There are about 470,000 words in a standard English dictionary. (I’m trusting Google on this; I did not count them.) None of them are designed to describe Giannis Antetokounmpo doing something like ... this.
Antetokounmpo made that play in early February, and it’s perhaps the most visceral reminder that he’s not like most basketball players. Here’s another.
We can describe these plays factually: half court, one dribble, wingspan, athleticism, dunk. But there isn’t really a word that describes how Antetokounmpo rolls those all into a single packaged play that can transpire in seconds and doesn’t really fit with the NBA we’ve watched for decades now.
Explosive? No, that’s too loose of a term. Many players are explosive, but Antetokounmpo is a combination of length and athleticism that is rivaled by virtually no one.
Astonishing? That’s closer, but that doesn’t capture the strange sense of awe we’re left with when watching someone that large and strong and long and bouncy exhibit all of those adjectives in the span of a few seconds.
Impossible? Except Antetokounmpo is very, very real.
If you’ll allow us two words, then Brad Stevens has a suggestion, as told to SB Nation’s Paul Flannery in a great look at Antetokounmpo’s future: Holy shit.
This is another appreciation of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who on Thursday will become the first player to ever finish top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks for a single season. (It’s possible Kyrie Irving could pass him in assists on the final day, but that seems unlikely without a huge, last-second push.) We’ve seen versatile forwards like Shawn Marion show up in four of those categories, falling short in assists. You might think LeBron James would have done it, but he fell short in blocks. No, the record stands alone with Antetokounmpo, which would be impressive at any stage of his career. But it’s time for that classic sports journalist trick, where you sprinkle in a very short paragraph to emphasize something incredible:
Antetokounmpo is 22.
We’re currently watching the rough drafts of a player who could feasibly claim the “best player in the world” title a few years from now. Nothing is guaranteed — we all know this. But Antetokounmpo has shown us such a blend of skills mixed with an unparalleled ability to stride past defenders with his 6’11 frame that there’s virtually no limit to how high he can soar. Literally, figuratively, however you want to read that sentence is fine.
You can watch how Antetokounmpo is able to show every single part of his uniqueness in the highlights of a game like this.
Antetokounmpo’s maturation process took a great step forward this season when Milwaukee clinched a playoff spot last week. He went to the playoffs two seasons ago on a team where he was a major contributor, but this season, Antetokounmpo took sole responsibility to lead the push. One week before the All-Star break, Milwaukee sat at 22-30. Since that moment, they’ve gone 19-9, pending two final games before their season concludes.
It’s no fault of Antetokounmpo’s that his stats have actually dipped slightly since the All-Star break, when you sit back and realize how ridiculous the numbers actually are. In an average game he plays this season, Antetokounmpo will score 23 points, grab about nine rebounds, record more than five assists, nab nearly two steals and two blocks, and do it all on 52 percent shooting from the floor. His post-break numbers nearly match that, and his teammates have rallied around him, creating a Bucks team that can be proud of what they’ve done even if they only end up with a first-round exit. (With the way they have played, it’s certainly possible they go further.)
Again, Antetokounmpo is 22. Often, even his boring games look like this.
Antetokounmpo’s next step, of course, is developing a more confident, effective jump shot. It’s getting closer, with this season better than the last, and the steady improvement of his mechanics giving us confidence that he’ll keep improving. (His free throw percentage soaring to 77 percent this year is an enormous sign that he’s headed in the right direction. Start by building consistent mechanics on a steady, controlled shot like a free throw, and steadiness from other spots on the floor will come with time.) But Antetokounmpo has years to get there, or maybe he doesn’t even need to do so. After all, again, no one else has ever done something quite like the place he’s already reached.
Let’s return to our initial conundrum — which, hey, that’s a good word for describing how you slow him down, but it’s still not quite there. Maybe we just use Giannis, because nothing else really sums it up quite right.