Mitch Hausfeld, The Miami Student
Close your eyes and imagine a prototypical NBA point guard. Odds are he is around six feet tall, has a bit of a scrawnier build, and crafts his game around contorting layups and elaborate dribble moves. Now open your eyes and allow me to introduce you to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That intimidating mass of letters is actually the name of one of the most promising and captivating young superstars in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo, or the “The Greek Freak” as he has been affectionately nicknamed to make both broadcasters’ and journalists’ lives easier, is a six-foot-eleven human highlight reel. He has spent the last four seasons playing every position from point guard to power forward for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, Antetokounmpo had shown flashes of superstar potential and had pieced together an impressive resumé of vicious dunks and Vine-worthy crossovers. However, many pundits still questioned whether Antetokounmpo was capable of transcending his label as a gimmicky, high-upside player and transforming into a bona fide superstar.
Now, three months into the NBA season, “The Greek Freak” has responded with some freakish statistics. Currently, through 46 games, Antetokounmpo has averaged 23.4 points per game, gathered 8.7 rebounds per contest, and, on average, dished out 5.5 assists. Additionally, although he has seen a dramatic uptick in field goals attempted and played a much more significant role in the Bucks offense, Antetokounmpo has still managed to shoot career highs of 52.7% and 29.1% from the field and long-range, respectively.
New-age basketball statistics also reflect a leap in productivity for Antetokounmpo this year. He has received a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 27.1, according to Basketball-Reference.com — a mark high enough to receive the eighth highest score in the league this year. For reference, other notable entries include LeBron James (11th), Jimmy Butler (12th), and Stephen Curry (15th)… Maybe you’ve heard of them.
Antetokounmpo’s high PER is not an anomaly. He also ranks in the top ten for other advanced metrics including: offensive win shares (9th), defensive win shares (9th), box plus/minus (4th), and value over replacement player (3rd). Antetokounmpo’s’ ability to contribute on both ends of the floor has allowed him to rise into the ranks of the NBA’s elite. He’s emerged as a genuine franchise centerpiece for the Milwaukee Bucks–a team that has not won a championship in over 45 years.
Antetokounmpo’s rise to superstardom coincides very well with growing international nature of the NBA and the sport of basketball itself. The Greek Freak is part of an emerging class of superstars heralding from many different countries around the globe including budding Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia), Jazz center Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert (France), high-flying Timberwolves wing Andrew Wiggins (Canada), and “King, Ruler, and Czar of Social Media” Joel Embiid (Cameroon).
Even in the state of Ohio, Australian-born Kyrie Irving has become a force to be reckoned with for the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Our own Miami RedHawks are home to six players with international backgrounds. As the NBA continues to expand its outreach into foreign countries and diversify its global brand, the growing influx of international players will be an interesting and entertaining trend to follow.
Going back to Antetokounmpo, I believe that now is as good of a time as ever to tune into this rising star’s career. He is currently in an exciting, formative period in his NBA stardom where his talent can be appreciated for what it is rather than what it is not.
Eventually, the questions and criticism will come, and they will be warranted. The Bucks are currently 9 games under .500 and in 9th place in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo’s jumpshot is far from perfect and his 3-point shot still needs time to develop. Nonetheless, for the time being, we should appreciate every coast-to-coast-in-five-strides dunk and confidence-shattering block for what they are worth.
For those interested in catching a glimpse of The Greek Freak, Antetokounmpo will be starting in the 2017 All-Star Game on February 19th alongside the league’s greats. Here’s to hoping we all see something… freakish.