The Greek Freak - Legend in the making?

Published by Yoshi on 5th November - 11:36 (CET)
While watching the Bucks play the Pacers the other day and Giannis Antetokounmpo (ok, this is going to require some copy-pasting) slithering, dunking, dishing and flat out dominating his way to a very impressive stat-line of 27 points, seven boards, nine assists, two blocks and two steals on 11-18 shooting, I heard the game commentators comparing him to Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. It is not the first time that the Greek Freak is mentioned together with one of the all time greats in that "point forward" category. Since being drafted in 2013 the young man has built quite a reputation for himself, but how does he actually stack up against the legends he is compared to?

Scottie Pippen is the prototype for the point forward, Grant Hill is version 1.5 and Lebron James is the obvious 2.0, but let's not forget about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, both of whom stand 6'9" tall and can easily be called point forwards, even though Magic is broadly considered a pure point guard. While Scottie, Grant and Lebron measure in at 6'8", Giannis stands taller than anyone in this bunch with his whooping 6'11" frame. It is hard to compare other physical aspects as Lebron is clearly a monster but all the other guys can hold their ground almost equally well, so let's just say Giannis wins in height, Lebron in strength and move on to the more tangible parts.

For the statistical comparison, courtesy of Basketball Reference, I have chosen to only look at each player's third season in the NBA as Giannis just finished his. After two year's of adjusting to the pace of the game all these guys were starting to find their own so it should be a fair comparison even if Bird, Pippen and Hill (24) had a few years on the young guns in their respective third seasons with Johnson entering the season at age 22, and James and Antetokounmpo at 20.

1Giannis Antetokounmpo2015-16218035.36.412.7.5060.41.4.2573.75.1.7247.
2Larry Bird*1981-82257738.
3Grant Hill1996-97248039.37.815.7.4960.10.4.3035.67.9.7119.
4LeBron James2005-06217942.511.123.1.4801.64.8.3357.610.3.7387.
5Magic Johnson*1981-82227838.
6Scottie Pippen*1989-90248238.46.914.0.4890.31.4.2502.43.6.6756.
Provided by View Original TableGenerated 11/4/2016.

The sample size is almost identical as all players competed in 77-82 games, and even though Giannis played the fewest minutes per game the difference is not huge between him and the others, except obviously the 7.2 minutes between him and Lebron who pretty much had to do it all for the Cavs under Mike Brown.

With 16.9 PPG the young Buck places in the bottom half of this list between Pippen and Johnson, but isn't far from the rest with the exception of James who nearly doubles his average with 31.4. Giannis' .506 FG%, however, places him second in that category behind only Magic's ridiculous .537, which shows us that he takes the right shots more times than not. Even though he is not known as a three point shooter, the Freak comes in second to Lebron in both makes and takes from deep mostly due to them playing in a different era than the rest of the group. Antetokounmpo's efficiency from downtown at .257 is however not exactly encouraging. When it comes to getting to the free throw line, Antetokounmpo is right in the middle of the pack with 5.1 attempts per game, and he makes .724 from the charity stripe, a respectable percentage in this company.

To be considered a point forward, a player has to display some serious playmaking skills and all these guys did just that as soon as they hit the NBA hardwood. Giannis comes in last with his 4.3 APG, but it is important to remember that he wasn't utilized as the point for Milwaukee until late in the season. From the All Star break onward coach Jason Kidd gave Antetokounmpo the keys to the offense and the young Greek dished out a very impressive 7.2 assists per game in 28 contests. Had he averaged 7.2 for the full season, Giannis would have placed third, trailing only Hill at 7.3 and Magic at 9.5. Not only does he share the ball efficiently, but he also protects it exceptionally well with his 2.6 turnovers per game pacing this group of all time greats. You might think his time at forward is to thank for this, but during that same span after the All Star break Giannis only averaged 2.8 turnovers despite getting to man the point. When given the opportunity, the Alphabet more than matches up with his legendary peers in the playmaking department and exhibits a very impressive feel for the game at such a young age.

In the rebounding department Giannis places in the bottom half of the table, but still ahead of Pippen and James, with 7.7 RPG. That is definitely a respectable number, but standing a couple of inches taller than Larry Legend and still pulling down 3.2 fewer boards per game shows that more can be done in this category. Larry was relentless in chasing after rebounds and worked hard to get the proper positioning, something that we can hope Antetokounmpo will try to emulate. On the defensive end he places last in steals with 1.2 per game, far behind Magic's leading 2.7 but not too far from Lebron's 1.6. What Giannis lacks in the steals category he more than makes up for in blocks, as his ridiculous 7'3" wingspan allows him to swat a leading 1.4 shots per game. Apart from Scottie with 1.2 BPG, no one in the group is close to matching Antetokounmpo here. The Greek Freak provides a well-rounded hustle game, but would probably need to turn it up a couple of notches to match these guys in intensity and future All-Defensive Team selections.

To even be mentioned in the same conversation as Bird, Johnson, Hill, Pippen and James is an honor as these guys are some of the greatest players the basketball world has ever seen. To match up as well with them across the board as Giannis Antetokounmpo does is an incredible accomplishment. Though not blowing the competition away in any category, the Freak performs better than some of the guys in a few categories and matches up well in others, but what stands out to me the most is his ability to set up his teammates so well while protecting the ball on an elite level. Even when compared to these legends he shines in that department and promises to be a fantastic floor general for years to come.

Combine this with his superior height and the fact that he now enters his fourth season at only 21 years of age and it is safe to say that Giannis more than belongs in the conversation when talking about these legends, and we can all be very happy that we are getting to witness another one of those all time greats developing right in front of us.

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