Giannis And The Science Fiction Future Of Basketball

By Christopher Reina

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a basketball miracle that offers you the most convincing glimpse into the seemingly improbable future of the game that may not even arrive in our lifetimes. It is a science fiction, basketball utopia in which every player can do everything with fluidity and athleticism at seven feet. You can stay up all night watching Giannis highlights opening up your mind to envision this new planet for the game, the inevitable endpoint for positionless basketball.

Gliding elegantly down the court off the dribble and dunking after taking the last bounce from the logo the way Stephen Curry shoots from the logo. Only Giannis also pass fakes in the middle of it before dunking one-handed. Oh and he grabbed the rebound in traffic before it all began.

Giannis also did this mid-air touch pass on a lob with his off-hand in the same game.

With Michael Carter-Williams hurt and Greg Monroe coming off the bench, Giannis can be all over the court, playing uptempo and maximizing his physical gifts and feel for the game without being held back by the minutiae of running a halfcourt offense and have defenders try to force him into perimeter shots.

Since the All-Star break, the second best and seventh best five-man units in the NBA features Point Giannis. It defies logic for a team in the lottery to have a lineup combination that is playing better basketball than all of The Finals contenders but it will take some time for the NBA to figure out how to counter Point Giannis. During the month of March, Giannis is averaging 22.4 points on 50 percent shooting, 7.9 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game with a PER of 26.4.

The Bucks made the playoffs last year on the strength of their defense but adding Monroe to boost their offense had the double negative effect of cratering their defense and ruining any semblance of space on offense.

Giannis still can’t shoot and it makes you wonder what basketball will look like when there’s a Curry level shooter inserted within the frame of Giannis. It will be impossible for our grandchildren to conceive of the game today when the best player in the world was 6’3 because they will have become extinct from the NBA. This current era is beginning the obsolescence of players who would be franchise talents in the past. Coaches are figuring out ways to play certain skill-sets off the floor completely whether it’s not defending Tony Allen or play five-out so the opponents can’t capably defend aanyone. The way teams are playing five-out basketball on offense and switch everything on defense, you may not be able to even be on the floor if you can’t shoot 40 percent from three, dribble and pass like a classic point guard while also sufficiently defending any of the five opponents on the other end.

When you think about Giannis and wonder what it will be like when someone like him can shoot like Curry, you also remember Kevin Durant still exists doing extraordinary things at nearly seven feet tall and has essentially been a 50/40/90 since 2012. Durant is in his own special circumstances category whereas it’s more probable we’ll see young players capable of following the Giannis blueprint. Not everyone like Giannis makes it, but there’s no way he should have slid to 15th in a weak draft, just as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard went way too late as well.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis are bigs with some of the abilities of a guard while Giannis is a guard that gets to play in the body of a big just as Durant has functioned this whole time. As remarkable of a feel for the game Durant has and what he can unstoppably do in isolation and everything else, he’s never been the type of precise and inventive passer we see from Giannis. There is little chance of Giannis ever becoming as great of a player as Durant in a vacuum, but Giannis makes his teammates better in a direct way and not merely as a gravitational force with his own offense. Towns and Davis are the logical next step from Kevin Garnett that saw bigs also freelance with guard responsibilities.

With Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and even Channing Frye, we’ve already grown accustomed to shooters at this height, but the accompaniment of passing at this level has really been confined to Magic Johnson and LeBron James. The comeback of Shaun Livingston as a super-sub with the Warriors shows us a glimpse of the type of player he could have become without the devastating injury.

The NBA now has Giannis and will get another one next season in Ben Simmons, who is the refined second-generation prodigy to the unexplained natural that is Giannis. The problem for Simmons is Brandon Ingram will eventually be able to do everything he can and is a whole lot longer like Giannis. The luxury of having someone with a 7’3 wingspan run your offense is it gives you any number of combinations of other players to pair with him.

What makes Giannis so special and why he’s the prototype is he hasn’t played the game as long as most 21-year-olds and he’s doing this despite his own limitations. The barrier to entry to become the next Giannis is light years lower than it does for Durant, Curry, Towns, or even Jahlil Okafor. It is exceedingly more rare and difficult to develop the post game of Okafor, but what’s the point when you are more valuable as a plus-defender and shooter like Myles Turner?

Giannis is the paradox of having a high basketball IQ and doing everything well yet somehow also remaining a raw talent with so much more unfulfilled potential. It doesn’t matter if Giannis becomes an MVP talent or not. The next player to challenge our concept of who is the greatest of all-time will look and play more like Giannis than anyone else in the entire game.


Originally published at basketball.realgm.com.

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