Giannis Antetokounmpo Has The Milwaukee Bucks Rising

Jan 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd calls a play with forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the fourth quarter during the game against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Heat beat the Bucks 107-103. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd calls a play with forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the fourth quarter during the game against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Heat beat the Bucks 107-103. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s move to point guard has significantly increased his impact for the Milwaukee Bucks, who are now thinking playoffs. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. From his talent to his name, his backstory to his physical frame, the man we call “The Greek Freak” defies even the qualification listed in that very nickname. To call him a freak is to cast too wide a net. He’s not an anomaly – he’s a glitch.

Seven-footers aren’t supposed to run with that type of grace. Nor are point guards supposed to rank fourth in the league in total dunks. Yet Giannis defies both narratives at once. He’s one of a rare collection of athletes that genuinely looks to be gliding on ice, while at the same time maintaining a ferocious demeanor when attacking the rim.

Four years in, Giannis has continued to make vast improvements in his game.

Statistically speaking, his per game averages are up from 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game to 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 blocks and 2.1 steals. He ranks in the top 20 in all five categories — the only such player to do so.

His 52.5 percent field goal percentage ranks 17th in the league. Among non-big men, he is just third behind Kevin Durant and George Hill.

Although his three-point percentage of 23.1 percent is down from last season, he is getting to the line 6.6 times per game and hitting free throws at a 77.9 percent clip. That’s up from 72.4 percent on 5.1 attempts per game last season.

Yet the gaudiness of those numbers, however impressive they may be, fails to tell the whole story on Giannis. What’s changed more than anything is the consistency of his impact on the game.

While much has been made of James Harden‘s move to the point guard position, little has changed in the way Harden plays the game. He’s been that team’s playmaker since his arrival in Houston. Perhaps he’s playing at a faster pace and looking more for teammates a couple extra times per game. But for all intents and purposes, Harden is the same player he’s always been.

The more drastic change in moving to the point guard position has come from Giannis. In empowering his 21-year-old star with the responsibilities of the point guard position, Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has unleashed the full potential of Antetokounmpo’s game on the rest of the league.

There may be no player that has better embodied the belief that, in today’s more “positionless” NBA, the team’s best perimeter player should be handed the role of the point guard position. The idea that you should give your best player the ball, put him in pick-and-roll situations, and let him dictate the pace. Put him in position to most impact the game, regardless of his atypical size or a skill set more traditionally expected of a 2-guard.

Along with James Harden, as mentioned above, we’ve seen LeBron James take on this role of point forward for his entire career. In Golden State, Steve Kerr gave Draymond Green the freedom to act as the de facto point guard at times, and Luke Walton has adopted that philosophy for the Lakers with Brandon Ingram in order to get his star rookie more involved in the game.

Across town in LA, we’re seeing Doc Rivers give Blake Griffin more run as the Clippers’ lead playmaker, both with and without Chris Paul on the floor. And yes, we should and likely will see Ben Simmons labeled as the team’s point guard in Philadelphia upon his return to the court, just like Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

Thus far, Kidd’s move has looked brilliant.

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  • Aside from those two or three Vine-worthy moments per game, Giannis is at many times the most impactful player on the court. Defensively, his length and quickness causes nightmares for opposing coaches. In transition, his long, fluid strides allow him to get up court as fast as any guard in the league.

    He’s as good on the boards as any perimeter player with his size could be, and the added responsibility of the point guard position has truly allowed his passing instincts the shine through.

    And while he still has a long, long way to go as a shooter, he is able to get to the basket at will. Improved handles and an unprecedented range of motion allow him to circumnavigate defenders of all shapes and sizes from the perimeter. Around the basket, his feline agility and deceptive strength, combined with that length, have allowed him to develop and decent post game.

    Giannis can take plenty of lessons from Jason Kidd himself. Though their physiques and games vary greatly, Kidd was himself a larger point guard without much of a jump shot. There are more than enough ways to impact the game without a jump shot. Perhaps no one embodies that more than Jason Kidd.

    If and when that shot is developed, Giannis could be downright impossible to guard. Based on the vast improvement shown elsewhere, there’s reason to believe he can raise that to a respectable level. The form and consistency is there, as evidenced by his free throw percentage.

    Seventeen games into the 2016-17 NBA season, Giannis has led the Milwaukee Bucks to a record of 9-8, good for sixth in a crowded Eastern Conference. After defeating Brooklyn 111 – 93 Thursday night, this weekend brings the second game of a home-and-home with those Nets. Next week they face a three-game home stand against San Antonio, Portland and Atlanta.

    So, is Milwaukee ready to make that leap? Though the talent around Giannis is not elite, there is depth.

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    Despite the issues of fit, Jabari Parker is an absolute force. Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell and rookie Malcolm Brogdon provide stability and defense on the perimeter, if not much firepower. And while Jason Kidd has struggled with how to use Greg Monroe, there is enough frontcourt depth behind him. Between Monroe, John Henson, Parker, Miles Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, rookie Thon Maker, and even Michael Beasley, Kidd has more than enough talent to mix and match.

    Throw those players around a superstar in Giannis, and that should be enough to at least reach the playoffs in a wide open East.

    The last few weeks suggest they’re starting to figure it out.

    After an underwhelming opening that saw them open 4-4 against a lackluster opening schedule, this Bucks team began rounding into shape. Starting with a with a quality win over Memphis on Nov. 12, they are now 5-4 over their last nine games. Three of those losses came to Toronto, Golden State and at Atlanta, all by seven or less. The stretch is highlighted by a thoroughly impressive breakthrough victory over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.

    Throughout these last nine games, Giannis has truly started to develop into one of the elite players in this league. He was at his absolute best against Cleveland, scoring a career-high 34 points to go along with 12 rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. And on a court with LeBron James, there were times when Giannis was the most dominant force out there.

    High quality opponents seem to bring out the best in Giannis, with his five best performances coming against five very real contenders in Memphis, Atlanta, Golden State, Toronto and Cleveland. Though the season is early, it’s not unfair to suggest that this is what we can expect going forward.

    There will be off nights, yes, as there was in Miami two weeks ago. But what Giannis has displayed thus far is that those will come less and less frequently. He’s consistently impacting the game on a nightly basis, and doing so on a superstar level.

    Next: 2016-17 NBA Power Rankings: Week 6

    Giannis is here, and he’s here to stay. Watch out for the Milwaukee Bucks.