You might not know how to spell his name, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is taking the NBA by storm. Fanatical Bucks fans love him, but most people know very little about him. Despite this, Antetokounmpo has rapidly become the most popular player on the 2014 Milwaukee Bucks. According to NBA.com, Giannis was Google searched more than any of his Bucks teammates. He was also #1 amongst all rookies. Let’s examine some of the reasons why.
For one he is 19 years old and in his first year located outside of Athens, Greece. Everything is new to him. Having a smoothie for the first time was a huge score for this guy. More importantly, he is gaining a mass following for his limitless potential. It helps that he is now nearly 6’11 with shoes on. (He was measured again at the end of the season and is still growing). His lanky frame has made him a YouTube sensation and earned him the easier-to-say nickname of “Greek Freak.” I mean seriously, look at this guy’s hands.
He has only logged about 3 full years of professional level basketball in his life. Last year Giannis played in the Greek A2 league, which is a secondary league in Greece. This year he is playing in the NBA. Let that sink in for a minute. Going from Greece to Milwaukee is quite the culture shock. Giannis once went to Western Union to send all of his money home to his family in Athens. After dispensing his cash and heading for the exit, he realizes he sent every penny he had. Legend has it that Giannis decided to take a nice run to the Bradley Center, and along his path was stopped by a concerned driver. “Are you that rookie on the Milwaukee Bucks?” Indeed he was, and he got his hitch-hiked ride to the Arena.
The stories are nice, but his eye popping talent has taken the NBA by storm. Take a look at this play in a mid season game against the Knicks. Antetokounmpo displays his craftiness and his insane athleticism. It even caused a delirious Magic Johnson comparison courtesy of the great Walt “Clyde” Frazier. With his size, athleticism and decent shooting stroke, there’s reasonable expectations of Antetokounmpo being a legitimate multi-year All Star. He is just now learning how to work with coaches and teammates (although most will not be back next year). Despite this, he is easily one of the few faces of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. If he can put on weight, his lofty comparisons could come to fruition.
Some thought he could be a Nicolas Batum type. A guy who has great athleticism and is an above average shooter. There have even been comparisons to Kevin Durant. While that seems a bit wishful right now, check out this video of the Greek Freak against the Heat. Giannis is able to get from basket to basket in just 3 dribbles. How many people have realistically ever done that in an NBA game? One could argue there is a travel at the end, but still, this is a display of an unreal athlete who is only getting better. While his whole family is in Greece, his brother is also following in his younger brothers footsteps. Thanasis Antetokounmpo is two years older, and is currently playing in the NBA D-League for the Delaware 87ers. He plans to have his name called in the upcoming NBA Draft. Thanasis does not have the upside or the raw talent that his little brother has, but he is quite the leaper as well. He participated in the NBDL Dunk Contest this year.
This season was a trial run for Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was a chance to figure out how to compete with NBA talent on the fly. You might say that all rookies experience a tough learning curve, but consider that Giannis was playing against significantly worse competition than the star college athletes. He is not quite there yet, but he is figuring out out fast. Every time you see a great chase down block it shows you flashes of brilliance. Next season the Greek Freak will get another chance to take the league by storm. With the addition of his older brother, the legacy of the Greek Freak Nation will continue to grow for years to come.