Giannis Antetokounmpo has all the tools to be the NBA's next transcendent talent

For all of the superstar talent showcased in New Orleans, the 2017 iteration of the All-Star game had a similar to feel to recent years. There has been a shift in mentality at the biggest weekend of the NBA calendar. Ever since Dwyane Wade broke Kobe Bryant’s nose in 2012, the game has become far less competitive. 

Entertainment value was high. LeBron James produced some mind-blowing dunks, Anthony Davis broke the individual scoring record that has stood since Wilt Chamberlain dropped 42 in 1962 and Russell Westbrook went off with 41 points in just 19 minutes. 

Despite viewing figures being the highest since 2013, detractors point to a lack of intensity and defence as a reason the game has lost its charm. A combined total of 374 – the most in history – is all the proof you need. 

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Someone forgot to mention that to Eastern Conference debutant Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

The Greek Freak only enhanced his reputation as one of the league’s brightest stars with a 30-point, three steals and one block outing that included a huge put-back slam dunk over the back of unanimous MVP Stephen Curry. A play so incredible it drew priceless reactions from Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and a number of the All-Stars on the sidelines. 

Speaking of his display at the Smoothie King Center, the 22-year-old said: “I think even the West knows me as a player, that no matter what I do every night, no matter what type of game it is, I’m going to play hard. I’m a player that plays hard.”

His passion and enjoyment of the game provide a breath of fresh air and an interesting insight into a player who is tipped to be a future MVP. His intensity on the court in Louisiana was matched only by Russell Westbrook – a man who is averaging a triple-double this season and is the consensus favourite to be named the 2016-17 MVP.

Following the game, Giannis was given props by the Thunder guard: “He did good, did a good job. The All-Star game, that’s what it’s about. He played hard.”

To be an All-Star, you have to be special. To be the first Buck since 2004 you have to be great. Playing in a small market, it can be tough to generate fan votes, but the Greek star finished second behind James in all three categories, showing the recognition coming from players, media and fans alike.

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His peers were keen to speak up his ability all weekend. Carmelo Anthony, LeBron and Kyrie Irving were just three of the All-Stars who praised his talents while speaking to media. Giannis has shown his quality all season, but his display in NOLA showed exactly why he can rise to the very top; the man just wants just wants to compete and play basketball.  

“I was with my coach — I think with my coach today, and I was talking — Coach Sweeney. I was talking to him, and I told him, I can’t wait until we get back and I start practicing and play games because I feel like I haven’t played for four days now, and I feel like it’s a year, you know,” he said following the game in New Orleans. 

“So I was just excited. I was just trying to play hard. I told the guys after the half that I’m going now. I’m going to play hard now, and they told me, okay, you got it. So that’s what I did.”

Possessing a 7’3 wingspan, 12’2 vertical leap and 15st 4lb frame, Antetokoumpo has a body moulded by the NBA gods. A perfect small forward with the capability to play all five positions on the hardwood, it comes as no surprise to see the former number 15 draft pick dominate all major statistics for the Bucks.

Giannis leads the Wisconsin franchise in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks. A team-high usage rating of 28.2% and a 26.5 PER has led to 23.2 points, 5.5 dimes, 8.6 boards, 2 blocks and 1.7 steals per night.

Since being drafted in 2013, Antetokounmpo has been an incredible athlete but under the tutelage of Jason Kidd he’s developed into the latest basketball superstar. As specialist players continue to be a rarity, the former Filathlitikos man, much like Westbrook in the backcourt, is the perfect prototype for a 21st century NBA player.

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As the likes of Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard – two incredible players in their primes – continue to become obsolete, a team of five Antetokounmpo’s is what all head coaches and general managers dream of.

Struggling to fit alongside Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler in Chicago, Rondo, often dubbed the perfect “pure point guard” is struggling to maintain relevance in a league that requires players at the one spot to score at an efficient clip. As Stephen Curry, Westbrook, Irving, James Harden and a plethora of other court marshals dominate, the former Celtic has fallen out of the starting line-up in Chi-Town – even spending time out of the rotation – averaging 6.5 points on 37.2% shooting from the field along with 6.5 assists.

In Howard’s case, despite enjoying a renaissance of sorts with the 32-24 Atlanta Hawks – putting up 13.5 points and grabbing 13 boards a night – he is nowhere near the level of the perennial All-Star from 2007 to 2014 who almost single-handedly led the Orlando Magic to the Finals in 2009. Still a threat in the pick and roll, he doesn’t possess the ball-handling skills or outside threat that is second nature to the new era of big men.

The future belongs to the frontcourt; Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic are leading the charge, but Giannis is ahead of the pack.

That’s not to say he is perfect. There is one obvious shortcoming; his jump shot. Currently, Giannis is shooting a career-high 52.5% from the field, but those stats are deceiving. His three-ball is falling at a miserly rate of 27.5%. But putting a positive spin on things, that is a career-high.

Through a combination of hard work and guidance, Antetokounmpo has added to his game consistently and is reaching a level the majority can only dream of. Sharing a locker room with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the best the east has to offer while coming face-to-face with the west would’ve been an invaluable experience. It certainly won’t be a one-off.

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There is no doubt he deserved to be in the vicinity of the aforementioned names. Check the statistics for all 24 All-Stars and you won’t find more impressive stats’: 17th in the league in points per game, 19th in boards, 27th in assists and a PIE of 17.6 – good enough for 13th – show exactly why he was a starter. 

His incredible frame, power and athleticism make him a nightmare on defence. 10th in steals, sixth in blocks and 18th in defensive rebounds highlight his excellence on the less glamorous side of the ball. 

The Bucks restart their campaign with a home outing against the Utah Jazz on Saturday morning, sitting just one game outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If they are to reach the postseason after a year’s absence they will need every ounce of Antetokounmpo’s ability. 

Few players have shown the ability to dominate a franchise in the way he does. His displays bring back memories of Allen Iverson in Philly, LeBron during his first spell at the Cleveland Cavaliers and have similarities to the historic campaign Westbrook is producing in Oklahoma City.

All three men have been named MVP or are in contention for the prestigious award. Still five-to-six years away from his prime, there is no telling what the ceiling is for the latest European import taking the league by storm. All-Star was just the beginning, taking Milwaukee to the playoffs is the aim for this season. If the Bucks can continue to build around their 22-year-old, then we could be seeing the next transcendent superstar in action. 

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