Despite being in one of the smallest markets in the nation, the Milwaukee Bucks have a storied history of hosting some of the best players to ever set foot on the hardwood. Generational talents like the “Big O” Oscar Robertson and the player formerly known as Lew Alcindor helped establish the Bucks as a legitimate NBA franchise.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee has long been without a superstar player aside from the brief tenures of Michael Redd and Ray Allen. However, that has undoubtedly changed with the arrival of the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo. A raw talent at the time, he somehow slipped to the Bucks with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The rise of Antetokounmpo was well-documented throughout the 2016-2017 NBA season after a spectacular year in which he managed to lead the Bucks to the playoffs while taking home the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. However, what made his season so special is that at just 22 years old, there were times he looked like the most unstoppable force in the league.
For starters, his physical stature is the personification of the ancient, mythical heroes of his native Greece. Giannis Antetokounmpo is essentially a seven-footer that bounds the hardwood like a gazelle on the savanna. Even more impressive, his physical tools are matched by a dynamic skill set that is uncanny for a man of his size and athletic ability. That said, he has already drawn comparisons to even the most elite NBA superstars — including Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
While it is still early in his young career, the comparison at the same age is not too far-fetched. Last season, Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals — the first to do it since James in the 2008-09 NBA season when he was 24-years-old. Both players push the bounds of peak athletic performance while simultaneously pushing the NBA into a league run by point-forwards rather than point guards. However, although the pair are physical and basketball oddities, Antetokounmpo is NOT the next LeBron James, rather just the latest creation forged by the basketball gods.
There is no doubt that LeBron James was more developed offensively at 22 than his Greek counterpart. The Cavs superstar finished the 2006-07 NBA season averaging 27.3 points and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point land. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo finished the 2016-17 NBA season recording 22.9 points and 5.4 assists on 52 percent from the field and 27 percent from three. At the same time, the Greek Freak makes up the difference by edging James in rebounds (8.8 to 6.7) and blocks (1.9 to 0.7), while both averaged 1.6 steals per game.
Antetokounmpo’s long frame and physicality make him a much more formidable defender than James. His ability to essentially guard anyone on the floor earned him NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors last year. In fact, it is his versatility on the defensive end that often fuels his scoring output, whereas James is capable of scoring from nearly anywhere on the court. Although the three-time NBA champ is a solid defender in his own right, his role as the floor general often takes away from his performance on defense. As much as the Cavs rely on James to run the offense is how the Bucks rely on Antetokounmpo’s individual and team defense to get their up-tempo style of play going. That is what makes these two players so different.
However, it is safe to assume that the Greek Freak is poised to take on a similar role on offense for Milwaukee following his stellar season. As gifted as he is already, Antetokounmpo still has so much more to add to his offensive repertoire. Despite his solid field goal percentage, he is still an abysmal shooter from pretty much everywhere outside the paint. Fortunately, his driving ability and playmaking prowess have been able to mask his inefficient shooting. That is not to say Antetokounmpo must become a deadly shooter at some point in his career in order to become an elite scorer, but he will need to pull out all the stops in order to uplift this Bucks franchise into potential Eastern Conference title contenders for years to come — which he has been vocal about doing.
When Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was rightfully dubbed ‘the next Michael Jordan’, it was because there were unceasing similarities in how they approached and played the game of basketball. The same cannot be said about the aforementioned pair, which, is not necessarily a bad thing. LeBron James will go down as one of the greatest playmakers in NBA history while Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly projects to be one of its greatest two-way players.