The phrase unicorn gets thrown around in basketball far too much. Every time the basketball community sees a unique combination of size and skill in a player the phrase unicorn is tossed around to describe them. However, there is no player in the league actually worth that designation more than Giannis Antetokounmpo.
We’ve never seen the combination of size, athleticism, and skills in a big man before. Antetokounmpo is putting up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar like numbers in points, rebounds, and efficiency while averaging six assists a game. On the other end of the floor he has the ability to match-up and shut down any player no matter what their size is. Antetokounmpo is the basketball version of a Swiss Army knife.
What has really stood out about Antetokounmpo this season is the parallels that can be made to LeBron James’s first MVP season in 2009. James ended his age 24 season averaging 28.4 points, 7.2 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game with a 53 percent effective field goal percentage. Conversely, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, and 12.7 rebounds per game with a 59.7 effective field goal percentage. Coincidentally this is also Giannis’s age 24 season.
While it’s interesting to compare LeBron and Giannis’s on court numbers at the same age, the interesting thing is just how similar the situation was for both players at this point. Arguably the most fun regular season during either of the LeBron eras was that 2009 season. James firmly established himself as the best player in the league while transforming a non-traditional basketball city in the Midwest into the center of the basketball world. Antetokounmpo is currently doing that exact same thing in Milwaukee.
That 66-win Cavaliers team was on the cutting edge of basketball during that era. They built a team centered around LeBron, three point shooting, and defense. That team was one of only six teams in the league that took over 20 threes a game and the Cavs were second in the league in three point percentage at 39.3 percent. They also boasted the second best defense in the league as they finished the season with a 101.6 defensive rating.
The Bucks have built their team around Giannis using the same logic boosted by the style of play in today’s modern league. Milwaukee takes the second most threes in the league and has the second best effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent. The Bucks are dominating both ends of the floor with a league leading 103.5 defensive rating and a 9.6 net rating. Coincidentally that is the same exact net rating as the 2009 Cavs.
Antetokounmpo has turned himself into the unquestioned best player in the conference. However as the 2009 Cavs found out, having a dominant regular season and the best player in the conference doesn’t guarantee you anything. There’s plenty of cause for concern in Milwauke considering their lack of star power and Mike Budenholzer’s odd defensive scheme that allows 19.1 wide open threes a game. It’s not hard to envision a good three point shooting team like Philadelphia or Boston shooting them out of the playoffs.
No matter how this season ends in Milwaukee, it will be remembered as one of the best in franchise history. Antetokounmpo has transformed a small Midwest city into the center of the basketball world the way few players have ever been able to do. Watching his current run in Milwaukee brings back memories of one of the most fun Cavs’ seasons.
Here’s hoping Milwaukee doesn’t run into Hedo Turkoglu in the playoffs.