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If you pool all the NBA players for a dispersal draft to build a new team, I take the Greek Freak with the first pick.
You can have Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, or Kawhi Leonard.
I have seen the NBA Future and its name is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Better known as the Greek Freak.
He’s 24 years old, 6 feet 11 inches, 235 pounds, and already in his sixth season in the NBA. He’ll be at the Garden Friday night with the first-place Milwaukee Bucks, who took the Celtics to seven games in a first-round playoff series last spring.
If this regal young man did not play in Milwaukee . . . if he played in Los Angeles, for example . . . he would be the frontrunner for NBA MVP at this hour. He’s averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds, and6 assists per game. He is different. Special. Unique. He cannot be defined as a center, a forward, or even a point forward. He’s a great passer and, with a running start, he can cover the length of an NBA court in six strides. He is special. In my view, he is a transformative player, almost on a par with Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, or LeBron James.
I put my thesis to Celtic coach Brad Stevens last week. Stevens is a young hoop historian. Does he see Giannis as someone historic?
“I think you’re probably right,’’ the coach answered. “LeBron is in this category. When Giannis is going downhill with a head of steam there is nothing you can do individually to stop him. We’ve got a bunch of big, strong guys. Some of the best athletes in the world and still, when it is one-on-one in that situation, he gets such a head of steam and he is such a freight train coming downhill. We’ve played him once this year, we played him 11 times last year. He’s just a hard guy to guard. But I do think you’re on to something there. He is unique. And you obviously have to prepare to handle him and with all the shooting they have around him, they’re off to a great start this year.’’
Stop the presses. This was not an answer I expected. I work in the world of Bill Belichick. If asked to compare Jupiter to the other planets in our solar system, Bill would say, “Well there a lot of big planets out there. Jupiter is certainly one of them. But we’re on to Pluto.’’
Stevens did not do this. He said, “I think you’re on to something.’’ He was OK giving credibility to the wild notion that Antetokounmpo is some form of game-changing talent in basketball history.
“Giannis presents a challenge when he’s at the 1,’’ the Celtics coach said in the middle of the Celtics-Bucks playoff series last spring. “Giannis presents a challenge when he’s at the 2. Giannis presents a challenge when he’s at the 3. Giannis presents a challenge when he’s by himself. Giannis presents a challenge no matter what position he’s at.’’
All true. He scores, He rebounds. And he is an unusually good passer for a big man.
Danny Ainge is a big bold thinker and one of the great talent evaluators of his generation. He saw the Freak play twice in Greece before the 2013 draft. Antetokounmpo was still on the board when the Dallas Mavericks selected Kelly Olynyk with the 13th pick. (He was immediately traded to the Celtics). The Bucks hit the jackpot two picks later.
“Giannis was three or four inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter,’’ recalled Ainge. “He was a good player with lots of energy and enthusiasm. He brought a lot of life to the game. You could tell he brought great joy to the game. But it was hard to envision who he is today. It was impressive how fast he became good. I thought he was two or three years from being a good player in the NBA and he was good six months later, which was really shocking. I never envisioned he would be in the discussion as one of the best players in the NBA and he is that now.”
Giannis was “only” 6-9 and 200 pounds when he was drafted.
His parents left Nigeria for Greece in 1991 and there are photos of 10-year-old Giannis and three brothers sharing one bed in the hungry years near Athens. His dad died a year ago, but his mom and a couple of brothers live nearby in Milwaukee and the heretofore boring Bucks have him signed through the end of 2021 (four years, $100 million). Most NBA superstars would be anxious to get out of the cold — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won a championship for the Bucks, then got himself traded to LA — but Giannis enjoys Milwaukee.
“I’m a low-profile guy,’’ he told the New York Times last year. “I don’t like all those flashy cities like LA or Miami. I don’t know if I could be the same player if I played in those cities.’’
He warmed the hearts of the Milwaukee citizenry, tweeting, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.’’
And now the Bucks look like one of the top four teams in the East — playoff foes for the Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers come springtime.
Watch him Friday night at the Garden as the Celtics try to stop a two-game losing streak. Then let me know where you have him in your imaginary dispersal draft.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.