The Continued Rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Challenge Made, Challenge Accepted

Prior to the start of the current NBA season, future Hall of Fame Laker Kobe Bryant challenged the Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo to have an MVP caliber season.

Well, if early returns are any indication, the fifth-year pro out of Greece seems to have taken this challenge seriously. For proof, check out the monster stat line Antetokounmpo has shot out of the gate with through the first 5 games of the season: 35 ppg, 10.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, and a staggering 37.42 PER.

Yes, it’s early in the season, but it’s not like this phenomenally talented young man’s current run came out of nowhere– it might just be the next step in the meteoric rise of the game’s most exciting young player. Let’s have a look at how Giannis Antetokounmpo got here.

A Quick Ascent to Dominance

When the Bucks selected the 6’11”, 220 lb forward out of Greece with the 15th pick in the 2013 Draft, they raw talent, athleticism, and possibly enormous potential. During his rookie campaign, Antetokounmpo quickly began to deliver on this potential, and after a period of steady, often spectacular improvement, was regularly notching triple-doubles by the end of this third year.

But it was last season that Antetokounmpo became an All-Star and a truly dominant force, leading the Bucks to a 42 win season while averaging 23 ppg, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists in addition to winning All-Defensive second-team honors and becoming the Bucks’ main playmaker. To put it simply, while Antetokounmpo probably won’t continue to score 35 points a game, a Most Valuable Player award might already be within reach. Throw in the fact that Antetokounmpo has only been playing basketball for 10 years and you’ll understand why many observers believe he has the chance to develop into the league’s best player.

In terms of talent and age, his closest peer is probably the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. Davis has certainly had longer periods of sustained dominance than Antetokounmpo thus far, but he’s two years older, much more experienced, and very likely came close to maxing his performance last year with averages of 28 ppg, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. Granted, these are astonishing numbers but don’t be surprised if Giannis Antetokounmpo surpasses Davis this year and puts more and more distance between himself and the rest of the league as his career continues.

Giannis announced today on Twitter that he and Nike have entered into a “long-term partnership.”

And now with the addition of Eric Bledsoe via trade, the Bucks and Giannis make the quest to unseat the Cavs that much more interesting.