Is LeBron Now the NBA’s Second-Best Player? Giannis Antetokounmpo Put on Another Show Against the Hornets

Sympathy cards and get-well-soons should be directed to Spectrum Center, Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Hornets become the latest team to be subjected to the whirlwind called Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo put on another show against the Hornets on Monday night in Milwaukee, with 32 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal as the Bucks prevailed 103-94 and moved to 3-1 in the nascent NBA season. As NBA.com noted, those 32 points represented Antetokounmpo’s worst points-scoring outing of the season so far. He leads all NBA players through four games with an average of 36.8 points. Tacked onto that are 10.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists.

Antetokounmpo is the whole show in Milwaukee—unlike Stephen Curry and the other Golden State Warriors, unlike Russell Westbrook with his new All-Star supporting cast in Oklahoma City and James Harden and Chris Paul’s scary backcourt tandem in Houston. Unlike, even, LeBron James and his partially reunited band in Cleveland. Antetokounmpo is averaging 38.5 minutes per night, second only among top-20 scorers to DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans. Curry, for instance, is only having to play 31.5 minutes per game so far. James is averaging 36.7.

But it’s how Antetokounmpo is filling those minutes that’s really interesting. “Monday's outing was another edition of Antetokounmpo's special brand of jaw-dropping, long-limbed bully ball,” that previously mentioned NBA piece stated. Which is to say, less onomatopoeically, that Antetokounmpo looks like the speeded-up future of the NBA, brought to life in 2017: A six-foot, 11-inch 225-pound small forward prolific inside the paint combined with the slick skills of a point guard, with the speed to get up and down the court quicker than almost anyone else on any given night, combined with the kind of defensive game that allows the Bucks to play him for so many minutes without fear.

“As a physical specimen, Giannis is fast entering LeBron, Shaq or Wilt territory,” a GQ piece published on Monday opined. “That he’s also a skilled passer and ball-handler makes it downright unfair.” The title of that piece—Giannis Antetokounmpo Might Never Need a Jump Shot—refers both to how he may be impossible to stop inside the paint, and the Warriors’ revolutionary brand of unerringly accurate long-range shooting. Which isn’t to say, either, that he is a James imitator or even a super-evolved version of the future Hall of Famer. “Unlike James, Antetokounmpo is proving that pace and space is not the game’s inevitable future,” Nathaniel Friedman writes in GQ, noting Antetokounmpo’s strange and singular ability to improvise on offense.

Of course, the caveat is we are just four games into the season. Anything could yet happen, including the unfortunate possibility of injury—especially for a 22-year-old who plays so many minutes. That doesn’t mean, though, that everyone can’t get excited—or that James can’t or shouldn’t start looking over his shoulder at the next evolution of basketball.

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