Giannis Antetokounmpo Proving a Mix of LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2019

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 03: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates during the second half of Game 3 against the Boston Celtics during the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 03, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bucks defeat the Celtics 123 - 116.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the NBA.

The reasons why were on full display in the Milwaukee Bucks' 123-116 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 on Friday.

Giannis' overall stat line of 32 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals was absurd.

Bleacher Report NBA @BR_NBA

Giannis went full MVP mode to take Game 3 32 PTS | 13 REB | 8 AST | 3 BLK https://t.co/EBbywx2MZr

It had only happened in the playoffs three times: Charles Barkley in 1986, Ralph Sampson in 1986 and Pau Gasol in 2008.

If we round those qualifiers down to 30 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, the list swells to 25 games and includes performances from LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

That's fitting because Giannis may be a hybrid of LeBron and Kareem. The preeminent point forward and the legendary center who led Milwaukee to its only title in 1971.

The parallels to both are obvious.

With Kareem, it's about the physical similarities. Giannis is 6'11" with a 7'3" wingspan and a slender frame. He possesses an explosiveness that even has the 7'2" Kareem in awe, though:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar @kaj33

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s astounding athleticism is making basketball an extreme sport. Hard to watch @Giannis_An34 without your jaw hanging open... Go @Bucks for giving him the chance to shine! https://t.co/kvelWTHAmC

In the first quarter, he put his ridiculous size and athleticism to work. It didn't matter if it was the craftiness of Kyrie Irving or size of Al Horford around the rim. Both got blocked.

And on the other end, Giannis dominates the paint in a way no one else has this season, as pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

The Bucks take a 2-1 series lead over the Celtics behind 32 pts from Giannis Antetokounmpo. This was his 10th game this season scoring 30+ points with all of his points being scored in the paint or at the FT line. No other player has done it more than once (including playoffs). https://t.co/GuMP4kigVZ

As the game continues to trend away from big men and toward the three-point line, Giannis is showing that he can still dominate without the long ball.

When he gets going toward the rim, there's almost nothing a defense can do. He either gets close enough to dunk or flip it in, or he gets fouled. On Friday, he went 16-of-22 from the line.

"Guy comes down six times in a row and gets free throws," Kyrie Irving said, per Stadium's Jeff Goodman. "[Giannis] shot 22 in the game. It's getting ridiculous. Slowing the f--king game down.”

Antetokounmpo is now averaging 13.3 free-throw attempts per game in this year's playoffs. Only eight players in NBA history averaged more in a postseason in which they played at least 200 minutes.

As former NBA player Steve Jones Jr. put it, the Celtics are in trouble if they can't keep the next evolution of Kareem off the line:

Now, for the LeBron comparison.

Using NBA Math's Rolling Player Ratings, we can see that Milwaukee's point forward took a little longer to find his groove in the NBA, but over his last 200 or so games, he's in LeBron territory:

Giannis' skill isn't on the level LeBron's was at the same age. But it's not hard to see why this comparison has been made in the past.

  • 2018-19 Giannis Antetokounmpo: 29.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions, plus-8.4 relative true shooting percentage, 10.8 box plus-minus
  • LeBron James at the same age: 30.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 steals per 75 possessions, plus-4.7 relative true shooting percentage, 13 box plus-minus

As good as Irving and the Boston Celtics are, they just don't have anyone who stacks up to that.

In Games 1 and 2 they tried size on him. Horford had his moments in the series opener. Even Aron Baynes looked competent at times. But Giannis' 29 on 15 field-goal attempts in Game 2 pushed Brad Stevens to adjust and go small.

As pointed out by The Ringer's Ryen Russillo, the results weren't great in Game 3:

One-on-one against Giannis is a nightmare for anyone. And he's showing over the last two games that it might not matter whether Boston goes big or small.

Giannis' buck-like strides and speed allow him to get around a big like Baynes. He's simply overpowering about any other Celtic not named Horford.

After three games, it looks like he is Boston's only chance. But even if he's able to slow Giannis down, the Celtics then have to hope for an off shooting night from the rest of the roster.

Giannis will find the shooters. And Milwaukee was second in three-point attempts and 14th in three-point percentage in the regular season.

Boston had both those things go right in Game 1. For the rest of the series, it looks like the Greek Freak may outweigh the luck of the Irish.   


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