Giannis Antetokounmpo has one of the greatest resumes of any
26-year-old in NBA history: a champion, Finals MVP, two-time MVP,
Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and five-time
All-Star. Antetokounmpo joins Michael Jordan as the only players to
ever win NBA MVP, Finals MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and DPOY. The
stratosphere that Antetokounmpo has vaulted himself into at this
stage of his career is rare territory.
Throughout the 2021 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Giannis
was unstoppable. And he didn’t miss any Finals games after it was
originally feared that a season-ending knee injury would derail his
incredible postseason run. What Antetokounmpo accomplished during
this legacy-cementing run is truly “Greek Freak” stuff.
When glancing over Antetokounmpo’s Finals barrage, it’s truly
absurd how he ran roughshod over Phoenix’s roster. Nobody stood a
chance against Giannis on his way to averaging 35.2 points, 13.2
rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals on an elite 65.8
True Shooting percentage.
After Giannis claimed his first championship in historic fashion
– a 50-point performance in the Bucks’ series-clinching Game 6 win
at Fiserv Forum – what parallels can we draw for the 26-year-old
superstar who’s just now beginning to reach his prime years? Not
many players come close to the athletic marvel that Antetokounmpo
is, but former No. 1 overall pick and BasketballNews.com's own Kenyon Martin made a
comparison that holds up well.
How Antetokounmpo and O’Neal both dominated their Finals
matchups in otherworldly fashion, especially in the restricted
area, shows that it’s fair to say the new-and-improved Superman has
“It’s only one Superman now and that’s you,” O’Neal said
on Instagram after the Bucks’ clinched their
first NBA championship in 50 years. “Thanks for bringing old-school
bully basketball back.”
What Giannis can do within his 6-foot-11, 240-pound frame is
jaw-dropping. He can glide down the length of the floor with a few
dribbles. The explosion around the basket is second to none.
Instinctually, his two-way game continues to improve each season.
When Giannis is in rhythm, nobody in the league can guard him. It
was proven on the Association’s biggest stage, as the Suns’ best
version of potential Giannis stoppers in Deandre Ayton and Jae
Crowder were victimized relentlessly.
The way Giannis handles his business within the restricted area
is very Shaq-like. During O’Neal’s prime, he would post up
defenders and knock them through the basket with ferocity. Two
decades later, Giannis is doing the same thing but with even more
athleticism, soaring above the cylinder for gravity-defying
alley-oops or chase-down blocks.
Having Antetokounmpo on their roster opens up endless
possibilities for the Bucks and how they can build a potential
dynasty around him. Giannis can play three positions on the floor,
maybe even running point guard sometimes as a primary facilitator.
However, the long-term outlook could be to have Giannis ease into a
full-time center role.
In small-ball lineups with Antetokounmpo at center, the Bucks
torched the Suns in the Finals with optimum floor-spacing
surrounding their freak of nature inside. Brook Lopez is still
under contract for two more seasons, but it’s fair to wonder
whether Milwaukee should eventually explore moving his $13 million
salary for even more perimeter shooting.
Giannis keeps so many roster-construction options open, though.
There’s no need to break up a championship core, especially a piece
like Lopez at this stage, but, post-Lopez, Giannis seems poised to
become the modern version of Shaq. The Giannis-Shaq comparison is
Milwaukee has one of the greatest players in the world on their
roster, and there’s no denying that now. Once Antetokounmpo signed
the super-max extension, officially closing the book on leaving
Milwaukee anytime soon, he proved he can win a ring the homegrown
way. He knew it would be harder this way, but that the reward would feel even sweeter
at the end.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with
somebody else,” Antetokounmpo said postgame while clutching the
Larry O’Brien trophy and Finals MVP award. “It’s easy. I could go
to a super-team and just do my part and win a championship, but
this is the hard way to do it, and we did it. We f***ing did
Antetokounmpo is on the fast-track to a Hall-of-Fame career.
Just as O’Neal did for years in places like Orlando and Los
Angeles, Antetokounmpo is ready to become a sheriff in the paint as
the Bucks’ global two-way superstar for many years to come.