25-under-25: Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 1

The Step Back is rolling out its 25-under-25 list over the next two days. Follow along with our rankings of the top 25 players under the age of 25.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is an elastic, 7-foot, do-it-all basketball force of nature. Antetokounmpo is the Weird Science fantasy of the modern NBA. He has no position because he transcends position. He’s pliable on offense, ready to run point or jump-5. His quickness, wingspan and being the size of a contemporary center give him credence to guard anyone on the defensive end. Legend has it, he was conceived when one of Zeus’ lightning bolts struck a boulder on Mount Olympus, chiseling out a highly-evolved, perfect male form.

He got baptized as the “Greek Freak” upon entering the league because he’s a physical anomaly (and probably also because nobody could pronounce his name). It only takes him one (!) dribble to get from half court to the rim.

He’s basically Voltron, if Voltron were comprised of a pterodactyl, Perseus, a gazelle, Stretch Armstrong and two oversized baseball mitts.

2017-18 marks Antetokounmpo’s fifth season in the NBA. He made his first All-Star team last year, finishing tenth in PER in the entire league (for players with at least 300 minutes). He brought Milwaukee to the playoffs as the 6-seed and led the Bucks in all five major stat categories — a feat only accomplished four times before, by some pretty recognizable names. The craziest part is Antetokounmpo is still just 22-years-old and only scratching the surface of his astronomical potential.

Antetokounmpo got the top bidding of all the players under 25, receiving a bouquet of perfect-10s from our panel. He’s the lead stallion in the NBA’s herd of unicorns.

We’ve taken the journey with him as he’s grown up in front of us. He transformed from the wide-eyed innocence of marveling over a smoothie into Dark Giannis — a snarling basketball assassin, ready to truck-stick Mike Dunleavy Jr. into the first row after receiving a cheap shot. He now harnesses that raw emotion and plays with an edge that every superstar who was worth their weight in salt had.

He came into the NBA at the perfect time, when positions aren’t pigeonholed by archetypes and multi-faceted players thrive more than ever. Of course, with incredible physical gifts and gaudy stats come pie-in-the-sky excitement. He’s built up quite the high expectations for the upcoming year.

And I agree with them. After LeBron James, Antetokounmpo should be the second-best player in the Eastern Conference and he’s going to shape the course of the league for the next decade plus. Soon he’ll be among the handful of players whose waves have ripple effects on the entire league. I’d argue he’s already there.

The Bucks are projected at an over/under of 47.5 wins and to fight for a top-4 seed in the East. Provided some luck with the health of their complementary pieces for a change, grabbing home court in the first round should be easily attainable for this young team on the rise. Even without it, Milwaukee will be the team everyone else wants to avoid in an opening round seven-game series.

Harking back to this past postseason, Antetokounmpo’s full arsenal was on display against Toronto. He almost put the inferior Bucks — a team that actively ceded crunch time minutes to a geriatric Jason Terry — past a battle-tested veteran Raptors squad. While they ended up losing in six, Milwaukee definitely showed flashes of what they could become. Naturally, Antetokounmpo led the way, averaging over 40 minutes per game and upping the majority of his stats. Not to mention, his superhuman abilities provided the most entertainment during a tepid first round. When Antetokounmpo is on the basketball court, it turns into appointment viewing. If he takes another leap this year, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Bucks to come knocking on the door of the Eastern elite.

Yet since he is, in fact, human, Antetokounmpo doesn’t come without flaws. As a career 74.0 percent free throw shooter, he leaves something to be desired at the charity stripe. In the Raptors series, though, he struggled to the tune of 54.3 percent. It was apparent that some of that dip was attributed to fatigue, as the heavy minute load clearly took away his legs. But some of it comes down to needing to find consistency with his jumper.

There were multiple times during those six games with Toronto where he found himself open and was hesitant to pull the trigger on a shot. The defense was able to sag off of him, jamming up spacing for the rest of the offense and hampering his ability to wreak havoc in the lane.

Consistency and reliability in his jump shot. Those are the only things holding him back. The big question heading into the summer was whether or not he’ll put the work in to fix it. He will, of course, because he has to. Getting knocked out of a winnable series in the first round was a learning experience and showed him the blueprint of what he needed to improve. Once he gets the confidence to let it fly, he won’t just turn into a top five player in the league, he can become one of the best of all-time.

Pile it all up and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 22-year-old Greek Freak with rubber coil limbs and hands the size of tennis rackets, is the best under-25 player the league has to offer. Soon enough, you might be able to remove the age caveat.