Publish date:

The Case for ... THE GREEK FREAK

Author:

IF YOU think of superstar athletes like stock, there was a time when Giannis Inc. could've been purchased at a reasonable price. He of course had potential, but there were early questions about his jumper, his hoops IQ and his supporting cast in Milwaukee. His peers had more pedigree. Even as Antetokounmpo established himself, deciding whether you'd invest in Karl-Anthony Towns or Giannis, or Anthony Davis or Giannis, were difficult decisions. Toward the end of last year, Giannis stock was expensive, but nobody really considered him the future of the economy. Now that's over.

Giannis is Google. Giannis is Amazon. Take his numbers so far: 31.0 points per game, 9.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.4 blocks, 58.3% shooting.

The Bucks have slowed down after a 3--1 start, including a sobering 19-point loss to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Halloween. But even in the worst Milwaukee performance of the year, Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Every Bucks game, he's played like LeBron at the end of the 2007 Pistons playoff series.

It raises the question: If this is what Giannis has become in the regular season, what will Playoff Giannis look like?

It is probably premature, but after roughly three weeks, the most important development of the 2017--18 season is that it's now clear: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the most unstoppable player in basketball within three years. He's like a hybrid of LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, floating somewhere between point guard and center, and making everyone else look kind of hopeless.

He doesn't have the unlimited shooting range of his peers, like the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis or the Brow, but he's more mobile and has a better handle. People wonder how big men will adapt in this small-ball era—what would Hakeem Olajuwon look like today? Shaq? Kareem?—and Giannis is the most convincing answer we've seen so far. He's using length instead of strength, gliding to the rim and using an 88-inch wingspan to finish over anyone put in front of him.

Of course, there are dozens of Giannis questions to consider next, but they all assume his ascendency. Among them: Is Jason Kidd the right coach for him? How much can Giannis really win with a team that's still counting on Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova as key members?

On a larger scale: What kind of cultural impact will there be if the best player in basketball is a Greek immigrant of Nigerian descent? And in the modern NBA, where shooting is by far the most important skill, how will the league respond to a player who averages 35 per game while rarely straying outside of eight feet?

For now, it's acceptable to be too delirious to think rationally. The only lucid Giannis take I have after three weeks is that I hope he never develops a reliable jump shot.

Watching him do Kevin Durant--like things would be great, sure, but it wouldn't be as entertaining to watch him dominate in familiar, less-surreal ways. Somehow Antetokounmpo doesn't need to conform to the rest of the sport to command it, and that's part of the spectacle. In the shadow of the superteams launching threes all over the league, Giannis isn't following. He's working with a blueprint we've never seen before.

BY THE NUMBERS

31.0

Points per game, through Sunday.

5

Double doubles through the Bucks' first nine games this season.

82.6

Field goal percentage at the rim.