Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki would have been proud. Last night at MSG, in the closing seconds of a game in which the Bucks trailed by one, Giannis Antetokounmpo, took the best part of all three Hall of Famers game and in one possession stunned the Knicks at MSG.
Antetokounmpo had the ball in his hands like all great players do at the end. He dribbled and backed his defender down. He wasn’t going to give the ball up, no way, no how. That was the Jordan part of his game, the brilliant confidence that he was better than anyone guarding him. He had an innate awareness of the clock and moved seamlessly away from the defender, that was Kobe Bryant. Then the fadeaway was pure Dirk. Game over. Crowd stunned. Bucks happy. One more checkmark in the Giannis book: silence the Garden, make my mark in the greatest arena in the world.
Giannis is on the cover of Sports Illustrated and when that happens you expect the SI jinx. Science has proven it is real. But Giannis shrugged it off. The 22 year old phenom who many say is the future face of the league is proving he is the face of the league right now.
The ability to get a special player is the toss of a coin. So much luck is involved. The fact is 14 teams passed on Antetokounmpo in a weak draft. None of the players selected before Giannis have been All-Stars. All are role players with various levels of skill. None are special. None dominate. They all need a special talent to thrive off of.
The rule of thumb is in year three a special player is born. It was Garnett in year three. It was Kobe in year three. It was LeBron in year three. For Giannis, it is in his fourth year that he has separated himself from the pack and arrived on the superstar trajectory.
As good as he is now, he is not a perfect player nor is he as great as he is going to be. He needs to expand his range to include the three. It is the Bucks biggest weakness as a team. No pure three point scorers, no quick release shooters. Antetokounmpo makes 29.5% of his threes. Once he can space the floor, he will be impossible to defend because all parts of the floor will be dangerous.
But this year he is grabbing more offensive rebounds, more defensive rebounds, dishing out more dimes, scoring more points and is more efficient doing it. His offensive rating is through the roof, 120. He is one of the best defenders in the league already and his defensive rating of 101 shows it. He has a PER of 28.8.
How much has he really improved? He is the second best player in the NBA when measuring on court impact, trailing Chris Paul. Last year he was ranked 98th. (Real Plus-Minus). He is the fifth best player in the NBA when measuring defensive impact. Last year he was ranked 173rd. Antetokounmpo’s quick progression has been bewildering and amazing, not to mention thrilling to take in. It is as if he finally has figured out the NBA game.
He should get some MVP votes though he doesn’t deserve to win the award. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are doing magnificent things to lead their teams. But a MVP is in Antetokounmpo’s future once the Bucks add a couple of more three point shooters who space the floor and give Giannis even more room. An explosive rebounder would be an asset too.
With apologies to Paul Pierce who Shaq called the Truth, that title has changed hands. The real truth is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Everyone at the Garden found that out the hard way.
photo via llananba