A month into the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is upending historical norms and improving on virtually every meaningful statistic that fueled his MVP win last year.
Especially after he casually dropped 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists during Thursday's 137-129 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, it seems like we should be making a big deal out of this.
And yet, for some reason, he'd struggle to crack the top three in an admittedly unscientific scan of the narratives defining 2019-20 so far. This is the year of Luka Doncic's ascent, of James Harden's scoring jamboree and of LeBron James' wildly successful assault on aging.
Maybe plain old omnipotence is boring?
That feels flimsy, and it (marginally) overstates Antetokounmpo's performance. But how else to explain the relative lack of shine for an MVP who's still getting better?
The aim here isn't to detract from Harden, Doncic or any other player capturing the attention of NBA fandom. This is mostly about wrestling with the way we seem to be taking Antetokounmpo for granted—and how wrong that seems.
Following Thursday's performance against Rip City, his season averages include 30.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. If those figures hold, they'd all be better than the ones he produced in 2018-19 when he was deemed, officially, the league's best player. Not only that, but he'll be the first to ever average at least 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for a full season.
A little slippage could still leave him in a class by himself. Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor are the only other players to manage 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists for a full year.
There is little precedent for what we're seeing from the Bucks superstar. Just about every night this year, we've gotten reminders of that.
🇬🇷 @Giannis_An34 becomes the 6th player in @NBAHistory to record at least 30 PTS, 15 REB, 5 AST in 3 straight games! #SAPStatLineOfTheNight He joins @Hoophall members Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit and Oscar Robertson on that list. https://t.co/mHIKxuguqI
Thursday's example was as impressive as any so far.
Throw in an improved three-point stroke, defensive contributions that will land him on the perennial short list for Defensive Player of the Year and heaps of team success (the Bucks have won 10 of their last 11 games and topped the NBA with 60 wins a year ago), and you've got absolutely everything you could ask for in an attention-commanding superstar.
Oh, and highlights. There was no shortage of those on Thursday.
On either end.
Harden's appeal lies in his game-warping approach to scoring. He's operating differently than anyone else. Doncic is young, which means that even as he's dominating now, much of the fascination surrounding him has to do with what he'll be when he's, say, 25.
But Antetokounmpo's efforts are no less spectacular.
Are we battling a close cousin of voter fatigue? Are our attention spans this short? Has scroll-and-swipe culture got us agitatedly searching for the next big thing before we properly appreciate what we've got now?
There's an undeniable old-school appeal to Giannis' game that Harden, Doncic and LeBron can't match. For the bulk of basketball's existence, the point was to get as close to the goal as possible and then score the ball.
Antetokounmpo performs this function better than absolutely everyone, and he's on pace to lead the league in points in the paint for a third consecutive year. But maybe being dominant at what seems like an older version of the game isn't interesting enough.
Alternatively, maybe Antetokounmpo has a relatability problem.
To draw on another example, Stephen Curry captivated the basketball universe at least in part because it was theoretically possible for fans to play the way he does. Anyone can grab a ball, find a hoop, walk 35 feet away from it and fire off heaves until the sun goes down.
It's not quite as easy to imitate a positionless, musclebound 6'11" bulldozer with turbojets who can cover the length of the court with five steps and three dribbles. There are no schoolyard recreations of full-speed Eurosteps around guards that culminate in wrong-footed, off-hand dunks over centers.
People could see themselves in Curry and, to a lesser extent, Harden and Doncic. Even James, by comparison, is less physically irreplicable than Giannis.
Whatever the reasons are, we've got to get past them. Antetokounmpo is on pace to produce one of the greatest individual seasons we've ever seen by some pretty uncomplicated and widely understood metrics. He's improving on an MVP pace.
That warrants everyone's full attention...or at least as much as we're paying to any of the other stars of this young season.
Four-time All-Star and NBA Champion, Shawn Marion, joins “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to discuss RJ Hampton, LaMelo Ball, Luka Doncic, guarding LeBron, and his Hall of Fame eligibility.