As the Bucks’ season last year came to an end at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, the bitterness of defeat was overshadowed by the potential for a bright future. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play in the playoffs made a statement to the rest of the league: his time was coming. Giannis’ ascension into the highest tier of NBA talent, occupied by the likes of Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and a few other superstars, seemed likely but distant. However, Antetokounmpo has started out this season stronger than any other player in the league, putting up MVP level production.
While Giannis may be making the game look easy this season, his road here was anything but. Coming into the NBA at the ripe age of 18, Antetokounmpo was seen as an extremely raw but promising prospect. With his only experience of professional play coming in Greece’s second tier A2 League, Giannis lacked the polished facets of his game he possesses today. Still, he was able to provide a presence on the defensive end thanks to his seemingly superhuman wingspan. His tenacity on defense and offensive improvements during the offseason were rewarded with a starting spot in his second year.
Though Giannis improved in almost every statistical category between his rookie and sophomore seasons, he struggled in his introduction to playoff basketball. Shooting 37% against the Bulls in a first round exit, Giannis did not display the efficiency that has become synonymous with his usual play. While his third season brought individual success, the Bucks missed the playoffs, something that resonated as failure to a competitor like Antetokounmpo. A common theme of Giannis’ career, however, is his tremendous ability to bounce back from hardship. Logging over 30 minutes a game in his third season with Milwaukee, Giannis was able to gain the experience necessary to become the leader of the Bucks. Winning the Most Improved Player award by a landslide in the 2016-2017 NBA season, Giannis ensured that fans around the world knew he was destined for greatness. His start to this season, however, is something no one could have predicted.
37 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. While this would be an impressive single game stat line for any NBA player, Giannis has shocked the world by averaging these numbers through four games and leading the Bucks to a 3-1 record to start the season. Having accepted Kobe Bryant’s challenge to win the MVP award this season, Giannis is playing like a man possessed. Whether it’s closing games by getting key stops against elite offensive players or scoring the ball at will during crunch time, Giannis is making it hard to believe that just a few years back his own teammate Jared Dudley stated, “What we are trying to do is take the ball out of his hands off a rebound.” It seems impossible to think that the Bucks would ever want the ball in the hands of anyone but Giannis when it matters most. This is a testament to how far he has come in such a short span of time.
Though he may be enjoying great success, Giannis’ historic start to the season is not without its own set of hardships. A few weeks before the start of the season, Giannis’ father, Charles, passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. While a tragedy of such magnitude would most likely impair the average person’s ability to handle his or her responsibilities, Giannis has channeled the loss and allowed it to fuel him on the court. The result is one of the most heartbreaking moments to come out of the NBA in recent memory, Giannis dedicating the game ball to his late father after setting a new career high in points. Once again, Antetokounmpo proved that he can not be hampered by setbacks, no matter how impactful.
Giannis has set the NBA fanbase into a frenzy with his electric play to start the season. Having catapulted himself into the discussion of being a top-10 player in the league at just 22 years old, Giannis is a nightmare for the other 29 teams in the association. Whether it be a debate over which player should go first in a fantasy draft or which player an executive would start a franchise with, Giannis is already on his way to becoming the consensus number one pick. The once lanky kid who went through growing pains his first few years has made one thing clear: his time has come.