January 15, 2015.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had just turned 20 years old and was starting to show glimpses of real promise in his second season with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Though at the time averaging just 11.7 points per game on a Bucks team still searching for its identity, Antetokounmpo had begun to firmly plant his flag in Milwaukee as the future of the franchise. The potential progressed to production to the point where earlier in the season, then Bucks coach Jason Kidd simply had no choice but to insert the gangly forward into the starting lineup.
That day in London, Antetokounmpo started opposite Carmelo Anthony and took over from the jump.
- A 17-footer on Milwaukee's first possession.
- An and-one dunk in transition on Anthony.
- An alley-oop dunk on a fastbreak to make it 12-0 Bucks.
He scored nine of his 16 points in the opening frame as the Bucks galloped out to a 31-13 lead they would never relinquish. Although Anthony eventually found his rhythym, it was far too late.
MORE: Can anyone catch Giannis and the Bucks?
While it's hyperbole to declare that outing as any true statement game in the grander sense of his impending arrival as an NBA A-lister, it does serve as a perfectl suitable snapshot for his growth over the last five years and the ultimate realization of his immense potential. The version of the Greek Freak that NBA fans flocking to Paris this week will see in person is both the same and yet entirely different than the one that wowed the crowd back in London.
Those momentary flashbulb moments from back in 2015 now happen seemingly every time down the floor as the fully-realized version of Antetokounmpo has established his place atop the NBA's superstar heirarchy.
The talent and production which resulted in his first MVP award last season has once again elevated to a whole new level, the latest lengthy Eurostep in his development from scintillating project to certified platinum.
MORE: What if Giannis really was only at 60% of his potential?
Often times, a player's perceived growth has as much to do with greater opportunity and an increased role as it does with actual progress. That's not the case for Antetokounmpo who on a per-minute basis just keeps getting better with seemingly no end in sight.
Aside from the remarkable consistency, perhaps the most absurd component of his year-to-year improvement is the degree to which he's evolved this season as a volume scorer. After winning the MVP award, Giannis is now averaging nearly five points per 36 minutes more than he did a year ago which would represent the second-largest year-over-year increase of his entire career. The only other time he saw a bump like that, he ended up winning Most Improved Player.
To think that a reigning MVP could actually get that much better to the point where he legitimately could be considered a candidate for Most Improved should send R-rated shutters down the spines of every other team tasked with trying to slow him down.
For what it's worth, here's how Antetokounmpo's improvement on a per-36 basis stacks up with the last two forwards to win it:
- 2016-17 Antetokounmpo: +6.0 points, +1.1 rebounds, +1.1 assists
- 2018-19 Siakam: +6.5 points, +0.0 rebounds, +0.1 assists
- 2019-20 Antetokounmpo: +4.8 points, +1.4 rebounds, +0.1 assists
It's not THAT far off and that's before getting into his improvement as a 3-point shooter and the fact that he's threatening to finish with easily the highest Player Efficiency Rating of all-time.
Even if he doesn't win it (and let's be honest, he won't), I'd still make a case that he's worthy of finishing in the top 10 which no reigning MVP has ever done.
He does so many things on both ends of the floor that it's easy not to think of him as a dominant scorer in the same way we think about the likes of James Harden or Kevin Durant.
And yet that's exactly what he's become. Antetokounmpo is in the midst of one of the five most prolific per-minute scoring seasons in NBA history and stands a very real chance of finishing with a higher mark than any player not named Wilt Chamberlain.
The last time he took his talents across the pond, Antetokounmpo represented a lofty if not uncertain idea, an unsculpted block of marble mined from the richest deposits, but that offered up no guarantees of an eventual indelible masterpiece.
This time around, he arrives as a sculpted and refined marvel worthy of inclusion in the finest art galleries that Paris has to offer. But he also remains a work in progress.
Watching Antetokounmpo work on his craft in the world's most artistic city is the NBA equalivalent of showing up to the Louvre to watch ancient Greek artist Alexandros of Antioch put the finishing touches on 'Venus de Milo', considered by many the most famous piece of art ever to originate from Greece.
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