From Geek Freak To The Great Freak
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is fondly called the Greek Freak. But not only is he a freak because of his physical attributes but it’s also because of his otherworldly skillset which is quickly making waves in this young NBA season.
Antetokounmpo is a seven footer who plays small forward. Well, he’s began playing point guard for the Bucks already so that’s unique versatility really. But what makes him more unique are the size of his hands.
The average size of an adult male’s hand is 7.5 inches, measured from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinkie. The hand size of NBA players are much bigger. For example, LeBron James has 9.25 inch hands. The NBA standard used to be Kawhi Leonard whose hands are measured at 11.25 inches. Two years after Kawhi entered the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo set the new bar with his 12-inch hands. That’s freakish.
Five years later, it’s no longer the hands that’s making him an NBA attraction. The Freak has involved into a freak basketball player, one who could do it all and do it all very well.
Prospect to Superstar
Last season, Antetokounmpo graduated from being a top prospect to a full fledged star. He had his first 20 point season at 22.9 points per game. Defensively, he was the only player in the league to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game during the 2016-17 season. Overall, he was the only player in the NBA to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Of course, there were flaws to his game. Last season, he shot just 32.1% from outside of 8 feet from the basket and 27.2% from the three point area. He ranked 9th in the NBA in total turnovers with 234 during the 2016-17 season. But these weaknesses are nothing compared to the improvement in his overall game. In fact, the Greek Freak was named as the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player.
Aside from winning the Most Improved Player award, Antetokounmpo was also named to his first ever All-Star selection. At the end of the season, he was named not only to the All-NBA Second Team but was also included in the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, showing his all around brilliance. But if you thought last season was pretty impressive, that was just a sign of things to come.
Nothing Short of Spectacular
In three games so far, the Giannis Antetokounmpo has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s not only putting up career numbers but he’s doing it on both ends of the floor. He’s not just leading the league in scoring at 38.3 points per game. He’s also averaging a career best 8.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. It’s too early in the season but if there’s any indication, it might be a special year for the Greek Freak.
Antetokounmpo has shown the ability to navigate the ball like a top tier point guard while showing the athleticism and speed of a top notch wing man to drive to the basket. What’s even impressive now is that he can knockdown the elbow jumper with the ease of a two guard and bully his way against defenders like a power forward or a center.
His offensive versatility is coupled with brilliance on the other end of the floor. Antetokounmpo’s length and quickness enable him to strip the ball off his opponents or anticipate passing lanes and get steals. His height and athleticism make him an excellent shot blocker.
In August, Kobe Bryant challenged several NBA stars to individual goals this season. The Black Mamba challenged Cavs PG Isaiah Thomas to make the All-NBA First Team this season and Wizards PG John Wall to the NBA All-Defensive First team this year. Giannis? Bryant dared Antetokounmpo to win the 2017-18 NBA MVP award. Safe to say, Antetokounmpo has embraced Bryant’s ‘mamba mentality’.
During the Bucks season opener, Antetokounmpo led his team to a 108-100 victory over Boston. Giannis torched the Celtics with 37 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 37 minutes of action. In their next outing, he filled up the stat sheet against the Cleveland Cavaliers with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 block and 3 steals. While the Cavs beat the Bucks 116-97, LeBron James was impressed with what he saw.
“He’s a very dynamic player, a very good player, on the path to greatness, that’s for sure, if he’s not already there. He has the skill set. He has the talent. He has a great coach that can help get him to that point (winning the MVP).”
James is only one of five players in NBA history to win the MVP award at least four times, so he knows what he is talking about. So for him to say that Antetokounmpo has the skillset to win the NBA MVP award, there’s got to be something to that.
According to the dictionary, a unicorn is a mythical creature that resembles a horse, with a single horn at the center of its forehead. In the NBA, a unicorn is a seven footer who can score from the inside, shoot from the outside, defend, steal the ball, block shots, and knock down the three point shot. There are at least three acknowledged Unicorns in the NBA today: Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Among the three, Durant is the most accomplished, having won the NBA MVP award, NBA Finals MVP and NBA title during his stellar professional basketball career. As the ‘elder’ unicorn, Durant has acknowledged Antetokounmpo several times already and now says that the Greek Freak could become the greatest ever to play in the NBA. Said Durant:
“The Greek Freak I think is a force, and I've never seen anything like him. And his ceiling is probably—he could end up being the best player to ever play if he really wanted to. That's pretty scary to think about. But he's by far my favorite player to watch."
Favorite to watch but definitely not one you’d enjoy playing against. That’s for sure, even for guys like Kevin Durant.
After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Antetokounmpo bounced back with a career game against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 22 year old scored a career high 44 points on 17-23 shooting and added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks during the Bucks’ pulsating 111-110 win over the Blazers.
While his numbers were impressive, the way he closed out the show showed was unreal. In the game’s final thirty seconds, Antetokounmpo poked the ball from C.J. McCollum and finished the play with a dunk that gave the Bucks the 111-110 lead. Then on the Blazers ensuing pay, he denied Jusuf Nurkic’s shot at the basket to seal the victory for the Bucks:
Giannis Was AMAZING in the last 30 secs...— L.O.W. (@LegendOfWinning) October 22, 2017
and turned around with a clutch block
Giannis: Career-high 44 points. Two crunch-time steals. THIS game-sealing block: pic.twitter.com/Uk9b3bk1tV— The Ringer (@ringer) October 22, 2017
Need we say more? We’re running out of adjectives to describe Antetokounmpo.
The Great Freak
The thing with Giannis Antetokounmpo is not how good he has become or how far he has come. It’s how fast the rate he is improving. Antetokounmpo has seen his scoring average increase by at least four points in each of his first four NBA seasons. This year should be no different. And we’re not just talking scoring here.
His rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have at least tripled since his rookie season. His minutes have steadily increased and he’s missed just a total of 10 games in four seasons. As for the Bucks, the’ve reached the playoffs twice in his four seasons there and last season’s 42 wins were the most since 2010.
The Bucks aren’t really considered as serious title contenders this season but they are expected to finish among the Eastern Conference’s elites. However, the same cannot be said about Giannis Antetokounmpo. The numbers he has been putting up clearly put him one of the early bets to win the MVP award this year. Injuries aside ( God forbid ), the Greek Freak can now be renamed as the Great Freak.
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