Basketball is a sport that has long trafficked in very segmented labels. It has five positions, all with different distinctions. Even as the sport has evolved recently into a more positionless reality, there are still all-encompassing groups that we assign players to, including big men, point guards, and wings.
But eras and decades all have their mold-breakers. Most recently, LeBron James became his epoch’s idiosyncratic figure. We may be seeing the explosion of the next generation’s singular talent right before our own eyes in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, in just three games this season, has become must-watch television.
On Saturday night, the Bucks hosted the Blazers, the latest team to board the early-season hype train for Giannis, who dominated from seemingly every inch of the court for the third game in a row.
With length and now strength as his calling cards, Giannis topped his career-high point total, scoring 44 and going 17-of-23 from the floor in 39 minutes. He hit a 3-pointer and went to the line 13 times. Volume isn’t so much what’s impressive about Giannis’s hot start—he’s scored 37 and 34 points in his previous two games. Rather, it’s been the manner in which he’s amassed those points that both solidifies his ever-expanding ceiling and confirms his meteoric growth.
Giannis didn’t do it with just his efficient scoring. In crunch time, when Damian Lillard sought to bring the Blazers back from a deficit, the Greek Freak utilized his pole-vault arms to swipe two crucial steals—the latter leading to a dunk that gave the Bucks the lead.
Giannis Was AMAZING in the last 30 secs...— L.O.W. (@LegendOfWinning) October 22, 2017
and turned around with a clutch block
He wasn’t done. On the next possession, with the Blazers threatening, Giannis became a force field at the rim—one that Blazers’ big man Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t penetrate. The block sealed the 113-110 win.
Giannis: Career-high 44 points. Two crunch-time steals. THIS game-sealing block: pic.twitter.com/Uk9b3bk1tV— The Ringer (@ringer) October 22, 2017
At just 22 and now in his fifth season, Giannis is showing the ability to maneuver the ball like a top-tier point guard while combining his speed and athleticism to get to the rim with the ease of a superstar wing. He’s compounding it all by using his newfound strength to bully defenders inside the paint as if he’s a powerful big man. What’s even more evident early on this season is that Giannis has also developed the awareness to know when he can get by his defender—so far, it’s worked against anyone who isn’t LeBron—and the ability to hit the elbow jumper far more consistently than he had during his first four seasons.
Turning that shot from consistent to automatic and nailing 3s at an above-average rate may be the last frontiers for Giannis. For now, however, he’s basketball’s unstoppable five-tool player who just may also become its MVP.