*Editor’s note: This piece was written by Justin Becker, who can be found on Twitter @NBAFantasy Info.
When the Milwaukee Bucks used their 15th pick in last summer’s NBA Draft to pick up then-18-year old Giannis Antetokounmpo, the excitement was very high.
Some analysts talked about Antetokounmpo as a player who has lots of similarities to Kevin Durant. Now, a little more than two months into the 2013-2014 NBA season, Giannis is showcasing a small portion of his skills, and he’s also showing his immense potential.
At first, we couldn’t even pronounce his name. The 6’9” forward out of Greece is now usually referred to as, simply, “Giannis,” and he’s gradually emerging as a solid contributor for the struggling Bucks. In 27 games this season, Giannis – also known as “The Alphabet” and “The Greek Freak” – is averaging 7.2 points per contest to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22.9 minutes. He is also shooting 48.2 percent from the floor and 31.4 percent from downtown.
Even though those numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, it has now become obvious that the youngster has the potential to reach star caliber stats just a couple of seasons from now. Giannis has a combination of size, speed and ball-handling skills only a few players around the league possess. Those comparisons to Kevin Durant may not be too farfetched.
Of course, Giannis needs lots of work to even be in the same vicinity as Kevin Durant. However, the potential is there. As a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently careening towards last place in the Eastern Conference, he has the ability to play without much pressure. Antetokounmpo and head coach Larry Drew have the opportunity to try different things and allow him to take more responsibilities on offense. In that way, not only will he gain confidence, but he can also spot his comfort zones better.
Giannis is a very versatile player. He can easily defend the small forward and power forward positions, while it’s also easy to see him advancing the ball and being the facilitator for this team. He’s already shown flashes of doing both. Of course, it’s obvious that he lacks experience. It’s notable that Antetokounmpo has never played in a division higher than the second-tier division in Greece. That’s why he certainly needs some time to adjust to the new reality in the NBA and the extreme level of competition.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t seem to be having too much trouble. He is a very focused, hard worker and a player who is devoted to playing the game and getting better each and every day. Many times over the history of the NBA, we’ve seen the careers of really talented players derailed due to off-court troubles or personality issues.
That’s what might be the most important and optimistic factor about Giannis. Kevin Durant was the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. The talent was obviously there, but Durant used hard work to improve it and bring it to the surface. Giannis resembles a bit of KD in that aspect too. He keeps a humble attitude and he tries to compete as much as possible when he is on the court. Even when he played against superstars like Carmelo Anthony, he seemed like he had the right mentality.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is obviously talented. If he continues to improve, in a couple of seasons we might see him reaching an All-Star level. Maybe not, but time will tell.