Part of the intrigue of Giannis Antetokounmpo is that we’ve never really seen anyone quite like him before. This was part of the reason why he fell to 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft – it’s really hard to project an 18-year-old from Greece who doesn’t have a fair NBA comparable.
Now that we have a full season of Giannis, what can we make of him and his future career? Can we perhaps hone in on a projection a little better?
We can certainly try, but he keeps on changing the game by growing. From the time he was 17 to turning 18 and being looked at by NBA scouts, he grew from 6'6'' to 6'9''. That difference of three inches vastly changes projections. He went from a regular shooting guard or small forward to suddenly taller than Carmelo Anthony, a guy who can always get his shot. That skill is highly regarded in the league.
The raw skill and height was enough to get him in the first round, although the Milwaukee Bucks were still made fun of around the league for selecting him. And what’s even crazier is that, since being drafted, he's grown two more inches to get to a ridiculous 6'11'', all while still having the game of a guard. We’re officially looking at a NBA prototype we’ve never seen before.
Can We Compare Him to Anyone?
Just to see what kind of player we might be able to compare him to, let’s use his old height (6’9'') and plug it in the basketball-reference.com player season finder, and see what we find. What other player in the history of the NBA has totaled at least 40 three-pointers, 60 blocks, 300 rebounds, and 150 assists at 19 years old?
One player. Kevin Durant in 2007-2008.
Now, this isn't to say that Giannis is the next Kevin Durant. He's still quite raw, and Durant is one of the best players in the world right now. But is it a ceiling? Can Giannis eventually affect the game the way that Durant does, with his length and shooting?
Durant was a good shooter coming out of college, but he wasn’t even close to the gunner he is now. In his first season, he shot 43.0% from the field, as compared to Giannis' 41.4%. Durant struggled from the three-point line, shooting 28.8%, while Giannis shot 34.7% in his first year. Even though Giannis is still raw, there is precedent that he could become an excellent shooter over time.
In Durant’s second year, when he was 20 years old, he made a significant leap. He increased his win shares from 2.3 to 7.9 and his PER from 15.8 to 20.8, while shooting better all around.
With Giannis continuing to grow, having a new coach, and still being experimented with in regards to his role and position, the development is likely to be a little slower. There have even been reports that new head coach Jason Kidd wants to try out Giannis at the point guard spot. That would really be a new prototype: a 6’11'', three-point shooting, rim-protecting point guard. It’s hard to fathom, really.
In the summer league (I know, it’s just summer league), Giannis showed some new skills, including work on the low block. Giannis could eventually become, if he smashes through his a ceiling, a player without a weakness. He can dribble like a guard, shoot like a wing, defend like a center. What else is there?
We've lauded LeBron James for being able to play and defend all five positions, but we might be stretching it a bit with him playing and defending the five. But could Giannis be the guy to do that? At 6’11'', he certainly has the height. Could the Bucks figure out how to use him as a point guard on offense and a rim-protecting big on defense? Read that question again – a couple years ago, no one would have believed you if you had said we would ever see a guy like that.
And this makes Giannis perhaps the most interesting guy in the league over the next decade. He has a ceiling of, well, we really don’t know. Is it Durant? Is it a new thing we’ve never seen? No one really knows, and that’s great for the league. We all love a good mystery.