Giannis Antetokounmpo is many things. He’s a basketball player, a pretty good one, for the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s a leader, he’s a go-to guy, he’s a father, a brother, a son, the list of descriptors goes on. This post adds one to the list.
For the last eight years, ever since the Bucks selected the relatively-unknown Greek forward in the first round of the NBA Draft, Giannis has done nothing but give the game his all. He put in the work and relished in the process of improving. He transformed his body, transformed his mind, transformed his entire life. His physical gifts and opportunity to pursue basketball allowed him to transport his entire family from Athens to the United States, but the intangible qualities about him suggest that the Antetokounmpo family would have found success, even if Giannis was a foot shorter or a step slower. Few humans have ever worked at hard on something – anything – as Giannis has on his game, and Bucks fans are witnessing the fruits of his labor.
In the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs, Giannis is performing at an all-time level. Over the course of 13 games, he’s averaging 28.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks. More importantly, his team has a 9-4 postseason record going into tonight’s Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, a pair of series victories in the rearview mirror and a clear roadmap to the NBA Finals...the Bucks’ first legitimate opportunity to make the Finals since 2001, a hallowed ground they’ve not trod since 1974.
As the stakes get higher and the going gets tougher, Giannis has gotten better. His minutes load has increased substantially; over the last five games (since Game 4 of the Brooklyn Nets series), Giannis has averaged 40.6 minutes, second on the team only to Khris Middleton. The two-time NBA MVP has averaged 32.6 points across those seven contests, and based on the margin of victory in some of those games, Milwaukee has needed every last point from him. Even in the parts of his game that are weak – particularly free throw and three-point shooting – he’s performing better. He’s taking fewer threes (only 3.0 3PA per game, starting in Game 5 against Brooklyn) and making more foul shots (62.8% from the line on 8.6 attempts per game), even as the particulars of his routine came under scrutiny. But he doesn’t care; at this point, he’s seen it all, and he’s only interested in winning.
No one knew that it would end up this way. No one. He didn’t have enough basketball experience. He was from another country, another culture, and living in America would be too jarring. He was skinny, not in the wiry way where there’s still strength there, but skinny. Many experts panned the pick, expecting the amount of effort required to develop Giannis into an NBA player would never amount to a worthwhile return.
It worked out.
Giannis Antetokoumpo is many things. Right now, he’s a superstar leading his team through another tough playoff matchup that, should the Bucks find success and oust the Hawks, leads them to the fabled Finals, where they’ll have one more opponent to get through to achieve their goal.
So appreciate him, if you can. Basketball fans all around the world cannot appreciate him enough, even if they tried (which they aren’t), and likely never will. But we can try. I know I will.