Bucks: Can Giannis dethrone Duncan as the greatest power forward ever?

Tim Duncan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Duncan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is now in his eighth season, and the 27-year-old forward is widely regarded as one of the best players in the NBA. It’s easy to see why; over the last three seasons, Antetokounmpo has a combined average of 29.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while shooting 55.8% from the field. That’s a historic stretch from a historic player, and it’s clear that we’re watching an all-time great who’s just entering his prime.

That raises questions about where Antetokounmpo will rank all-time once his career is over, particularly at power forward. While the status of the greatest power forward of all time is spoken for with Tim Duncan having the mantle, can Antetokounmpo surpass him? Let’s take a closer look.

Milwaukee Bucks: How Antetokounmpo’s career stacks up to Duncan’s thus far.

Projecting Antetokounmpo’s career and how it will match up with Duncan’s is obviously tricky, due in part to them being different types of players from different eras. Duncan was a top-five player in the NBA from the start, finishing fifth in MVP voting as a rookie. Just imagine Paolo Banchero doing that right out of the gate. On the other hand, Antetokounmpo took five seasons to get to that level.

Not only was Duncan dominant from the jump, but he was a top-five player for a solid eight-season stretch and certainly the best player in at least three of those years, with two MVPs to show for it. Better yet, he carried the Spurs to three championships before his 28th birthday.

Not to be outdone, Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship in 50 years, at age 25.


That’s incredibly impressive and something that only two all-time greats, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson, were able to do. It’s definitely possible that Antetokounmpo can do that again, and might’ve last season had his right-hand man, Kris Middleton, not gotten injured in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Actually, the Bucks could be seen as the favorites to come out of the East so long as they have Antetokounmpo, which is a testament to how dominant he is. As someone who’s been a fan of the NBA for 20 years, it’s hard to convey how surprising it is for the Milwaukee Bucks to be seen as perennial contenders, but here we are.

Only the greatest of the great can keep a team in contention year after year, and Duncan did that with the San Antonio Spurs. The team made the playoffs in each of his 19 seasons and the Western Conference Finals in nine of them. Additionally, the Spurs went to six NBA Finals and won five championships with Duncan. That’s a historic three-decade stretch spanning from 1997-2016.

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s path to being the greatest power forward ever will be different than Duncan’s.

Antetokounmpo isn’t likely to catch Duncan in terms of sheer wins and titles—few can—but that shouldn’t disqualify him from the Goat mantle. Stats should also play a major role in the discussion. Stats aren’t everything, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that they play a major part in all-time player rankings.

If Antetokounmpo keeps this outrageous statistical output going for the next three seasons, six straight years overall, before slowly tapering off in his 30s, then he could easily surpass Duncan in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals. He’d even have Duncan beat in field goal percentage. That doesn’t sway you? What about hardware? Antetokounmpo and Duncan both have 2 league MVPs, but it’s possible that Antetokounmpo wins a third MVP and another Defensive Player of the Year award.

In that case, he’d one-up Duncan in MVPs and double-up Duncan in Defensive Player of the Year awards. To be fair, Duncan’s one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history and realistically should have won at least three DPOYs. Also, Duncan’s prime came in one of the slowest eras in basketball, and the Spurs were often one of the slowest-paced teams. Pair that with Duncan having to share the ball with David Robinson, and later two other Hall of Famers in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and his offensive numbers were clearly depressed.

Overall, Duncan’s numbers are still very impressive, but he sacrificed individual accolades for team success, not to say that Antetokounmpo hasn’t. Still, Antetokounmpo’s resume, minus the rings, could very well rival Duncan’s, perhaps even surpass his. That should ensure that he’ll eventually leapfrog the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, and Karl Malone, but will he pass Duncan?

If rings are really the be-all and end-all, then Duncan leading the Spurs to five titles should be the clincher in the debate over the greatest power forward ever.

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One might counter with Robert Horry not being called the greatest power forward even though he has seven titles, but Horry was a role player whereas Duncan wasn’t. As a result, unless Antetokounmpo matches him, Duncan will still be the greatest power forward of all time.