That Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is a sensational NBA player is hardly breaking news. Giannis is now a two-time NBA MVP and one time Defensive Player of the Year. This accompanies his four All-NBA selections, and three All-Defensive selections. Oh, by the way he is still only 25 years old.
Attempts to explain Giannis’ greatness often try to pin it on his combination of size, speed, and ball-handling. Of course, this is largely true, but wholly inadequate. As much as pundits love to marvel at skilled big men that are also quick, they are hardly unique in the modern NBA. From Lamar Odom to Kevin Garnett and Anthony Davis, there are a plethora of big men with excellent ball-handling skills, shoots the ball well and possess lateral quickness.
And frankly, Giannis is barely a passable shooter, already giving him a disadvantage against other skilled bigs. So, what gives? What exactly makes Giannis such an unstoppable force when ostensibly not possessing any skills that stand out among other versatile forwards?
Well, there are a combination of multiple factors that individually may not seem significant but combine to help give Giannis a supreme advantage.
Giannis is officially listed at 242lbs, a clearly outdated metric. After gaining significant lean muscle since entering the league, Giannis is much stronger than many of his opponents. Especially interesting about this, is that he managed to gain this weight while maintaining a very low body fat percentage. This has allowed him to increase his strength without slowing himself down on the court or adding unhealthy pounds for his knees to carry.
At 6’11”, Giannis is obviously not the tallest player in the league, but he is significantly taller than most of the players that possess similar end to end speed and lateral quickness as the Greek native. On top of this, not all height is created equally. As is made obvious by his patented long strides, a significant percentage of his height is in his legs. This is precisely why he has taken a liking to the Euro step to get into the lane. He is able to literally step past defenders in the paint.
Though big men with above average passing skills is hardly unique, most passing big men are adept at either passing out of the post or stationery from the top of they key. Giannis stands out here with the ability to survey the floor from anywhere on the floor, even if running at full speed and find an open man. Despite widely recognized as a great passer, this is still an underrated aspect of his game. His passing skills are not “good for a big”, he is a legitimate playmaking threat. This alone makes him a mismatch nightmare.
Speed and quickness
As already mentioned, Giannis is both quick laterally and is speedy in a full on sprint. This is likely his single biggest asset as a superstar. On offense, he utilizes his speed in fast breaks, either finishing himself or dishing to the open man. One can almost be forgiven for forgetting he is not a guard because he is regularly able to blow past his defender to get to his spots. As the epitome of quick twitch athleticism, Giannis has a deceptively rapid first step.
Giannis’ ball-handling skills are not exactly what jumps to mind when thinking of his game, but it is arguably his mot unique skill. Certainly, numerous other skilled big men can handle the ball capably, but capably would be the key word. Giannis can be counted on to bring the ball up the court at full speed under defensive pressure without too much concern of a turnover. Anthony Davis is the closest to Giannis in this regard with the ability to break defenses down with ball-handling aptitude.
All told, Giannis is not a special talent because of the individual things he is able to do on the court, but the combination of those factors have perfectly coalesced in his case. Other skilled big men past and present contain some combination of the factors mentioned, but none possess all to the degree that Giannis does. The fact that he barely needs a jump shot but is working on one anyway, makes him that much scarier.