The Unprecedented Rise of Giannis

Four years ago today, Giannis had the roughest game of any of the eight players to get run for the Bucks in a 104–102 loss to the Pacers. Everyone else on the Bucks — from Chris Wright to Ramon Sessions —was pretty respectable that night, against a Pacers team that would push LeBron (in his final year in Miami) to six games in the conference finals.

Coming off the bench, Giannis shot a nondescript 1–4 for two points and a couple turnovers in 21 minutes that night. He was in the final stretch of his rookie season, and this game against the Pacers was hardly out of the ordinary — he hit double-digits in scoring just three times in his final 24 games.

A couple months later, Michael Carter-Williams was announced as Rookie of the Year. Giannis tied for seventh in voting, along with fellow countryman Nick Calathes.

The rise of Giannis over his first four seasons has virtually no parallels. (His scoring evolution is below. You could swap that for any other meaningful stat and get a similar picture.)

Points Per Game

236. Jeff Adrien 6.8
237. Giannis 6.8
238. Trevor Booker 6.8

92. Trey Burke 12.8
93. Giannis 12.7
94. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 12.7

42. Ryan Anderson 17.0
43. Giannis 16.9
44. Jrue Holiday 16.8

20. C.J. McCollum 23.0
21. Giannis 22.9
22. Carmelo Anthony 22.4

3. LeBron James 27.7
4. Giannis 27.1
5. Damian Lillard 26.8

Basketball-Reference has a similarity score tool, and it reveals perhaps the closest match in terms of career trajectory over his first four seasons: Tracy McGrady, who went from reserve in his first two years in Toronto to averaging 27 per night in his fourth year, his first in Orlando. He was coming off the bench one year, and in his prime the next. McGrady was a reserve, but like Giannis, a most precocious one. Even in his modest rookie year, it took no more than 167 minutes to see that Giannis had something, had it.

Giannis is in his prime, too. Early-prime, but prime. Next year, he will go into his sixth season. McGrady put up more than 32 per game in his sixth season, the best year of his career. Giannis is likely to keep improving. But when you are one of the eight best players in the league, the rule is that you are in your prime. For the Bucks, the playoffs are almost here, a superstar is here, the new stadium is almost here, the iron is hot.