5 rpg / 11.3 putting him squarely next to the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only two players to average a triple double in the first month of an NBA season.
Team Of The Week: Milwaukee Bucks (3-0)
Picking Milwaukee over the Oklahoma City Thunder (also 3-0 in the week) and Charlotte Hornets (3-1 record against tougher opponents this week) was not easy. But when a young team pulls off two road wins over and above handily beating the reigning NBA Champions at home, it’s hard not to pick them.