We used to only gush about Giannis Antetokounmpo's potential. You'd be on Twitter one night following the action around the league, and suddenly a clip featuring the Greek Freak defying physics made its way across your timeline.
Maybe it showed a 6'11 man running like running a gazelle coast to coast in just four dribbles. Maybe it showed a player picking his up dribble high above the three-point line and still making it to the rim. Maybe it showed a towering figure soaring through the air and using his 7'4 wingspan to pluck the ball off the top of backboard.
Antetokounmpo was playing the game like no one ever had. It was like a higher power decided that LeBron James' physical tools had become antiquated and decided to update them.
Except, that update couldn't be fully downloaded until several weeks ago. That was when Bucks coach Jason Kidd decided to essentially make Antetokounmpo his starting point guard, turning what was once a crazy Summer League experiment into real life. That move should have the rest of the league trembling. Better yet, Kidd's call looks like it will salvage an otherwise-lost Bucks season.
Antetokounmpo is averaging nearly 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the 15 games since shifting to point guard. He's also recorded four triple-doubles, joining Magic Johnson and LeBron as the only players to have that many prior to turning 22. Clearly, this move is working.
Antetokounmpo has always been a walking mismatch, but at just 21, he's still just learning the game and figuring out how to best apply all his gifts on the court. Playing him as the lead ball-handler has highlighted his strengths and mitigated his weaknesses as a perimeter shooter. He's able to use his size and length to bully past smaller guards and his long steps to slither by slow-footed big men. Also, even limber ones like Kevin Durant.
Antetokounmpo is averaging more than nine drives per contest over this 15-game stretch, which would be among the 20 best in the league on the season. He's also shooting better than 66 percent when he does get to the basket, per NBA.com.
Within this mini run of brilliance, Antetokounmpo has effortlessly transitioned into a facilitator. Unlike many young players, even those who grow up playing point guard, Antetokounmpo already seems to understand that the point of attacking the basket is to generate points for someone, not just himself. He's creating 16.3 points per game with his passes in this 15-game stretch, one of the best marks in the league according to NBA.com.
More importantly, Antetokounmpo has transformed Jabari Parker into the explosive and creative scorer many thought the 2014 No. 2 pick would eventually become. Antetokounmpo is especially adroit at using his long arms to fire passes over the top of a helping defense and hit Parker on the opposite baseline.
Parker's scoring has jumped from a pedestrian 13 points per game to an impressive 20 since Antetokounmpo took over ball-handling duties. Twenty-eight percent of his field goals over this stretch have come from Antetokounmpo passes, per NBA.com.
There's no easy solution to Point Giannis. When he guards opposing big men, Antetokounmpo is able to pull down defensive rebounds, push the ball up the floor and force a mismatch against a defense in retreat. Look what happens here when tiny then-Rocket Ty Lawson got stuck guarding him.
This put the Rockets in an impossible situation. They could double-team Antetokounmpo and leave a cutter open, or play straight up and allow him to take advantage of the mismatch. There's no right answer, and that's exactly the type of dilemmas superstars create.
The Bucks are now 29-38, which is 5.5 games behind the Pistons for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. They have won nine of their last 15 games, but it's hard to see them catching Detroit, especially with two teams ahead of them in the standings.
But losing seasons and lost seasons are not one in the same. The Bucks may not make the playoffs this season, but the decision to fully hand the reigns over Antetokounmpo means they're closer to achieving their long-term goals than they were in October.
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