The first two years of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s career have been highlighted by, um, highlights. Nothing against the Bucks, but most of what we know about their 20-year-old Greek phenom has been learned through wild Vines and older, pixilated clips of Giannis going coast to coast in three steps, of Giannis finding a teammate who wasn’t really open, of Giannis doing something that Giannis isn’t supposed to be able to do (yet).
The clips scream Star, but the stats suggest he’s not there yet. That will change this year.
After opening last season (his second) with three bumpy months reminiscent of his rookie campaign—20 points followed by 6, 19 minutes followed by 35—Giannis settled into a nice groove down the stretch and flashed impressive consistency.
In March, he averaged 38 minutes nightly (up 10 from November) and scored fewer than 11 points just once. He hit 77 percent of his free throws and 53 percent of his shots overall.
The surge was no fluke. Giannis is useful in half-court sets, and makes his money as a disruptive defender and (related) a machine on the break.
His handles and vision make you wonder whether a 7-foot Greek forward might someday be the League’s best point guard. He won’t be (probably), but that’s not really the point. The point is that for two years, Giannis has been doing absurd stuff all over the floor in glimpses, and now comes the next (super-long) step.
It’s especially tough to know what his next step will look like, which is a big part of the fun. There might not be a similar, proven player whose career arc fits as a Giannis roadmap. But one apt comparison may be to Paul George. Check it out:
George’s rookie season: 21 minutes, 8 points (45 percent), 4 boards, 1 assist, 1 steal (17.5 usage rate)
Sophomore season: 30 minutes, 12 points (44 percent), 5.5 boards, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals (19.5 usage rate)
Third season (bang): 38 minutes, 17.5 points (42 percent), 7.5 boards, 4 assists, 1.8 steals (23.5 usage rate)
Cross those numbers with young Giannis’:
Rookie season: 25 minutes, 7 points (41 percent), 4.5 boards, 2 assists, 0.8 steals (15.0 usage rate)
Sophomore season: 31 minutes, 12.7 points (49 percent), 6.7 boards, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals (19.5 usage rate)
George was a better long-range shooter than Giannis is now, but Giannis wisely shoots nearly all twos and gets to the line a little bit more. When Giannis got hot this past March, his numbers mirrored those posted by George during his breakout year.
It’s an awfully promising trajectory for the Bucks, and whether he continues along it might be the difference in their season.
Milwaukee is an exciting young team, but not a great offensive one. Michael Carter-Williams has noted limitations, Jabari Parker struggled to find his range before his knee injury last year, and newcomer Greg Monroe is a 16-point-per game guy.
Khris Middleton can pour it in from deep, but it’s not realistic to expect 20 or 25 from him each night. They’re all nice pieces, no doubt, but it’s up to our man Giannis to step up as the reliable stud.
Maybe it’s a stretch to think that he’ll get there this season. Maybe placing one of the League’s rawest players among its 50 best is wishful thinking. Could be.
But the reality of the situation is that I have severe Giannis fever and am pretty sure he should be ranked about 40 spots higher than this.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.