Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Stephen Curry of Slam Dunks

A typical Bucks possession starts with Antetokounmpo grabbing a rebound, covering half the court in a few steps and surveying the scene in front of him as the Bucks disperse around the 3-point line. If the defense comes to help on Antetokounmpo, he kicks to an open teammate for a three. If the defense refuses to collapse, he sees there is only one man between him and the basket. This is not a very effective strategy for stopping him.

.. He’s now 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He has bigger hands than Kawhi Leonard, who trademarked a logo of his enormous hand, and the length of his strides allow him to take his Eurostep to the extreme. He steps one way, steps the other way and leaves his defender in the dust.

.. But what makes Antetokounmpo such a curious player is that he contradicts many of the trends homogenizing the game. He’s the anomaly of the NBA.

It helps that he can dunk, for example, considering he’s the worst outside shooter in basketball right now. Antetokounmpo is making 11.1% of his 3-pointers. Klay Thompson made more threes in one half of one game than Antetokounmpo in his 22 games this season.

There Has Never Been a Basketball Player Like Duke’s Zion Williamson

The star freshman is listed at 6 foot 7 and 285 pounds—and can dunk from the foul line

Zion Williamson, the latest highly prized freshman for Duke, is different from all the other teens who have made pit stops here en route to the NBA. For starters, he looks nothing like an 18-year-old. Or even a basketball player.

One Eurostep for Manu. One Giant Leap for Mankind.

The Eurostep was exotic when it came to the NBA. Now it’s universal for today’s youth basketball players.

This crafty move was considered exotic when it came to the NBA two decades ago. It looked downright foreign to see a player do what Zhang described: plant one way, take one long step at full speed the other way, avoid contact and sneak around the defender for an easy layup.

.. The slow normalization of the Eurostep is obvious anytime you watch an NBA game. The last two league MVPs, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, are masters of the Eurostep. LeBron James flashing his Eurostep on the fast break turns defenders into foie gras. But the most revealing sign of the Eurostep invasion once appeared on his Instagram from someone who happens to share his name: LeBron James Jr., better known as Bronny, had the basketball world admiring his own beautiful Eurostep. He was in fifth grade.

.. “Every single trainer teaches the Eurostep,” said Josh Burr, the founder of The Skill Factory in Atlanta, where a variety of players from Harden to boys on the Southeast team have trained. “Every one of those kids can do it.”

The players and coaches at the first Jr. NBA World Championship this week say it’s almost a prerequisite for playing these days. Something that didn’t exist not so long ago has stitched itself into the fabric of the game to the point that it’s becoming impossible to envision basketball without it.

“In a year or two, it’ll be as popular as the triple threat,”

.. 2. He picks up his dribble and freezes his defender with a hard step to the left. The idea is that he’ll finish with his dominant left hand.

3. But he doesn’t. After planting his left foot, he quickly changes direction, taking a long step to the right. That creates the space for Ginobili to get around his defender for an open layup.

.. It wasn’t that way when the Lithuanian guard Sarunas Marciulionis helped import the Eurostep to the NBA in 1989. His nifty way of avoiding contact around the basket was partially inspired by the legendary Croatian player Drazen Petrovic, he said, but it didn’t stick right away in part because Marciulionis was an unlikely source of innovation.At his own Hall of Fame induction, Marciulionis called himself a “strange duck.”
NBA players weren’t in the business of copying strange ducks, and the Eurostep could have easily disappeared when he retired in 1997. But it didn’t. And that’s because two years later the San Antonio Spurs drafted a second-tier Italian club’s top prospect named Manu Ginóbili. Marciulionis, a lefty like Ginobili, Harden and Ashlyn Zhang, soon got a call from someone telling him that a player from Argentina was bringing the Eurostep back.
.. the widespread adoption of the Eurostep is such a recent development that young elite players today are being trained by coaches in their 30s and 40s who say they went their entire careers without attempting a single one. But one unexpected benefit of NBA players oversharing on Instagram is that it’s easy for anyone in the world to copy what they’re doing. A boy like Phoenix Johnson can steal Kyrie Irving’s moves, including his Eurostep, by studying him on YouTube and Instagram.

I’m a WNBA player. Men won’t stop challenging me to play one-on-one.

I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.

If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.

.. I get it: Sometimes men are just flirting. But it’s easy to tell when someone is serious. Flirtation can be subtle and playful: “When are you gonna let me play you one-on-one?” Men with insecurities sound more braggartly: “I bet I would smoke you on the court.”

.. There’s something about basketball that activates men’s egos. It’s almost as if they still consider it a sport that women should not be playing.

.. I’ve never heard of a person saying they’re a real estate agent, only to have someone snap back, “I bet I would sell more houses than you.” But I guarantee that every single woman who has played high-level basketball has been told by multiple men that she’d lose to them on the court.

.. I am a competitor, and when I was younger, I lived for those challenges. Whenever a man called me out, I took it upon myself to embarrass him if a court was available (preferably with a crowd present). Throughout high school, college and even very early in my pro years, I handed out losses to countless overconfident men.

.. But the same story played out each time. It went a lot like the scene in the film “Love and Basketball” when Quincy meets Monica, tells her “Girls can’t play no ball” and proceeds to play her two-on-two with his friends. As he’s about to lose, he pushes her, and she falls into a sprinkler, cutting her face. Similarly, when the men I played realized they’d underestimated me, the hacking would start. They would elbow, undercut and even throw me into the pads under the basket — passing out real bruises to match their bruised egos. There was no way they were letting this woman beat them in front of their friends. I took the hits, made my shots, and walked away battered but victorious.

