The notion that history repeats itself can lend one a sense of nihilism. If the future is destined to be a mere variation on the past, what are we wading through the muck for?
In the face of astounding events, we want — no — need to believe that no one else ever bore witness to something similar, ever felt something so miraculous. So we ascribe our experiences with a sense of false distinction. This happens all the time in professional sports. A new team traverses hallowed territory; a new player breaks a heretofore unbreakable record. But the truth is, most players have comparable units from past eras, and every year, one of them has to win MVP and some team has to win a championship. History-making is engineered into the program.
Which makes it all the more special when we truly happen upon a unique, transcendent talent, someone like LeBron, whose ability transcended the norms of basketball, allowing viewers to analyze and appreciate the game in a way they couldn’t have imagined before his arrival, someone who almost actives new synapses, because we’re not used to watching basketball the way he plays it. The 2017 NBA playoffs, on this note, will mark the national audience’s introduction to the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis has appeared in the playoffs before — a six-game first round loss to the Chicago Bulls two years ago. But he was a different player then, just beginning to unlock the things his body would allow him to do on a basketball court.
Last year, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, in conjunction with Dr. Marcus Elliott, the founder of P3 Applied Sports Science, broke down Antetokounmpo’s venerated frame. The Greek Freak possesses a 7-foot-3 wingspan, allowing him to steal rebounds and finish difficult shots with minimal lower body exertion. Giannis possesses the size of a traditional big man, but the hip flexibility, lean muscle and core stability of a guard, allowing him near-supernatural lateral quickness, Blake Griffin-esque explosiveness, with the deft in-traffic maneuverability of James Harden. The length of his hands measures at 12 inches, bigger than Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James’ and get this: even his Achilles’ heel is an athletic marvel, doubling the average length for an adult male.
All this has amounted to the NBA’s first true 7-foot point guard. Under the tutelage of the Milwaukee Bucks’ head coach Jason Kidd, who made his name as one of the league’s foremost playmakers, and has never shied away from the unconventional as a coach, Antetokounmpo averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals in the regular season, leading his team in each category.
When Giannis begins the motion for a eurostep from behind the 3-point line, he is not only shredding the defense but demonstrating the best argument yet for widening the parameters of the court. Other players give the illusion of floating mid-air when they jump. Giannis does it on every stride. When he explodes in the lane, those protracted arms give little indication on how he will finish the shot. It is only after the ball goes in the hoop that one can deduce whether it was a traditional lay-up, a finger roll, or a monstrous dunk. There are moments he hangs in the air, looking almost aimless, until he makes his devastating move. Oftentimes, it’ll be a crosscourt pass to an open 3-point shooter. You can’t defend what you can’t predict.
In an attempt to reconcile Antetokounmpo’s towering shot blocking ability with his agile playmaking, an exceedingly rare combination, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton had to invent a new stat for him. But from his name to his anatomy to the way he operates on the court, there is evidently nothing formulaic about the Greek Freak.
Since the dawn of the statistical revolution, basketball has been undergoing a renaissance. Long-standing traditions have slowly been shucked to the side to make way for a game with breakneck pace, 3-pointers as far as the eye can see, and a movement toward fielding the team’s five best players, with a de-emphasized consideration for positions.
As a result, the court has opened up to allow a 7-foot point guard to make hay. He is the positional revolution and mind-bending athleticism wrapped into one genetic anomaly. In turn, he too is expanding the games tenets, taking it to new heights — and, of course, lengths. The future of basketball rests in Antetokounmpo’s drawn-out fingertips. We should all be excited to see where he takes it.