The Greek Freak is causing the Raptors to freak out.
As the Bucks have gotten a split with Toronto after winning Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a major superstar, and arguably the best player in the series. At 6-feet-11 and with a 7-foot wingspan, Antetokounmpo has been a force to reckon with, his athleticism putting the Raptors on their heels and folding the court like it's origami.
The biggest issue is how much attention the Raptors have to constantly pay to Antetokounmpo, and how they have to anticipate when he's going to get a rebound. In the clip below, the Raptors do almost everything correctly. They find him in space at half court and attempt to crowd him, which should slow him down. But Giannis gets the ball to his right hand, and puts an extra burst in. Then, he's gone, forcing the foul.
You'll notice that speed burst when he goes to his right hand, but look at how long this stride is:
Now he's halfway into DeMarre Carroll's stride, and there's no way to recover.
Here, Serge Ibaka is just a half-step away and if you give Giannis the lane, he's going to get to the rim before you can recover. Ibaka is a phenomenal defender, and even got a few blocks on Antetokounmpo in Game 2 that were crucial, but look at how much higher Giannis is able to keep the ball here.
It's just so hard for guys to adjust to a body moving unlike all other humans. James Harden's Euro-step is the best in the game, but it's built on deep, twisting strides with his hips. The Freak's are built on things like this. This is two steps. Look at where he starts his motion, and where he takes off from, after two steps.
And finally, there's his combination of leap and reach. The help here is a little late, to be sure, but P.J. Tucker and Ibaka are still there to contest on 99 percent of the the NBA, let alone the planet. And yet:
It's an entirely different way to shrink the floor. Antetokounmpo's physical absurdity means that the distance he has to travel is less, the strides he has to take are fewer, and the defense is constantly caught off guard by just how insane his body is.
He makes the impossible possible. He grabbed this offensive rebound in Game 2:
The Raptors wisely began to play back in Game 2, daring Antetokounmpo to make jump shots, and he obliged them.
Antetokounmpo took just four jumpers in the Bucks' Game 1 win. He took 10 in Game 2 as the Raptors evened the series. He got more aggressive late, getting to the rim again and hitting a big 3-pointer late in the game. That jumper will become more and more crucial. Antetokounmpo made 31 percent of his jump shots this season; Toronto must make him a jump-shooter to survive, and that means multiple levels of defense between him and the rim at all times.
That's of course going to open up assists, if the Bucks can hit their shots. The Raptors send three guys to contain Antetokounmpo here, and he finds an easy look for a good shooter:
And in transition, it means getting into his body, particularly forcing him away from the rim as Ibaka does here to set up the block:
What's scary is that Antetokounmpo is only 22 years old. His jumper is going to improve. If he knocks it down with any consistency in this series, Toronto is probably going home. There's no real way to guard him if that's happening. He continues to evolve, and has taken on the challenge. The Raptors found some answers in Game 2, but by the end of it, the Greek Freak had adjusted and was back to challenging at the rim. His ability to manipulate space, along with a great Bucks' effort on both ends of the floor, means the Raptors have a real fight on their hands in the first round for the fourth year in a row.
The future is coming faster than you think, thanks to the insane athleticism of Giannis Antetokounmpo.