Typically, rookies don’t get noticed. Typically, players from overseas need more time to build an American following. Typically, Milwaukee Bucks are ignored.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is definitely atypical.
“The Greek Freak” has wowed fans all season with his long arms, diverse skillset and outward happiness.
He’s been so impressive, he’ll be competing in Skills Challenge – a speed drill that tests dribbling, passing and shooting – during NBA All-Star Weekend, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.
An invite to to the Skills Challenge hardly constitutes “making it,” but for Antetokounmpo, it’s sure recognition of his incredible progress. Drafted No. 15 out of a third-rate Greek league and the NBA’s youngest player this season, Antetokounmpo was widely viewed as a project – and he is.
Yet, his skills have shined so brightly, they can’t be ignored.
Just six rookies had ever competed in the Skills Challenge since its 2003 inception. Most of them (Damian Lillard,* Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul) went onto win Rookie of the Year.**
*Last year, Lillard became the first rookie to win the Skills Challenge.
**The two exceptions: John Wall and Brandon Jennings. Wall led his draft class in Rookie of the Year voting, but Blake Griffin, who began his NBA career a year late due to injury, won the award. Jennings had a historically great first half to his rookie season.
Antetokounmpo certainly isn’t a Rookie of the Year favorite, and it seems two candidates ahead of him – Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke – would have been more logical options for the Skills Challenge. That’s because they’re point guards.
Positional definitions can get tricky at times, but whatever Antetokounmpo is, he definitely can’t be pigeonholed as a point guard. The last non-point guard in the Skills Challenge was Dwyane Wade in 2008, and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the only other non-point guards to ever compete. Until now, being a superstar was the only way to clear the positional barrier of entry to the event.
So, no, a Skills Challenge invite isn’t a crowning achievement for Antetokounmpo. But he incredibly cleared many obstacles to get this far.
What are a few more on All-Star Saturday Night?