The dude is 21.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – also known as the Greek Freak, for very good reasons, including his athleticism, but also because it is much easier to spell – absolutely went nuclear last night, eviscerating the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in a 118-101 thumping.
Antetokounmpo’s 34/12/5/5/2 line (in less than 36 minutes!) looks as good as it is historical, and if you need further encouragement to be impressed with what the Freak achieved, just look at the names on this list, and look at their ages:
Antetokounmpo is among the youngest players ever to have played a game like the one we saw last night, and his statline sandwiched him squarely between LeBron James (who is pretty good!) and Anthony Davis (who is also pretty good!) and otherwise on a list with five Hall-Of-Famers (Bird, Olajuwon, Barkley, Malone, Drexler), and one other future Hall-Of-Famer (Carter). That’s good company*.
Then there is the issue of the competition he did it against. Although Davis achieved his against a 0-0 Denver Nuggets squad in the season opener, the rest of these games occurred against teams with an aggregate record of 414/406. That’s barely above a .500** winning percentage. The Cavaliers are currently sitting at an .810 winning percentage and are (currently) on pace for 66-67 wins.*** So let’s put that in layman’s terms: Antetokounmpo just, as the second youngest player ever to do so, put up a statline against, by some metrics, one of the best teams to ever get this shredded.
And, again, the dude is still 21.
For those unimpressed by the numbers and the company and the age, the highlights themselves are something else. Antetokuonmpo spent his evening getting whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted:
If you need one play to summarize the video, skip to 2:12 and check out how unbelievably above the rim he appears to be on the easy finish. One of things regularly praised about Giannis is is raw athleticism. Terms like “raw athleticism” are generally basketball-speak for “isn’t actually very good at basketball, but he might be…” but what Giannis did last night is yet another step in his transition from simply being a bundle of potential to being the thing that scouts were dreaming of when he was first discovered in Greece.
That he has creative coaching certainly helps too. Jason Kidd has been using Antentokuonmpo at point guard, knowing of course that there will be struggles along the way, but recognizing that a 6’11” point guard represents a substantial tactical advantage. How, after all, can another team defend him? Teams can certainly put a big man on him, but despite being built like one, Giannis doesn’t move like a big man, and he doesn’t play like one either.
Here’s an isolated play from that last highlight reel:
That was a rebound, three dribbles, a pass fake that literally killed the man defending him, and the dunk. Giannis’s speed coupled with his gait allows him to functionally change the size of the basketball court. Adding in a pass fake is, frankly, unfair.
And, again, the dude is 21.****
*Poor Terry Cummings.
**The best of these was achieved against a 62-20 Lakers team. Go on with your bad self Clyde Drexler.
***Hot Take Prediction Alert – the Cavaliers will not win that many games.
****If all of this wasn’t sufficiently exciting – and it is absolutely sufficiently exciting – the Freak’s rise also gets Gus Johnson back into lives. Gus Johnson is great.