Giannis Antetokounmpo is the king of the NBA. The Nigerian from Athens, the boy who was born in Greece and lived without nationality until he was finally Greek for all intents and purposes and his surname changed from Adetokunbo to Antetokounmpo. An inheritance from the Yoruba tribe that means “the crown has returned from beyond the seas.” Giannis is the MVP of the 2021 Finals, where the prodigious performance of a total player facilitated a comeback to remember after the initial 2-0, after the first two games played in Arizona.
He is only 26 years old, but Giannis has already brought down the last frontier, that of the ring. His socks in the Finals explain a colossal performance: 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.8 blocks and 61.8% shooting. And his last game is already among the great performances in the history of the fight for the title: 50 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks. Only hours before the start of the series, it should not be forgotten, it was not known if Giannis would play or in what conditions he would do it in case he finally took to the track. A horrible-looking knee injury had knocked him out of the last two games of the East final, against the Atlanta Hawks.
These 2021 playoffs leave Giannis as, perhaps, already the best European player in the history of the NBA. Or rather the best NBA career of a European. He has been with the Bucks for eight years and the Wisconsin franchise has gone from 15 victories (15-67) to winning the ring after a triennium with 71% of games won in the regular season. Almost double the 36% of his first three years in the NBA. His team has grown with him, a player with a unique physique that you already have, attention: two MVPs, one Finals MVP, one Best Defender award, one Most Improved Player award, five all-stars (in a row, all possible since 2017), three nominations for the Best Quintet, two for the Second Best, three for the Best Defensive Quintet and one for the Second Best. In the last three years of the awards and the stream of victories, he has averaged 28.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in the Regular Season. The 2019-20 season ended with the best PER (the efficiency rating used by ESPN) in history. He made a double for MVP and Defender of the Year. That, in the same season, had only been done by Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. And in different seasons you just have to add two more names: Kevin Garnett AND David Robinson. Throughout the history of the NBA.
In these 2021 qualifiers of the redemption, Giannis has moved in 29.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists with 56% shooting. In the Finals their numbers are legendary. No one had signed 30 + 10 + 5 + 60% in the title fight. No one has ever won the regular-season MVP (he has two), Finals MVP (starting in 1983), Defender of the Year and Most Improved Player awards in his career. And only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon had, so far, the top three. It is only the seventh, in 75 years of the NBA, that he reaches 50 points in a Finals game, something that since Michel Jordan in 1993 only LeBron James (2018) had done. He is also the first to have a 50 + 10 5-block game anywhere in the playoffs since 1973 (when the blocks start to register) and the first over 40 + 10 + 5 since Shaquille O’Neal in 2001. Y the first since Shaq (in 2000) with three 40-point, 10-rebound games in the same Final, one in which he has made two different quarters of at least 20 points. The last to do so, and only once, was Michael Jordan, in 1993.
The transformation of a special player
Redemption at 26? Yes, how it sounds. Giannis has run a lot. For the good … but especially for the bad. Following the 2019 and 2020 playoff eliminations, against the Raptors and Heat, many wanted to pigeonhole him as an unranked player to be a playoff winner. A big winner. He was 24 and 25 years old in those seasons and, of course, he was in the process of maturing. His limitations mattered more, or so it seemed, than his unquestionable virtues. No outside shot, stubborn, too responsible and crossed in decision-making, his MVPs in the regular season were followed by absolutely destructive criticism in the playoffs. It was practically said that Giannis did not know how to play basketball.
But Giannis, I repeat, He was 25 the last time he lost a playoff tie. With 26 he is champion. And history shows that it usually takes longer to win as a franchise player. LeBron James won his first ring at the age of 27. Michael Jordan, 28. Since the ABA-NBA merger (the merger of the two Leagues that opened the modern age of the NBA), explained the journalists Micah Adams, it is hardly possible to find players who have clearly been the best on court and the leader in the dressing room their teams and have won the title like this … and with less than 26 years. They appear the Bill Walton of 1977 (24 years), the Larry Bird of 1981 (24), the Magic Johnson of 1985 (25), the Tim Duncan of 1999 (23) and the Dwyane Wade of 2006 (24). It is not that they were or were not the MVP of the Finals, but that they functioned as the clear franchise player, the benchmark of the team and the organization. And yet Duncan had David Robinson, Magic had Kareem, Bird had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Wade had Shaquille … The Bill Walton of 1977, if you look at age, company and performance, is the closest thing you can find in the modern NBA to Antetokounmpo. In 2018 and 2019 Giannis wasn’t failing – he was growing up before our eyes. Learning. Maturing.
So now we have seen a comprehensive version, full of a player who still has room to be more dominant: better. Off the track he has been a calm leader, humble and careful with every detail, attentive to everything he could do to help his teammates. Inside it he has taken a giant leap, and he has done it without having to develop his vaunted exterior shot. Unlike, has reduced its attempts and has devoted itself less, just enough, to directing attacks by striking from the outside and throwing himself against the defensive walls that his rivals build.
The Giannis of 2021 has relied on his teammates, He has known when to charge and when to give up the limelight and has played closer to the area, taking advantage of his physique and generating very high percentage points with increasingly effective movements near the rim, where he has hovered in the Finals 80% despite all the attempts by the Suns to minimize his impact, make him uncomfortable. Thus, more Shaquille than Kobe (as the journalist Cassidy Hubbarth defined him) has released a completely dominant, unstoppable, decisive profile. A different but totally fearsome player in the middle of the triple era. And one to whom, he has a lot of merit, the problems from the personnel line do not change the game plan (17 of 19! In the sixth game). He always tries, always strikes; play without fear of failure, without thinking about what they will say or what will happen in the next attack. Play to win. And that’s why he has won and, surely, he will win more in the future. Again, big time.