Seemingly every year when the NBA Draft rolls around there is at least one unknown international player with little tape to analyze and almost no exposure to many American basketball fans and in some cases even professional scouts. NBA teams must decide whether or not to take a chance on them during the first few picks of the NBA Draft. Many years that player’s hype rises to almost mythical levels in the NBA Draft process and he becomes the biggest boom or bust prospect.
In 2006 it was Mouhamed Sene, 2007 was Yi Jianian, 2009 Ricky Rubio, 2011 Bismack Biyombo, 2014 Dante Exum, 2015 Kristaps Porzingis, you get the point.
Typically it follows one of two models: a freakish potential shot blocker and athletic big man who is very raw (Sene, Biyombo) or a very long, skilled and mobile wing player in a big man’s body such (Yi and Porzingis). As you have noticed the spectrum of how good of NBA players these “Unicorns,” as we’ll call them, end up being is pretty vast.
The biggest Unicorn of all was the 2013 version, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He was a 6’9″, 200 lb. 18-year-old kid from Greece with massive hands, never-ending arms, a gazelle like stride and an ability to get up and down the court in mere steps.
All we had to base our opinions of Antetokounmpo on leading into the 2013 draft were grainy videos of him stealing the basketball or rebounding and gliding coast to coast for buckets.
Because of the mystery he fell to No. 15 to the Milwaukee Bucks in what has proven to be and was believed to be at the time, a very weak draft class.
Many thought the pick was intriguing, but assumed the Bucks would stash him in Europe for at least two years and let him grow into his body. They instead chose to introduce him to NBA life and play him right away. Fast forward just three and a half years and the Greek Freak is now 22 years old, 6’11”, 225 pounds, and playing at MVP caliber levels for a 17-16 Bucks team while averaging an absurd 24-9-6-2-2 on 53.6% shooting from the field.
Oh yeah he is also the Milwaukee Bucks point guard.
He has gone from a quiet, incredibly raw project to an assertive superstar and the most revolutionary and evolutionary young point guard the league has ever seen.
In retrospect it seems as though the Greek Freak had all of the once in a lifetime sort of gifts and abilities to be a superstar in the NBA regardless, but maximizing his unique size, quickness, vision and ball handling ability to play him at the point guard position has seemed to unearth the sort of basketball player most people have never even imagined.
If there is one guy who could properly teach Antetokoumpo to maximize his gifts and play the position at an elite level on both ends of the court it would be his head coach and the man who devised this groundbreaking strategy: Jason Kidd.
Kidd is one of the five best two-way point guards to ever play the game with his size, incredible vision and ability to direct an offense and defend his position. He also is the greatest example potentially of a player who made himself into a good shooter throughout his career. He was a guy who couldn’t shoot from deep early in his career but retired as top five in three-pointers made.
Kidd’s leadership abilities and knowledge have helped Antetokoumpo’s grasp of the point guard position happen in hyper drive and is quickly making him one of the most unstoppable match-up nightmares in NBA history.
Imagine Magic Johnson with Scottie Pippen’s athleticism and defensive prowess in Kevin Durant’s body, that is the Greek Freak in a nutshell. Combine that with the tutelage of one of the best point guards to ever play the game and maybe the one most-well suited to teach him the minutia of the point guard position and you are witnessing maybe the most intriguing experiment in NBA history.
There are only two organizations in the NBA right now who wouldn’t accept an offer for the Greek Freak straight up: The Cavaliers for LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors for Kevin Durant.
After some long and hard deliberations (and a few alcoholic beverages and some soul searching) I believe the Pelicans would trade Anthony Davis and the Timberwolves would trade Karl-Anthony Towns if given the opportunity to acquire Antetokounmpo.
That means in three and a half years Giannis Antetokoumpo has transformed from a long-term, unknown project who came out of nowhere to the most valuable trade asset in the NBA.
As a fan of the game I will be glued to my seat trying to see just how far the Greek Freak can go in the next 10 years with Jason Kidd as his teacher. He is one of the few talents we’ve seen where nothing seems to be off the table and that is a scary and invigorating thought.