By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The 38-year-old Pau Gasol has been in the NBA for 18 years (since 2001) playing against and alongside many great players. He decided to use that experience to write a story for The Players’ Tribune and help people understand who Giannis Antetokounmpo is by comparing him to many great players he had a chance to deal with.
Gasol compared Giannis to Russell Westbrook as they both ‘play downhill like nobody else in the league does’. Next up was Shaquille O’Neal – the young version: “I want you to think of young Shaq. Do you remember Shaq, when he was at LSU? Do you remember Shaq in his first few years with the Magic? Can you think of another player since with that size, with that agility? Who dunks harder and more often? To me, the list is one player long — it’s my Greek teammate.”
He thought of Kevin Garnett as well: “Giannis plays with the intensity, aggressiveness and competitiveness of a Kevin Garnett. In both Giannis and KG, you see a unique tenacity for rebounding. Both players have an eye for passing that many big men don’t have.”
The Spaniard tried comparing Giannis with himself as well: “Even though we share some similar experiences as international players, Giannis and I are different players. We have different basketball influences. We grew up in different eras of basketball. And, importantly, I was never putting up the numbers that Giannis is six years into the league. Or any year, for that matter, in case you were wondering”, he said before moving on the none other than Kobe Bryant.
Gasol ‘experienced’ Kobe and his attitude first hand. He sees some of it in Giannis and Bryant recognized it too which is why he helped Antetokounmpo get better over the summer: “Both guys bring an uncommon intensity and competitiveness to the way they play, and it’s only something you can really see if you’ve been near them. You see it in their eyes. They both bring an edge to the way they practice, too. I’ve been Giannis’s teammate for far less time than I was Kobe’s, but I know what Kobe’s approach to practice was like. He practiced as hard as he played. To Kobe, everything was a challenge.”
However, all those guys have already proven themselves and Giannis doesn’t exactly fit the mold, plus, he’s got a long way to go. But he is 24 years old and has been doing something remarkable this season. Here’s how Gasol summarized it all:
Giannis is the best player on the league’s best regular-season team.
Giannis will be first team All-NBA and first team All-Defense. He’s been one of the most dominant players in the league, on both ends of the court.
Giannis, with 60 wins in the regular season behind him, has a chance to take the Bucks to the franchise’s first Finals in 45 years.
Simply put: Giannis is the MVP of this season.
So let’s not focus too much on who he is similar to. No need to compare him to anyone. He doesn’t have the record of an entire career behind him, or even of half a career. He’s not the same as the players I mentioned here.
But most of the best players in this league, past or present, don’t perform — even at the peak of their careers — like my young Greek teammate is doing this year. He’s only 24. And that should worry the rest of the league. Because he’s only just getting started.
So instead of comparing him to others, let’s just watch him play, watch him grow and enjoy his journey.
Let’s let Giannis be Giannis.
There’s no predicting how high he can go.