Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, ranks second in the NBA in points per game (29.7), notching nearly two-thirds of those from inside the paint (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Since the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, both literally and figuratively. This season, he has planted his name firmly within the MVP conversation, even if casual fans still have trouble pronouncing it. To guide us through this episode wholly devoted to the Grecian phenom, we’ve brought on Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer for ESPN Milwaukee and cohost of the Locked on Bucks podcast. Eric explains how Giannis’ humble upbringing, laser-like focus and basketball obsession have all contributed to his nearly unprecedented development from a lanky, unknown draftee into the all but unstoppable force he is today. Get a sneak peek of our conversation about the Greek Freak this week with these excerpts (time stamps approximate because of tailored advertisements):

10:10-11:20: “There was a part of me that kind of didn’t love it [Giannis’ nickname] at the start, just because I think ‘freak,’ the connotation of freak, there’s something wrong with you, there’s something to be ashamed about. Because I guess at some point I thought he was going to fit into a prototypical kind of archetype of an NBA player. That hasn’t happened. He is a total anomaly, so calling him something not normal? Yeah, that works out…There’s not anyone else really out there like him, so I think ‘Greek Freak’ works and it fits, and it’s ended up being kind of perfect.”

12:00-14:10: “This year, he has 19.6 points per game in the paint. In the paint…No one’s reached that high of a number, that 20-plus mark, since prime Shaq…And you look at the second-place guy this year: it’s LeBron at 15.9. So just kind of think about how imposing it is when you play LeBron and how you feel like he’s such a freak of nature, and then add another four points per game in the paint. It just doesn’t add up, and what makes it so special is that he doesn’t need to get a screen to get him into the post, he doesn’t need someone to pass him the ball…One thing I always hear opposing coaches talk about is angles. He’s able to create angles with you, and I think when you give him that big runway to start, the angles just become larger. He can use those angles even more to his advantage. So the only thing you can do right now is send multiple bodies at him.”

19:20-20:00: “Just from year to year, his progression…I wrote something last year, and some of the Giannis ‘stans’ disagree with me on this, but I said: In his first year, once a week he would make a play that would make you say ‘wow.’ In [his] second year, it would be once a game you would say ‘wow.’ And then [the] third year, it was once a quarter you’d say ‘wow.’ And last year, it was once a possession. And now you’re at a spot where you just watch him play and you can’t really comprehend just how good this guy has become.”

26:00-26:55: “I’ve told people now for the last couple years that he’s a Kobe-level lunatic, and what I mean by that is he’s just totally obsessed with the game of basketball. He can’t think about anything else…With Kobe, it’s always just that insane focus, that insane will to get better that no matter what he’s always working on something. And I just think it’s huge for any great player in the NBA to be that focused and to be able not have their attention diverted…Whatever [off-the-court distraction] it may be, those things don’t really interest him [Giannis].”

31:30-32:10: “I’m sure he’s working on his outside shot, but as far as a level of importance to him, I think that is still pretty low. Once, I think, he figures out all of the intricacies that he’s interested in figuring out as a playmaker, as a scorer, once he gets through all of those, then I think it is a summer of – I don’t even know how many jump shots a day – an insane amount that no one should ever shoot; I’m sure that’s how many Giannis would want to do.”

38:30-38:40: “To me, Giannis doesn’t make sense unless you know his story. It’s difficult to imagine someone being wired in the way that Giannis Antetokounmpo is wired unless you have that backstory.”


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Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod