Giannis Antetokounmpo is a star in name, but not yet in play.
The 20-year-old Milwaukee Bucks forward is one of the most popular young players in the NBA, a reality owed to his breathtaking combination of length and athleticism and wildly charming social media persona. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his nickname is among the catchiest in all of sports, either.
But there’s a misconception about the Greek Freak nonetheless, and it’s become more apparent during his play for the national team at the ongoing FIBA EuroCup. What will eventually make Antetokounmpo one of the most impactful players in basketball is not his ability as a scorer. He’s averaging just 7.5 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting in four contests for the Greeks, and has yet to show off the improved range that until this week had been a hallmark of his summer – Giannis is just 2-of-10 from the shorter international 3-point line.
His impact, though, has still been obvious for undefeated Greece. Antetokounmpo is arguably the most versatile defender in the EuroCup, using his supreme physical gifts – developing strength included – to stick with guards on the perimeter and bang with bigs on the inside. Then there’s the flashy impact plays like above that he’s one of only several players on the planet capable of making.
Defense is where Giannis is best right now, and it’s where he’ll continue thriving most as the early portion of his career becomes his prime. That hardly means he’ll lag too far behind on the other end; he’s already a useful playmaker for himself and others off the dribble, and will become a bigger threat as he becomes more comfortable as an outside shooter.
There are stars who are identified for defensive play first and foremost, though, and Antetokounmpo seems bound to be among them – a likelihood that’s as big an indicator of his imminent success as anything else.