Giannis Antetokounmpo could retire from basketball today and be all but guaranteed a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Greek Freak is one of the game’s brightest superstars, with two MVP Awards and an NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks. His spectacular career is one that nobody — not even Giannis — ever could have predicted.
The Milwaukee Bucks took a flyer on Giannis Antetokounmpo
Fresh off of a 38-44 record in 2012-13, the Bucks were good enough to sniff the playoffs but nowhere near championship contention. This resulted in them holding the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
In a class that lacked star power, evident by the stunning first-overall pick of Anthony Bennett, the Bucks were intrigued by Antetokounmpo. He was the youngest player available at just 18 years old, several months away from his next birthday. But he also stood at 6-foot-9 and possessed a 7-foot-3 wingspan with mobility and body control to boot.
The fact Giannis only played basketball for five years prior meant he was incredibly raw. But it also meant there was massive potential for growth. So the Bucks took a calculated risk and selected Antetokounmpo with their first-round pick.
Draft experts loved plenty of qualities about Giannis. His size, court vision, and defensive potential were tantalizing traits, particularly for an 18-year-old. However, a lack of strength, physicality, and perimeter shooting prevented anyone from labeling him as a future star.
Not even Giannis predicted he’d become a star
Antetokounmpo had several intriguing characteristics, but he was still far from a sure thing. Otherwise, Milwaukee wouldn’t have been able to land him after 14 players heard their names called.
As a rookie, the teenage forward averaged just 6.8 points in 24.6 minutes per game. Fast forward to year nine, where Giannis has a surplus of accolades and is on a one-way trip to Springfield, Massachusetts. Surely, he saw this coming, right? Not exactly.
GQ named Antetokounmpo as the 2021 Athlete of the Year. In an in-depth profile, the Greek Freak gave a simple reason why no one believed he’d end up becoming a generational player.
“What I am today, nobody saw it,” Giannis said. “You know why nobody saw it? Because I didn’t see it. Ask my mom. No. ‘I thought you would be an NBA player and have a better life. Not what you are today.’”
Khris Middleton arrived in Milwaukee the same year as Giannis, getting a first-hand look at the growth of his teammate. But even he admitted to not seeing “superstar” at first, telling GQ, “He looked like a guy who was going to be a project.”
Antetokounmpo has room to grow
Now standing at 6-foot-11, Giannis’ physical growth may be over. But he still has ample time to collect more achievements and cement his case as one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
At just 26 years old, Antetokounmpo is a five-time All-Star and All-NBA selection. The scouts who lauded his defensive potential were rewarded after Giannis’ four All-Defense selections and Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019-20. The Greek Freak’s back-to-back MVPs were also historic, as he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win a pair of MVP Awards before turning 26.
The one thing Giannis’ career lacked was titles, but now even that box has been checked. Antetokounmpo’s legendary Finals run in 2021 was punctuated with a 50-point Game 6 to close out the series. His 35.2 points per game against the Phoenix Suns was more than every other Finals MVP except Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Jerry West.
Antetokounmpo has shown no signs of slowing down as he hits his prime. This time, when he continues to pile up awards and accolades, no one will be caught off guard.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.