Last summer, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s world. And we were all just living inside of it.
The Milwaukee Bucks superstar booked his ticket into the Hall of Fame after scoring 50 points in a Finals-clinching Game 6. Yet as more time passes, the reigning Finals MVP is becoming more and more of an afterthought around the league.
That’s not because his performance has dropped off. In fact, the 27-year-old has been just as good, if not better, than he was during his back-to-back MVP seasons. But as always, new names emerge in the MVP discussion, a new championship contender grabs the headlines, and suddenly Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Bucks are old news.
Giannis is set to take the court Sunday in his sixth NBA All-Star Game. Once he’s there, he’ll have a golden opportunity to make a major statement to his peers, the league, and fans everywhere.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is having a spectacular — and underrated — 2021-22 season
After Antetokounmpo dropped 50 against the Phoenix Suns, no one would dare say he reached his peak. By this point, we should know better than to underestimate the Greek Freak.
As the leader of the reigning champs, Giannis has averaged 29.4 points, the second-most in his career and second-most in the league. He’s also pulling down 11.2 rebounds and dishing out a career-high 6.0 assists through 49 games.
While Antetokounmpo’s numbers have been strong all season, the six-time All-Star has taken it to a new level since Christmas. From Dec. 25 on, Giannis is averaging 32.2 on 56.8% shooting. Only Joel Embiid is scoring more points in that stretch (33.4), although the Philadelphia 76ers center has nearly two more shot attempts a game with a worse shooting percentage.
Giannis, who trails only Nikola Jokic in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), put the punctuation on his first half by scoring 50 points against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 15. It was the fourth-most-efficient 50-point night in league history, going just 17-of-21 from the field.
Antetokounmpo’s heroics haven’t been in vain. The Bucks enter the All-Star break at 36-24, good for the five-seed in the East. However, they’re tied with both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Embiid’s 76ers and trail the one-seed Miami Heat by just 2.5 games.
Giannis can use the All-Star Game to remind everyone he’s the best player in the world
Think about the last 10 years of LeBron James’ career. He’s been so consistently excellent, his highs barely even impress us anymore. It’s part of the reason why he hasn’t won an MVP award since 2012-13, even though you could make a case he deserves the award more often than not.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is approaching that very same territory right under our noses.
Even though Giannis is now a two-time MVP, Finals champion, DPOY, and scoring title chaser, the MVP race has become a debate between Embiid and Jokic. If not them, then what about DeMar DeRozan? Or Ja Morant? Anyone except Antetokounmpo, who like James has already had his time to shine.
But Sunday, Giannis will have the opportunity to make his case to Embiid, Jokic, the fans, media, and anyone else who doubts him that there is no stopping him. And no matter how impressive the MVP favorites ahead of him have been, Antetokounmpo is in the exact same category. In fact, he’s in a category above them considering his 2021-22 season falls in line with his last several years of sheer dominance.
Yes, the All-Star Game is an exhibition that in the end means very little. Though not to a first-timer trying to prove he belongs on that superstar stage. Or to a grizzly veteran making his final appearance before calling it a career. Or to Giannis, who needs a single night of brilliance to remind us all just how special he actually is.
No player tries harder than Antetokounmpo in an All-Star Game
During the All-Star draft, captain LeBron held the first pick. With a full board available, the King selected Antetokounmpo, describing him as, “the hardest-playing player in All-Star history.”
LeBron might have made some poor decisions with his own Los Angeles Lakers, but he is right on the money with his take on the Greek Freak.
While James leads all players in total All-Star points, Giannis holds the title for most points per game in All-Star history. The Bucks star has scored 144 points through five All-Star appearances, good for an average of 28.8 points per game. Out of all players with three or more All-Star appearances or at least 60 points, only Kevin Durant at 25.0 points comes close.
Giannis was already a great All-Star player before becoming one of the greatest of all time in 2021. Antetokounmpo took home MVP honors for Team LeBron after scoring 35 points on perfect 16-of-16 shooting. Yes, you read that correctly. 16 attempts, 16 makes.
Not only did Giannis become the first player in All-Star Game history to shoot 100% with 10 or more attempts, but he also joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only player to go 16-of-16 or better in any game.
Antetokounmpo is capable of taking over the All-Star Game once again. Maybe then he’ll earn more respect.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.