.. But I’ve also had nine surgeries, seven on my knees and one on each hip. I have my livelihood to look after. This isn’t just a game for me anymore; it’s my career.

.. Why risk what I do for a living to prove myself to a rough-and-tumble nobody, the kind of guy who has probably never played real basketball? Inevitably, those are the guys who challenge me. Collegiate and professional male basketball players have too much respect for us to be jerks; they understand the game at the highest level and know that we’re extremely talented and that what we do is remarkable. Instead, it’s always the men with the broken hoop dreams who didn’t have the grades or the talent to play in college.

The men who “dominate” in their 25-and-up rec league at the gym. The ones who know absolutely nothing about playing basketball at this level but are still strong enough to rough me up when things go south.

.. already know I’m a good player. And no, I won’t play you to prove it.

The Unspeakable Greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks’ All-Star isn’t changing the way his position is
played. He’s changing the way all the positions are played.

.. “Dirk, in my eyes, is the best European player to ever play this game,” Terry said. “He literally changed the way his position is played. But Giannis doesn’t even have a position. He does it all, and he’s still learning what to do out there.”
.. But Antetokounmpo, in a recent interview, went so far as to assert that where he plays directly influences how he plays.

“I’m a low-profile guy,” he said. “I don’t like all these flashy cities like L.A. or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities.”

.. It also doesn’t hurt that, by virtue of his speedy ascension to All-N.B.A. status and contention for other top individual honors, Antetokounmpo is on a course to be eligible for a so-called “supermax” contract extension from the Bucks via the league’s new Designated Player Exception during the 2020 off-season, which would put him in line for a new deal well in excess of $200 million.

.. Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo, who moved from Nigeria to Greece as undocumented immigrants in 1991 in search of a better life, secured the necessary paperwork to relocate to Milwaukee along with Giannis’s two younger brothers halfway through his rookie season.

.. The areas for on-court improvement are obvious for Antetokounmpo even as he stuffs box score after box score. His outside shot still needs copious amounts of work — he is not close to trusting it in times of need — and there is room for growth in reading the game at both ends, consistently making his teammates better and refining his decision-making.

.. Yet it’s also ridiculous, and rather cold, to nitpick what is missing from Antetokounmpo’s blossoming game given the level he is consistently hitting with that 7-foot-3 wingspan of his.

.. When he arrived in Wisconsin, via the 15th overall pick in the 2013 N.B.A. draft, Antetokounmpo was measured at 6 feet 9 inches and weighed less than 200 pounds. A half-decade later, he is closing in on 240 pounds, and coaches and teammates routinely refer to him as a 7-footer.

.. Giannis just has a peaceful confidence about himself

.. Bucks staffers do worry that Antetokounmpo is occasionally too hard on himself, having watched him head straight for the practice floor on the same night as a frustrating loss more times than they care to remember. One example of his blame-me tendencies: He said last week, on the morning after a home setback to the Boston Celtics, that he was still angry “for personal reasons,” implying that the 96-89 defeat was all his fault.

.. Team executives, mind you, are realistic. They know Antetokounmpo will be fiercely pursued by rival teams (and, perhaps more worryingly, stars from rival teams) at the earliest opportunity.

.. “With what he’s doing on the court, it’s going to automatically draw people to come play with him. I know people have that stigma about Milwaukee. But it won’t be hard for him to attract talent here.

Why the NBA’s Big Men Are Getting Freakier

Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like the league’s MVP. But here’s the other reason the Milwaukee Bucks’ star is the future of basketball.

Fifteen seconds is all it took to understand why Giannis Antetokounmpo is unlike any NBA player who came before him.

Here’s what the Milwaukee Bucks’ star did in those 15 seconds at the end of the fourth quarter on Saturday night. He poked the ball away from a shooting guard. He caught an outlet pass as he crossed halfcourt and required exactly one dribble before he dunked as three defenders tried to catch him. And then he stuffed a 7-footer who had the bold idea to believe he could dunk over him.

There are lots of crazy things about this player who is now known more for being a freak than Greek. Antetokounmpo is 6-foot-11 and often looks about six feet taller. He’s averaging 36.8 points and still hasn’t shot well. He is somehow only 22 years old.

.. There is no position in all of sports that has changed more in such a short amount of time as the big man in basketball. Bigs are the most interesting young players in the NBA. And what makes them interesting is they no longer play big.

.. Being tall isn’t enough to play in today’s NBA. The game’s tallest players now must be able to go small, too.

.. NBA teams have enough data to understand that centers backing down their defenders is less efficient than other plays even for the biggest of big men, which is why post-ups were down 21% last season from 2013, according to Stats LLC.

.. the shadow of the Golden State Warriors. The seemingly unstoppable team’s most unstoppable lineup has Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. It does not have a traditional center. And its competition has downsized to keep up.

.. NBA teams have decided they can’t afford to play an immobile big man because the league’s best teams will isolate and roast him on the perimeter every possession. That’s why the modern big man is someone who can do everything: play in the post and the perimeter on offense, protect the rim and the 3-point line on defense.

.. “You’re watching the big men evolve,” Fizdale said. “I see us in the middle of the evolution, and I don’t see when it’s going to switch back to the old days.”

.. It already feels obsolete to call these players unicorns because they’re an increasingly common species. They have combined their size with skill in a way that makes NBA executives wonder if it’s possible to play adequate defense against them.

.. now they have 6-foot-10 rookie point guard Ben Simmons

.. one person who recently declared that Antetokounmpo could become “the best player to ever play.”