Rise of the Greek Freak

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by Jaren Kawada

Nobody doubts that the 2013 draft class of the NBA was terrible. It started off with the surprising decision of Anthony Bennett going first overall and becoming the biggest bust in NBA history. Not only that, but of all the lottery picks, only Victor Oladipo and CJ McCollum look to be future stars of the league. Otto Porter is nothing but a role player, NCAA player of the year Trey Burke has washed out of the league, and Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, and Ben McLemore have highly disappointed so far. But one spot just outside of the lottery at number fifteen was the hidden gem of the draft. On draft day, the Milwaukee Bucks threw in a gamble on the 6’11’ forward from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo. If you read the draft review the next day, you would’ve guessed he would become just another foreign player you would never remember (anybody knew that Bojan Dubljevic was selected 59th overall by Minnesota?). But here we are, four years later and not only is the Greek Freak hands down the best player of the draft, but many say he will be the heir to LeBron James.

Since his rookie year, Giannis has not had a year when he didn’t improve on his game. He entered the league as an athletic dunk-only type of player and evolved into a fearless attacker in the paint. He began to use his long wingspan to become an elite shot blocker and his ridiculous strides to have the most effective euro-step in the league. At this point, he was still nothing more than an NBA trivia question for people to see who can properly pronounce his name. In just his third year in the league, the Bucks had traded away team leader Brandon Knight and had put the point guard position into the 2013 draft class rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams. He looked to be the future of the team, but the injury-prone guard had to get his reputation at some point. He soon was out for the year, and with the Bucks out of playoff hopes gave Antetokounmpo all the minutes he could handle. And so, the Bucks’ reputation of becoming one of the league’s best at developing young talent was born.

MCW was down, so Jerryd Bayless stepped into the starting role. But soon, the Bucks had a different point guard. Almost out of nowhere, Antetokounmpo suddenly had the ability to handle the ball like a point guard. Without a stable jump shot, he was able to get into the paint any way he wanted. He started a new trend. At nearly seven feet, Antetokounmpo was a natural mismatch. He backed down guards, blew past forwards, and out muscled the few who could match his size and agility (Kevin Durant) besides the king himself. Although he wasn’t a star for say yet, he was getting there. And sure enough, in 2016-2017, Giannis made his first All-Star game and won the Most Improved player award.

In four short years, the Greek Freak has become the Greak Freak and is looking to become the new king as early as next year. He doesn’t even have a jumper down and yet few people can guard him. You know what he wants, but can’t stop him. Not even two, three, or four defenders can defend him (ask Atlanta). He is by far the most versatile player on both ends, able to play all five positions and defend almost all five. He is one of the most explosive dunkers, penetrators, and all-around scorers. He has the post up of a center in the 70’s along with the handle of a decent guard. He has the defensive instinct of Hassan Whiteside with the agility of Avery Bradley. He’s unguardable even without a jumper, imagine what happens when he finds it. Everyone in the league knows that soon the hard-working gym rat will get a jumper down, and it only has to be half decent. And once he does, he will no doubt become one of the all-time greats. The only question is, how great will he become? LeBron better be ready to pass the torch, because if he isn’t, the Freak will take it.

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Another Risky #1 Pick

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NBA #1 Pick Kyrie Irving

We all know that the draft, in all sports, is a gamble. The NBA Draft on Thursday was being hailed as a “weak draft” but somehow Kyrie Irving of Duke was being touted as the #1 pick to Cleveland. It proved true as the Cavaliers begin to rebuild.
More and more, it seems that the draft is based purely on potential. In many ways it always is because you never really know how a player will adapt to the next level. Even in the real world, the workforce hires a kid fresh out of college based on potential. My concern or question is where is potential based on.
Back in the good ol days when basketball players played in college and we got to know them, fans could relate the college careers toward potential in the NBA. Now the draft is made up of unknown international players or high school talents that nobody has seen play.
Then there is Irving. He only played one year of college, and only 11 games this past season. Why? He had a toe injury which adds another layer on the gambling table – is he and will he be fully recovered. Just based on that, is he worthy of the #1 pick? What he has on his resume that is a plus is his talent and the fact he was recruited and signed at Duke. If there is any college coach I respect in regards to judging talent and recruiting the right way (I am confident that Irving was qualified to be a student at Duke), it is Coach K. So that fact alone tells me he is bright, mature, and skilled enough for the demanding Mike Krzyzewski to give him the reigns as the freshman point guard.

Maybe that is all that is needed.

Kidd is the Key

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Yes, I just watched game 3 of the NBA Finals, the 2 point victory by the Heat in Dallas. Watching the post game show with my idol Magic Johnson as one of the analysts, I have to partly agree with his analysis. For Dallas to recover and win this series, their other starters must play at their best to support Nowitzki because Miami has more talent.
My personal spin on it is that I specifically look at the veteran Jason Kidd as the key for Dallas. I have always fallen in line with this way of thinking:
1. The point guard is the most critical position on a basketball team
2. Veterans have deep influence on the performance of the team.
At this point in his career, he is not able to stay with D Wade defensively on every possession. Then again, who can. But he is there with him and that tells me his years in the NBA and high basketball IQ gives him enough supplemental weapons that his legs did 7 years ago. And he will make plays when it is most needed, like in the last 2 minutes. Do you notice how quickly he can see a teammate down the floor and whip a pass down the court, even on a shot clock violation?  There will be a big play coming soon for the Mavericks.
There is one person on a team that can get the other starters to perform on a higher level – the respected veteran. The head coach can demand it. But in the NBA, the respected veteran can bring it out.
The key for Dallas is how Jason Kidd will perform, and how well HE can get his teammates to jump on his train.