The first thing you need to understand here is that it’s really not that big of a deal, relatively speaking, to dunk on Serge Ibaka.
Now, that might seem like a crazy thing to say, considering Ibaka is mostly known as a guy who protects the rim. But the truth is Ibaka gets jammed on reasonably often. Rudy Gay did it once, and so did Al-Farouq Aminu. Andre Drummond got him a couple of years ago.
For crying out loud, even Cory Joseph tagged Serge in 2014.
Point is: It happens, so let’s not get caught up in Giannis Antetokounmpo doing it last March:
Instead let’s get caught up — wildly, exuberantly, insanely caught up — in everything the Milwaukee Bucks’ mold-obliterating multi-tool of a talent did before bashing one on Ibaka’s head. And then let’s all get giddy about what that dunk-prelude sequence might mean about the “Greek Freak’s” potential and, just as importantly, what it might mean for the league.
The Breakdown aka “How Big of a Deal Are We Talking Here?”:
- Giannis grabs the defensive rebound. This is, to an even more obvious degree than the dunk itself, not a big deal. Anyone can get a rebound*.
- Giannis uses four dribbles to cover the length of the court. Four. That’s it. Maybe there’s another player in the league who could eat up that much ground in four dribbles, but I kind of doubt OH MY GOD ONE TIME HE DID IT IN TWO!!! This is a big deal.
- Giannis Euro-steps around Russell Westbrook. The Euro-step isn’t necessarily a big deal in itself because just about everyone in today’s NBA messes around with the move, and because Westbrook isn’t really the kind of guy who gets after it defensively. Still, the idea of a 6’11” human being who just used four dribbles to cover an entire playing surface having the quickness to move around arguably the NBA’s best athlete is kind of undeniably ridiculous. The freeze-framed moment of Russ looking at another human being and thinking to himself, “Man, that was an impressive athletic feat” (this part probably only happened in my imagination, but still..) is enough to make the Euro-step part of the play a very big deal.
- Giannis explodes vertically off his right foot. This is after taking horizontal steps to get himself into liftoff position. This is also a super big deal for a couple of reasons. First, it’s his right foot — the foot you jump off if you’re going to finish a left-handed shot, unless you’re one of those delightfully tricky types like Kyrie Irving or Manu Ginobili who take particular joy in wrong-footing defenders. Giannis is not left-handed. Keep that in mind for when…
- Giannis dunks left-handed on Ibaka. Remember all that stuff about how it’s not that impressive to dunk on Ibaka because it happens pretty often? Well, forget it now because off-hand dunks on Ibaka are rare. In fact, good luck finding another one on YouTube. Chances are, if you manage to flush one on Ibaka, it’s because you got a perfect run-up, rose off your dominant leg and attacked with everything your dominant hand could muster. Even if we ignore all the other absurdly unfair physical feats that led up to it, Giannis getting Ibaka with a lefty smash is remarkable.
So, what’s all this mean?
Maybe nothing in isolation. But as a symbol of something bigger, of Antetokounmpo’s essentially unprecedented skill set, it might mean everything.
Because while we tend to appreciate the NBA for its broader dynamism — the tactical moves toward better spacing and more three-point shooting after decades of packed-in slogging, for example — sometimes we miss the isolated moments that fuel those changes. The moments that show us new kinds of players who’ll redefine how we think the game can be played.
We have never seen a play like Antetokounmpo’s dunk on Ibaka because we’ve never seen anyone like Antetokounmpo.**
So when we start thinking about how the Bucks might play this season, we have to factor in the novel idea of a full season’s worth of highlights like the one above. We have to contemplate what it means to be a point guard and what it means to be 6’11” because they don’t mean the same things anymore.
When you watch Antetokounmpo dunk on Ibaka like he does in that clip, you’re looking at an agent of change.
Change is good.
*Jamal Crawford cannot get a rebound.
**Except for the Summer League version of Anthony Randolph.