Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Ultimate Unicorn.
What does a unicorn mean in this context, you might ask. Well, recently, with the wake of players with tall bodies (typically somewhere around 7 feet), and long limbs who can do everything well and can play in multiple different positions when needed, the term unicorn has been used frequently to refer to such players.
Right now, there are a lot of players who fits this description, for example, Karl Anthony-Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, and many more. But the one I want to talk about right now is the rising star from Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The 22-year-old forward from Greek first got mainstream attention when he was drafted at the 15th place by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2013 Draft, with his unusual physical traits (6'9" at 18/19 years old SF) and hard-to-pronounce-and-spell name.
In his first season as a backup forward in the Bucks, he played 24 minutes a game, and averaged a rather normal statline for a rookie with 6.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, and 0.8 for both SPG and BPG. While that wasn’t too bad for a rookie, those numbers are not special either. If you were just looking at the numbers and his age, you probably wouldn’t guess that he would be a record-breaking All Star starter just three years later.
The year after, he started to look bulkier and the Bucks announced that he had grown 2 inches into a 6'11" player, not to mention the almost 30 lbs gains that put him at 217 lbs. Giannis went on to improve on all five major statistical categories in the next three years of regular seasons. In his second year of NBA, playing as a 19 year-old, he averaged 12.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.9 SPG and 1 BPG. A very solid number for a starting small forward, both on the offensive and defensive end, nothing exceptional, but still very solid.
In the 2015–2016 season, Bucks extended his contract to the 2016–2017 season, and that season was the season when people started to pay attention to him. He averaged 16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.2 SPG and 1.4 BPG, in only his third year, he almost averaged a 17–8–5–1.5–1.5 season. Even if we don’t up his numbers, the numbers of player other than him who put up at least 16.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4 APG, 1 SPG and 1 BPG in a single season, while not being older than 21 years old, are only 5, namely, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Alvan Adams, Tracy McGrady, and Lamar Odom. I think that should be enough to tell you how great of a season he had when he was 21. But the improvements don’t stop there.
And then, in the 2016–2017 season, Antetokounmpo agreed to a 4-year, $100 million dollars contract extension with the Bucks. And also in that season, he became the first Buck to become an All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004, and first Buck to become an All-Star starter since Sidney Moncrief in 1986. After all said and done, he carried the Milwaukee Bucks back to the Playoffs after having a pretty bad start of the year. They were 22–30 pre All-Star game, and 19–9 after. To top it all off, he became the first player in the NBA history to finish in top 20 in all 5 major categories (Wilt might have done that, but steals and blocks weren’t recorded back in his days), he finished top 10 in both steals and blocks, totaling the most steals+blocks out of any players this season. He’s the only player in NBA history to average at least 22 PPG, 8 RPG, 5 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.5 BPG in a season. If we reduce the BPG cutoff to 1 BPG, there are three other players, Chris Webber, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird. And you know what the craziest thing about this? He’s only 22. It would be an amazing achievement for anyone to get at any age, let alone at 22.
While he wasn’t able to carry his team through the first round vs the Raptors, he still put up crazy numbers in the series. Throughout the six-game series, he put up 24.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 4 APG, 2.2 SPG, and 1.7 BPG in about 40 minutes per game, becoming more aggressive in both ends of the floor.
Comparison to players like LeBron and Durant has been made by a lot of people, while we can’t really say that he will definitely be a player that is as good as those two, they are certainly comparable. Their stats when they were 22 (coincidentally, they were all drafted when they were 19, so when they were 22, they were all in their 4th season). Take a look at this (Since Giannis plays a significant amount of minutes per game less than both KD and LeBron (35.6 vs KD’s 38.9 and LeBron’s 40.9) Let’s use the Per 36 stats.)
Out of all the three players, Giannis has the most rebounds, assists, steals and blocks (he has more blocks than Durant and LeBron combined!). He’s the last of the three in terms of points, but that isn’t exactly a problem when he’s dishing more assists per 36 than both. As for the percentages, his 3 point percentages is the worst with .272, compared to LeBron’s .319 and KD’s .350. But if you compare the total FG percentages, Giannis is the best out of the three, not to mention his .600 TS%, which is better than both LeBron and KD.
And while I’ve talked a lot about the numbers he put out, Giannis is one of those players that influences are so much more than just the numbers. He is a player that can play in any position, and is not afraid to run the play for his team. As a defender, he can defend any position decently. His 7'3" wingspan and large hands are perfect for defending both the perimeter and the paint.
On the defensive end, I think these two blocks are enough just to give you an idea of how good he is.
Meanwhile, offensively, he do things like this
He may not be the longest or most athletic player in the league, but the NBA has never seen this combination of speed, height, length, and athleticism. The only part of his game that he’s really lacking is the outside shot, in the 2016–2017 regular season, he shot only 27.2 %, way below the average. This causes some of the better defenders to just clog the paint area and sag off of him, daring him to take the three. Sometimes, it can be effective and can definitely reduce his production. But you don’t need to worry, he already said that he will work on his shooting this summer.
That, coupled with his crazy work ethic is the perfect mix to create NBA’s Ultimate Unicorn who may or may not win several MVPs in the years to come.