The Future Of The NBA Is GREEK
I’ve wanted to write something on the emerging trend of “positionless” Basketball in the NBA for a few years now. From Penny Hardaway to Allen Iverson, Dirk Nowitzki to Draymond Green players that don’t quite fit the basketball mold cast for them based on their size always intrigued me. These days they happen to be some of greatest prospects/talents to enter the NBA, just look at recent 76ers top draft pick Ben Simmons. Another name that comes mind (if you can even pronounce it) is Giannis Antetokounmpo better known by NBA fans as the “Greek Freak”.
Ever since entering the NBA as a 19 year old Nigerian hailing from Athens, Greece, Giannis was always seen as little “different”; at least the media thought so. He was a regular in NBA headlines whether it be because of the enormous size of his hands or his inspiring life story. But after the news broke that newly hired Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd would experiment with moving the then 2nd year Power Forward to the Point Guard position for the 2015-16 season, things would never be the same.
Just the suggestion of a 7-footer playing Point Guard was news enough to grab any basketball fans attention. Back then, it was hard to accept for a Giannis fan like myself. His game was perfectly fine as is, or so I thought. For the Bucks, at the time a young talented team coming off a one of the best seasons they’d had in years, it seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen. Kidd was really willing to risk everything they’d accomplished the year prior, on Giannis becoming the future next great “Big” Point Guard a la Magic Johnson, even to the extent of trading away former Rookie of the year MCW in the summer. Fast forward to this current season. We’re less than two months in and the then “risky” decision by Kidd is finally starting to pay off big.
Giannis, now at the ripe age of 22, is one of the most exciting players in the league and hes putting up some serious numbers for the Bucks; The best of his young career actually. Although he’s currently leading the team in just about every category, it’s his success as a playmaker and distributor that has peaked my interest most. Don’t look now, but only one year removed from starting as a Forward, Giannis the Point Guard is currently averaging 6.1 assists per game. That’s currently more than both Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry, who have been playing the position their entire NBA careers, mind you.
Giannis ability to adapt to the Guard position so quickly might come as a shock, until you realize his coach Jason Kidd was one of the best Point Guard ever do it back in his playing days. During the early 2000s with the Nets Kidd himself revolutionized the position as a constant Triple Double threat. Under Kidd, Giannis, who at 7 foot with a 7’6 had no problem rebounding and scoring, would now develop into a better ball handler, floor leader and distributor. Giannis must be one heck of a fast learner, but I gotta give all the credit to Kidd for being openminded enough to even give the kid a shot. Any other coach likely would have him stuck the low post working on his ‘hook’ shot.
In today’s changing NBA landscape things aren’t as black as white as they were 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. Big men with a developed back to basket game are a rare commodity. These days even centers aren’t afraid to put it on the floor and drive to the basket or even step out and take the open three. There are hardly any “true” Centers or “pure” point guards left not like during the NBA golden era during the 90’s. Rather, “stretch” forwards and Combo guards now characterize the NBA.
But Giannis isn’t simply the case of a Center with a crossover, a Power Forward who can shoot 3’s, or an undersized Two guard masquerading as a point. He is the type of talent who defies any conventional notion of “position” in Basketball. Thats why he can excel at whatever position he plays even point guard because he isn’t limited into any one or two position on the court, but all of them. And this season he is already challenging whats considered the norm in the league and redefining the traditional the roles of the game.
This season Giannis is currently on course to become a first time All-Star in a few months, and by the seasons end he might just also be most-improved player in the league, but if you ask Kidd there’s much higher expectations for the 22 year old. Recently Kidd, opened up in an interview comparing Giannis to the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
“We have special players that we come across,” Kidd said. “LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. And Giannis is one of those rare players we’ll be able to enjoy for a long time.”
Being mentioned in the same sentence as a NBA legends and future hall of famers at only 22 years old and in his 4th NBA season is crazy enough, but I’ll go as far as to say Giannis has potential to be better than them -Kobe and Lebron that is-, not by the end of his career, but in a matter of a few seasons. If you look up his 2016-17 stats, he’s already there with Lebron who is averaging only a few more points and assists than Giannis this season.
While the Lebron comparisons are warranted, Giannis is a much different player. His height, length and agility are unprecedented in the league especially at the Guard position. Not unlike a young Lebron when he first entered the league, fans had not seen his combination size speed and athleticism as a forward. Consequently, both players were labeled as a novelty, exception to rule or type of “freak of nature”. However, as athletic, big and strong as Lebron is, at only 6’8, even he can’t do some of the things Giannis does.
Being 7 feet tall, quick and agile like a guard, Giannis is another type of beast. There have been a few players like Lebron before him such as Grant Hill, for example, but the nba has never seen a perimeter player like Giannis. There isn’t much he can’t do on a basketball court. He doesn’t seem to have any weakness -other than his lack of an outside shot- and he sometimes appears to be playing in a league of his own.
You’ve seen him in Sportscenter top plays, and the Vines. There’s a reason why they call Giannis a freak. What he does on the court is freakish, but in a good way. He can cover the entire length of it in only three freakin dribbles, and when he takes off for a dunk, nobody dare get in his freakin way. But seriously, to really appreciate Giannis you gotta watch his entire game not just the highlights. Witness his unique skill set and before long you won’t just be calling him a “freak” but also The “future”. If we’re lucky the type player we can expect to see a lot more of in the league in years to come.