If there was one consensus mystery that both intrigued and put doubt into every executive in the NBA this past summer, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Unlike Victor Oladipo, Anthony Bennett and Michael Carter-Williams, young players that had shown to be superior talents at the collegiate level, Antetokounmpo came into the league as nothing more than a few grainy videos wrapped around one giant box of mystery. Whether it was the fact that his exploits came at the expense of Greek A2 division opponents while suiting up for Filathlitikos, hardly the kind of place one would assume to find an NBA lottery pick months before their big day, or the fact that such a big decision had to be made in the kind of rushed assessment that follows someone that comes out of nowhere, a hard choice lay for every lottery bound general manager as draft day approached.
One after the other, NBA executives thought otherwise on the prospect of selecting a young and physically frail 18 year old who, despite glimpses of the ever rare perimeter talents wrapped into a 6-foot-10 condor armed package, probably projected as a player that would have to stay overseas to develop and therefore could be considered a project. As such, since the prospective mastermind of a project that fails usually ends up receiving that dreaded pink slip, it wasn’t a complete shock to see as many smart executives possessing keen eyes for talent pass up on what could either be their prized jewel for a decade or career landmine. That said, once John Hammond, general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, accepted that risk, he gave birth to a light within the Bradley Center that just might put Bucks basketball back on the NBA map.
Through his first 24 games in a Bucks jersey, Antetokoumpo has sparked the kind of nervous energy throughout the league’s fan base that only arises when someone truly special bursts onto the scene and takes the league by storm. If Jeremy Lin caused pandemonium when Linsanity ripped through the city of New York two seasons ago, the league better prepare for Avalankounmpo to engulf its fans with one exciting highlight after another as the young Greek forward slowly transforms into the next great international talent to rise to prominence in the NBA.
Although the numbers — 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds on 48 percent from the field — are not overly impressive, the eyes tell a very different story. At a legitimate 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Antetokounmpo possesses an impressive jump shot, great athleticism, a crisp handle and a passion for the game that oozes for all who watch him to see with their eyes. Like many who go through the European circuit before entering the NBA there lies an innate dedication to team play and the development in his passing ability that is evident when one watches him play.
With the young Greek forward, one can see his hunger to be great and the commitment to playing both sides of the floor — traits vital to separating the stars from the rest in a league where the gap in skill and physical ability is so narrow between the franchise player and the last man on the bench. In short, when the Bucks made Antetokounmpo the 15th player taken in the 2013 NBA draft they bought the kind of package that rarely presents itself to scouts and the kind that one hopes can bring the team back to the glory not seen since the days of Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen representing the state of Wisconsin.
With every game, it seems that his confidence grows in leaps and bounds as he begins to realize that not only can he compete with the players that he grew up watching and idolizing, but he has a chance to one day surpass them. In the meantime, he’ll settle for taking it game by game as he concentrates on blooming into a star before our very eyes. That’s a pleasure we’ll gladly enjoy watching over the next decade and a half.