In just under a month, the NBA is set to hand out to their annual season awards that include several significant individual honors. One of which is given to the player that is believed to be the most improved from that campaign.
This year, there were various players deserving of this award, but Milwaukee Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has quickly become a star in the NBA. Antetokounmpo wrapped a stellar regular season where he posted career-high averages in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), blocks (1.9), and steals (1.6) per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the field in 35.6 minutes per game.
In the process, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in five categories in points (14th), rebounds (15th), assists (18th), steals (ninth), and blocks (fifth). Prior to that, only two players have ranked inside the top 25 in all of these categories: Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and recently retired Kevin Garnett, since the 1973-74 season when steals and blocks became official statistics.
Giannis Antetokounmpo also led the Bucks in each of these categories, making him just the fifth player in league history to accomplish that feat. On top of that, Antetokoumpo had 56 games where he scored 20 or more points, 18 with at least 30 points, while topping double figures 75 times.
This included notching 32 double-doubles with three triple-doubles, which pushed Antetokounmpo to a tie with Abdul-Jabbar for first place in Bucks’ history with eight career triple-doubles. Before this season, Antetokounmpo had just two 30-point outings in his previous three seasons combined.
It has been an overall landslide of improvement for Giannis Antetokounmpo in his fourth season that saw his scoring increase by six points per contest, while each of his rebound and assist numbers each rose noticeably. Giannis Antetokounmpo was also one of just five NBA players to average 20 or more points while shooting above 50 percent from the field, joining the likes of LeBron James, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant.
Giannis Antetokounmpo also had 44 games in the regular season where he scored 20-plus points while shooting 50 percent or better, which was only bested by Towns (49) and James (47). On top of that, Giannis Antetokounmpo is just one four players in NBA history to have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals, and 100 blocks in a single season prior to turning 23-years-old, putting him with the likes of Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and Alvan Adams. This high level of production from Giannis Antetokounmpo also helped him earn his first NBA All-Star selection where he was named a starter for the Eastern Conference.
What has been most impressive is that Giannis Antetokounmpo has excelled with increased point guard handling duties, registering six games with 10 or more assists. Antetokounmpo’s performance with these responsibilities has earned him the respect of his head coach and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, due to his unique skill set combined with his rare size, according to Wisconsin State Journal.
“I wish I was 7 feet tall,” Kidd said. “He’s better than I am.”
Beyond just the numbers, Giannis Antetokounmpo played a huge part in helping the Bucks make the playoffs for the second consecutive season despite significant injuries occurring to both Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton, who all played in just one game together in the regular season.
In early February, Parker tore his ACL for the second time in his left knee. Parker was one of the team’s most productive players finishing as the second-leading scorer with career highs across the board with 20.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 36.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Despite the lengthy absences for both players, Giannis Antetokounmpo was able to lead the Bucks to the playoffs with a 42-40 record for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. With Giannis Antetokounmpo putting together a breakout year along with leading the Bucks to success makes him an easy choice for the Most Improved award for the 2016-17 season.
[Featured Image by Mary Schwalm/AP]