November 14, 2017
He’s 6’11” with a seven-foot wingspan. He can pass like a guard, post up like an elite center and stretch the floor better than any player not named Kevin Durant.
With his team on defense and trailing the Portland Trail Blazers 108-109 with 17 seconds left in the third game of the season, he plays stalwart defense, forces a turnover, breaks away in transition and jams home the clinching bucket with 10 ticks on the clock. That’s typically a three-man job.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, “The Greek Freak,” is redefining the term “unicorn.”
Like Durant and LeBron James, he’s one of the few elite players you absolutly cannot “guard.” You just do your best to limit his dominance. What Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing is unprecedented, and his young career is on the trajectory of one of the best players of all time, if not the most athletic.
The best part? He’s only going to get better. He’s still got a jump shot to develop.
This column isn’t about how good he is. The whole league sees it, and if you can’t, you should probably give your ophthalmologist a call – this man is the real deal.
Right now, the sky’s the limit, and nobody – not Kevin Durant, not Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James – is safe from this freight train of talent. Yes, it’ll take some time, and yes, he still has a lot to prove, but somewhere Michael Jordan has an eyebrow half raised.
So don’t blow this, Milwaukee.
By some miracle, you landed this once-in-a-generation talent midway through the first round of the 2013 draft. The Dallas Mavericks almost stole him from you, but, regrettably, they traded the pick to save money.
With the 15th pick, you took a chance, on a raw, relatively unknown 18-year-old from Greece. And it paid off big time.
Now, however, is the challenging part. This next part will speak more of your organization than the selection itself.
Do not let this unicorn escape in free agency or – even worse – wither away with multiple first- and second-round playoff exits and never taste the championship level. Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady – all future Hall of Famers who were denied success by poorly managed teams early in their career. Teams that didn’t surround them with enough great players or show enough commitment to take them to the championship level and snatch the trophy. Though the Orlando Magic reached the finals once, O’Neal bolted the first chance he got when Orlando was (foolishly) hesitant to pay him the money he deserved, and Shaq went on to win four times. Garnett got a pass when the Timberwolves freed him to Boston, and everybody knows how LeBron got his. History will remember that McGrady was never so fortunate.
But Giannis is unlike any of them. It’s tough, probably even impossible, to conclude that he’s objectively better than LeBron and Shaq were at 22, but it most certainly isn’t a stretch – 31.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game is nothing short of spectacular.
Giannis is already on record saying he wants “to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.” But Kevin Durant said very similar things years before bolting Oklahoma for the bay two summers ago.
What changed? He wasn’t winning. Right now, the Bucks are just starting to blossom and have the Greek God of Basketball under contract for three seasons after this one, so they are off to a good start. But they cannot be complacent. Trading a first-round pick and Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe was a perfect message from the front office to Giannis; This organization is committed to winning and winning now.
The team is on the right track. But Head Coach Jason Kidd and General Manager Jon Horst cannot let up with acquiring talent and tailoring the team to best gel with its superstar, and owners Wesley Edens, Marc Lasry, and Jamie Dinan need to be behind them. If the Bucks have a bad season, don’t stand pat, do something about it.
There is no time to waste. Yes, he’s only 22, but on the flip side, he’s already 22.
The transcendent Warriors have a stranglehold on the league, every member of their dynamic core in their prime and firing on all cylinders, so maybe the Bucks get a pass for now. But as soon as the kings fall off the mountain three, four, maybe even five years from now, Milwaukee better be there, ready to take that spot.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu