LeBron James has been basketball’s premier force for several years. He can do it all, and he can do it all very well. He can play all five positions and has the physicality and athleticism to dominate anyone and in any venue. That resume itself has led to championships, MVPs and the right to be deemed “The King.” Above all else, James has made his name a brand that can’t be ignored. He’s not only a business man but he’s also a business.
Name recognition means everything, especially when one is marketing to be the best at one’s craft. That’s the problem for Giannis Antetokoumpo, the point forward of the Milwaukee Bucks, who can’t get his name in the chatter of basketball fans and pundits across the world because its pronunciation has been considered to be Rubix Cube-difficult. However, those fans and pundits have yet to realize that this special player is looking to be as close to a LeBron James as the game has seen so far. With a 6’11” frame, an ability to score at will, the physicality to grab double-digit rebounds per contest and an excellent point guard feel for getting others baskets (much like James does), Giannis Antetokoumpo is a name to be feared and respected. We need to stop simply referring to this man as just “The Greek Freak.” We need to recognize him as Giannis Antetokoumpo, the future best player in basketball.
Those that will argue against my point will have good points as well. The names Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and (wildcard) Karl-Anthony Towns come to mind, and all of those mentioned are equally great selections for a face of the league. “Mr. Triple-Double” from Oklahoma City, ranking in the top 20 in points, rebounds and assists per game this season (the only player ranked as such), could end up as the best point guard ever, but when you’re looking at the game’s best player, you are looking at this player up and down and across the court.
While Westbrook is easily the most explosive player in basketball, he is not the most efficient. He isn’t a top-10 player in blocks and steals, a feat that Antetokoumpo holds. Season averages of 22.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.1 blocks and 2.1 steals and a 52 percent field goal percentage is a resume that is capable of toppling the statistical excitement that Westbrook brings at the point guard spot. But James is the template here. He’s the best, and Antetokoumpo displays hints that he can replicate that.
Despite the never-ending, over-the-top style comparisons of James and the “GOAT” Michael Jordan, I have always gone against the grain and declared James his own kind of player. Looking across the league today, there’s nobody who comes as close in a combination of Magic Johnson’s court vision, Charles Barkley’s inside-out, hybrid brilliance and Dominique Wilkins’ explosiveness that James has had for over 12 years. Widen the range, and you can find Antetokoumpo is in the neighborhood of fitting that bill. Let’s look at James at age 22: 27.3 points on 47 percent shooting, 6.7 rebounds, six assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. Antetokoumpo is currently 22 years old and doesn’t have the scoring prowess of James, but he certainly mirrors “The King” in other categories. He’s anywhere and everywhere on the court, a clear definition of an all-around talent.
Sure, playing for a lower-level basketball market team like the Milwaukee Bucks won’t direct the world in your direction if you’re not at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, but his name shouldn’t deflect the eyes and ears that he deserves. Antetokoumpo is coming, and he recently took James and the Cavaliers along for the ride this week, dropping a season-high 34 points on 68 percent shooting, along with 12 rebounds and five assists en route to a Bucks victory and the third loss for the Cavs this season. What has hit the NBA headlines afterwards? Karl-Anthony Towns. Kristaps Porzingis. Anything and everything Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Call it what you want, but the “Greek Freak” is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA: no respect.
I can fully understand the potential of players like Towns, Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins, but when was the last time anyone outside of Wisconsin has elevated the hype of Antetokoumpo? His ESPN highlights surely turn some heads, but his overall skill deserves to capture the fascination of basketball fans across the globe. He’s improved in nearly every statistical category over four years after being a rightful first-round pick in 2013. With a 7’3” wingspan and talent for playing multiple positions any given contest, the sky’s the limit for the young “Buck.”
Bucks head coach Jason Kidd contended that Antetokoumpo doesn’t get more acknowledgment because of his name alone. Just like most of the passes he’s dished throughout his Hall of Fame career, he’s right. Ahn-tet-toe-koom-po needs be in the mouths of basketball fans everywhere. His name may not come out correct for most, but his game is bent on being the best in the sport.