Since entering the NBA in 2013, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. Throughout his first 8 seasons, Giannis has built a resume that rivals some of the greatest players ever. His meteoric rise to superstardom hasn’t been traditional either, and certainly not without criticism. Last week though, Giannis cemented his self among the pantheon of the NBA’s greatest by bringing a championship back to Milwaukee. Here is how Giannis went from a skinny kid from Greece to an NBA champion.
In 2013, the Milwaukee Bucks used their 15th overall pick to select an 18-year-old, 6’9 190-pound guard from Greece that went by the name of Giannis Adétòkunbọ̀. Of course, after coming to America, he changed the spelling a bit to Antetokounmpo. Many didn’t know who Giannis was, being that he wasn’t a big-name prospect. In his time in Greece, Giannis played club ball in Athens, where he caught the eyes of scouts. At Giannis’ size, he was a very fluid athlete that flashed immense potential, and when he was drafted he was only 18 years old. During his rookie season, Giannis averaged just 6 points and 4 rebounds, as the Bucks went on to finish with a 15-67 record. Despite the franchise’s dismal season, there was certainly light at the end of the tunnel. And mid-way through the season, Giannis grew from 6’9 to 6’10 1/2.
The next season, Milwaukee made a coaching change, relieving Larry Drew from his coaching duties and bringing in Jason Kidd at the helm. Jason Kidd empowered Giannis in the Bucks offense in his time there. In Giannis’ second season, he gained confidence and began to look more confident with the ball in his hands. So confident that Kidd started him at point guard throughout his third season. By that time, Giannis started to come into his own as a player, averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. He even grew to a legitimate 6’11 by this time. By this stage of a lot of player’s careers, their third and fourth years are the most pivotal stages in their careers. A lot of players either become stars and take a leap or they simply just stay around the same and become role players. Well for Giannis, he took a leap. In 2016-17, Giannis won the most improved player and made his first All-Star appearance. He even became the first player in history to lead his team in all five major categories (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Giannis led the Bucks back into the playoffs but lost in the first round.
The next season, Giannis improved even more as a player, but the team around him didn’t improve as much. Once again, Milwaukee lost in the first round, this time to the Boston Celtics without Kyrie Irving.
In 2018-19, Milwaukee hired Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer’s system unleashed Giannis on the offensive and defensive end. Giannis led the Bucks to a 60-22 record. Giannis helped lead Milwaukee to the best offensive and defensive team in the NBA. Giannis steamrolled his way into his first MVP award as well, with averages of 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. Giannis’ relentless playstyle and dominance of the paint started to bring in the comparisons of a modern-day Shaq. Giannis; gae=me started to advance and he became an even better playmaker. In the first round of the playoffs, Milwaukee ran into the Detroit Pistons where they easily dispatched them in just four games. In the next series, the Bucks got revenge on the Boston Celtics, beating them 4-1, then they ran into the Toronto Raptors. The Bucks took games 1 and 2, and it looked like Giannis was on the brink of making his first finals appearance. But Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors battled back and won the series 4-2. A lot of blame was put on Bucks co-star Kris Middleton for coming up short in that series, but the Raptors simply outplayed Milwaukee. The Bucks had no answer for Leonard, who would eventually go on to win Finals MVP.
The following season was no different from the previous. It was actually better for Giannis, as he finished with the highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in NBA history on his way to his second MVP award. Giannis also won the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award, as he led Milwaukee to a 56-17 record. This season was different though. As we all know, the world was shut down momentarily due to Coronavirus. As the teams entered the Bubble, it seemed destined for Milwaukee to reach the Finals to face either Kawhi and the Clippers or LeBron and the Lakers. In the first round of the playoffs, handily defeated the Orlando Magic in 5 games, and they were set to face the Miami Heat in the second round. The Miami Heat, led by Jimmy Butler, sucker-punched Milwaukee in the first game of that series, and as a team, they never recovered from that. Giannis ended up getting hurt in game 4 and missing the remainder of the series, and the Bucks lost in 5. The doubts and questions were as loud as ever. People started saying Giannis needs another superstar to play with, he needs to leave Milwaukee for Miami or Golden State, and even doubting the legitimacy of his two MVP awards. Not only did doubts surround Giannis, but they were heavy around Coach Budenholdzer and failure to make proper adjustments throughout games and series.
This season though, the Bucks managed to retain Giannis and add guard Jure Holiday to the mix, along with other complementary pieces like PJ Tucker and Bobby Portis. Through the season, the Bucks once again dominated the eastern conference and Giannis put up another MVP caliber season. The biggest difference of this season from the previous two is the willingness to switch up play styles. Coach Budenholzer experimented with different coverages on defense, mixed different lineups in different situations. Even though the Bucks took a few more losses than they have in the previous seasons, they were more prepared to deal with different adverse situations, rather than playing one style.
During the playoffs, Milwaukee ran into the Miami Heat once again in the first round. This time around, the Bucks showed Miami something they lacked the previous year, and that was adaptability. The Bucks took game one on a miraculous shot by Kris Middle and never looked back. Giannis gave Miami absolute hell and they won in four. In the next round, Milwaukee faced Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets. The Bucks were outclassed in the first two games, losing by a margin of 39 in game two. But, Milwaukee stayed resilient and battled back to force a game seven. Even though the Nets were without Kyrie Irving, and James Harden was hobbled, Kevin Durant still willed them to a final possession where the Nets almost won. But the Bucks advanced to the conference finals where Trae Young and the Hawks awaited them. The Hawks gave Milwaukee plenty of problems throughout the series, and it all came to an abrupt stop when Giannis went down with what seemed to be a catastrophic knee injury in game 4. Fortunately, Giannis only hyperextended his knee, and Jrue Holiday and Kris Middleton carried the Bucks to the NBA Finals. The red-hot Phoenix Suns were ready to take advantage of the Bucks as they were without their superstar.
Giannis surprisingly played game 1 of the Finals, still not 100% from his knee injury, but still performed well. Ultimately, the Suns took game 1. In-game two, Milwaukee had a chance to win but failed to capitalize on opportunities down the stretch. Giannis still finished with 42 points and 12 assists. Giannis then followed that performance up with 41 points and 13 rebounds and 6 assists in a Game 3 win Game 4 he made one of the most clutch defensive plays with a block on an alley-oop dunk attempt from DeAndre Ayton in crunch time of game 4 to seal a win and tie the series 2-2. As the Bucks went back to Phoenix for game 5, in the waning seconds Giannis caught an And-1 alley-oop to seal the game. But in game 6, Giannis delivered one of the greatest games in NBA history. He finished the game with 50 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks while making 15-17 free throws. Giannis’ epic game help seal the elusive championship he worked his entire career for. He became the first player to score 40 points and ten rebounds three times in a Finals since Shaq in 2000, the first to score 50 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a Finals game, and player to ever win MIP, MVP, DPOY, and FMVP.
Throughout his career, Giannis has been relentless. He’s had people working for the Bucks literally force him out of the gym because he would work on his game too much. In a video of him and PJ Tucker at practice, he even talked about his career failures, embracing them and wearing them proudly. “I’ve been down here, the only way is up!“. Giannis’ pursuit for greatness has driven him through things other players don’t recover from, but his passion to be the best has allowed him to bring a championship back to Milwaukee after 50 years.
There is no doubt anymore about Giannis’ place in history, the accomplishments speak for themselves. So in conclusion, appreciate the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo, because we may not see a player like him for a really long time.