Kevin Durant is just like the rest of us: He loves Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who doesn’t? In a Q&A on his official YouTube channel, Durant said that Antetokounmpo could be the “best player to ever play if he really wanted to.” And that’s not the first time Durant has praised Antetokounmpo.
In a YouTube comment earlier this summer — man, we’re learning a lot about Durant’s social media usage lately — Durant said that it was “guaranteed” that Antetokounmpo would win an MVP one day.
More recently was this Q&A video, though, where Durant said this about the Milwaukee Bucks star.
“The Greek Freak, I think, is a force. I’ve never seen anything like him,” Durant said. “His ceiling is probably … he could end up being the best player to ever play if he really wanted to. That’s pretty scary to think about. He’s by far my most favorite player to watch.”
It’s in this video at the 9:53 mark.
Well? Can Antetokounmpo actually be the greatest basketball player to ever play?
Obviously, this is the real question we care about.
Antetokounmpo is 22 years old, and last season he became the first NBA player to ever finish in the top 20 in all five major statistical categories. If that doesn’t speak to his overall impact, I don’t know what else can do it for you.
This offseason, we did an exercise where we predicted the best players of 2021. Antetokounmpo was selected second, but I would have taken him first. Here was my argument for Antetokounmpo being the best player in the world in four years.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is not the best player in the league right now, but he’s close enough (an All-NBA second teamer) and young enough (22) that no soul would dare deny the possibility. Giannis is mesmerizing. Everything about him is endless: his wingspan, his potential, the amount we love him.
But let’s resist the urge to fall into long-winded esoteric praise — boy, could I — and examine what Antetokounmpo would look like as the league’s best player.
Last season, Antetokounmpo became the first player to finish in the top 20 in all five major statistical categories. That raw, all-around impact that Antetokounmpo can exert on every facet of the game will be present for years, especially as he refines his feel for the game and develops veteran instincts that you don’t expect a 22-year-old to possess. Imagine how much more polished a 26-year-old Greek Freak could be, and sweat bullets at how that would manifest itself against your favorite team.
Can Antetokounmpo shoot better? He shot 27 percent behind the arc and 34 percent on long two-pointers last season, which isn’t good enough. Both of those figures are worse than LeBron James has ever shot in a season — and yes, since we’re wondering if Antetokounmpo can claim James’ mantle, that’s a fair comparison. Giannis doesn’t need to be a good shooter; he isn’t one right now and still a borderline top-five player who can literally — and I do mean literally in its truest sense — do everything else on the court.
Still, I’m a believer in his ability to improve that jumper. Everyone on this list has at least one major hurdle. Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant must stay healthy. Karl-Anthony Towns needs to completely rework his defensive approach. Kawhi Leonard has to add more playmaking depth to his offensive palette.
Comparatively, a 26-year-old Antetokounmpo improving to shoot 33 percent on three-pointers — the same percentage James shot while winning MVP in the 2008-09 season — feels like a much simpler path. Giannis picked up basketball just a decade ago when he was 12, and he has still learned so many requisite skills so easily and so quickly that I can’t deny him learning one more.
And if Antetokounmpo does that, I don’t think this is even a debate.
Yes, absolutely Antetokounmpo can be the best player in the league, win MVPs, and generally dominate. Being the best player ever is another question entirely, though. But it’s possible, because we’ve never seen someone like him so far. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, just because it’s an almost impossibly high bar to clear, but most things Antetokounmpo does could be called impossible.
Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be amazing when the Durant-led Warriors and the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks play in the 2019 Finals.