Giannis Antetokounmpo could be the key to the Milwaukee Bucks' bid to reverse their recent history against the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The 22-year-old Greek has emerged as a force this season, becoming the first player in NBA history to finish a campaign in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
He led the Bucks in all five of those statistical categories, emerging as the leader of a young franchise that grabbed the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference despite coping with injuries to Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker during the season.
Ready to relish the role of underdog, he's not bothered by the Bucks' 2-13 record against the Raptors over the past four seasons -- their worst against any Eastern Conference rival.
"I haven't thought anything about that," Antetokounmpo said. "All regular-season that's what it's been for us, just chasing. We love when we chase. Just coming in there just chasing -- chase people down and try to get as much from we can from every game."
Antetokounmpo finished the regular-season with 1,832 points, 700 rebounds, 434 assists, 151 blocks and 131 steals.
That put him 14th in total scoring, 15th in rebounding, 18th in assists, fifth in blocks and ninth in steals.
He added six points and more than one assist per game to his prior career averages, earning an All-Star nod along the way.
If it weren't for the amazing 42 triple-doubles of Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, not to mention the 22 of the Houston Rockets' James Harden, Bucks coach Jason Kidd believes Antetokounmpo would be squarely in the Most Valuable Player discussion.
"A guy who leads the team in every category, who can finish in the top 20 in every category, it's just unheard of," Kidd said. "This is a historical season for stats for a lot of players, as we know. He would be in for the MVP, but unfortunately there's a lot of history being written right now. He's not (in the MVP race), but if it were a normal year, yes."
Antetokounmpo's nickname of "The Greek Freak" originated with his seven-foot frame, impressive wingspan and explosive athleticism.
But as his second trip to the playoffs looms, he boasts a freakish level of skill as well, as Raptors coach Dwane Casey knows all too well.
"He's totally different than anything else in our league," Casey said.
© 2017 AFP