MILWAUKEE – On Tuesday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo jumped over New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to catch and dunk an alley-oop thrown by teammate Khris Middleton. It was incredible to watch and frankly unbelievable. It’s arguably the best NBA highlight thus far this season.
But is it the greatest dunk of Antetokounmpo’s career?
That’s a tough question to answer, but luckily there is a scientific way to figure that out: The ESPN Milwaukee Dunk Scale. Ratings from 1 to 10 in five different categories to determine the quality of each of Antetokounmpo's 600 career dunks.
Athleticism Showcased: Did he show off his incredible athleticism?
Degree of Difficulty: How difficult was the play to make? How many defenders were around?
Intent to Maim: The best dunks should showcase ruthlessness. Did he set out to hurt that person mentally, physically, or emotionally?
Hype: Did Antetokounmpo sell the dunk? How about his teammates? How did everyone react?
Precision: Dunks don’t always go down perfectly. Sometimes, they can rattle around the rim. Other times, they need to be thrown in from a distance because of contact from the defense. All of which can take away from the moment.
Before revealing the Top Five, the rules:
Exhibition dunks are not included. Dunk contest, preseason, and, yes, even All-Star Game dunks will not be included. This knocks out a beauty against the Timberwolves in the Kohl Center in the 2015 preseason. It also disqualifies his putback stuff on Steph Curry in last year’s All-Star Game, which would have scored high marks. (Hi, DeAndre Jordan.)
The lead-up to the dunk will be included as far back as necessary at my discretion. If that means including the dribble moves before the dunk, that will be allowed. The block that starts the sequence of the dunk, like in the first big-time highlight of Antetokounmpo’s career? It’s included in the grade.
Context matters. The details of the dunk do, in fact, matter. Were there any defenders around? Was it on a seven-footer? Is it an important part of the game? Any previous beef with the person/team?
It will be graded on an Antetokounmpo curve. Jumping from far away is pretty cool, but it’s less impressive because Antetokounmpo is a lanky freak of nature. So, a dunk like the one against the Pacers last year looks cool, but ultimately won’t score well in some categories, despite being fun to watch.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
All-Star Game Curry laying down (disqualified, but still)
All-Star Game lob off Curry's head (disqualified, but still)
The Top Five Giannis Antetokounmpo Dunks of All-Time:
#5 – Bucks vs. Raptors – April 15, 2017 – A Playoff Message for the Raptors
Athleticism Showcased: Powers through on-ball contact and explodes through it at the rim. 8/10
Degree of Difficulty: Playoff defense, huh? Doesn’t mean much of anything to Antetokounmpo. He went right through the hands-y defense of DeMarre Caroll and finishes with the left-handed, while Serge Ibaka waited to come block it from the back side. 9/10
Intent to Maim: The Greek Freak was intent on sending a message in his first playoff game as the leading man in Milwaukee. He was going to go through anyone willing to get in his way. 10/10
Hype: The guttural yell could be heard loud and clear as Antetokounmpo hung from the rim with his left hand. A double hop on the way back down the floor let the Raptors know he was well aware of what he just did, but didn’t have time to celebrate in the playoffs. 8/10
Precision: Left-hand only. Crushed the rim before hanging on it. Clean dunk. Clear message. 10/10
Total score: 45/50
#4 – Bucks at Celtics – October 26, 2017 – Alley-Oop on Aron Baynes
Athleticism Showcased: Tried to roll to the rim slowly and find the soft spot in the defense, then quickly exploded to the rim. Caught a lob thrown 12 feet in the air. 10/10
Degree of Difficulty: Unbelievable catch on an alley-oop thrown near the top of the square. Caught it over seven-foot, 255-pound Baynes and finished through him. 10/10
Intent to Maim: Antetokounmpo wanted to destroy him. He did. Baynes was so disoriented he rebounded the ball that was dunked on him. 10/10
Hype: Huge moment. Bucks were down six at the time and it was a big basket in a game they would ultimately win. However, that meant little preening after, but still there is a little flex while getting back on defense. And Baynes rebounding the dunk and throwing an outlet to a teammate is perfect. Dude was concussed by a dunk. 8/10
Precision: Here is what ultimately keeps the dunk out of the Top 3. Baynes’s size makes the dunk more difficult and impressive, but ultimately kept Antetokounmpo from slamming cleanly. Despite the collision in mid-air, there was no implosion of the rim. 8/10
Total score: 46/50
#3 – Bucks vs. Knicks – February 6, 2018 – Jumping Over Tim Hardaway Jr.
Athleticism Showcased: He jumped over another player to complete the dunk. He did so from the dotted line. If the Summer Olympics ever introduce an amalgam of the long jump, high jump, and hurdles, Greece is taking home a gold medal. Ridiculous. 10/10
Degree of Difficulty: Nearly impossible. Likely one of five players in the history of basketball that could have pulled it off. 10/10
Intent to Maim: Seemed like he was just going up to catch the alley-oop. Didn’t intend to jump over Hardaway, which helps in the other categories, but not this one. Still wanted to throw it down hard though. 8/10
Hype: Difficult to grade the hype on this one. Antetokounmpo didn’t really react to it like he does with some of the other dunks included in this discussion. John McEnroe’s reaction helps, as does Middleton looking around in all directions trying to comprehend what he just saw, but it was more shock than anything from everyone in the moment. Internet response after definitely helps. 9/10
Precision: Caught an alley-oop while jumping from an impossible distance and managed to jump over another player. Great rim/net pop on the punch. 10/10
Total score: 47/50
#2 – Bucks vs. Knicks – April 10, 2015 – Block to a One-Man Fastbreak in Madison Square Garden (Alternate Titles: Mean Muggin’, The Stank Face)
Athleticism Showcased: Antetokounmpo moves his feet on one end to block Tim Hardaway Jr.’s shot. Somehow keeps it alive and corrals it, then proceeds to hit Lance Thomas with a behind-the-back dribble before detonating the rim. 10/10
Degree of Difficulty: Good players can block the Hardaway Jr. shot. Great players can handle the ball well enough at 6’11” to complete the behind-the-back dribble. Special players can do both of those and force Cole Adrich to make a business decision all on the same play. 9/10
Intent to Maim: He was so intent on destroying the rim Aldrich decided it was best for his own well-being to get out of the way. (Still sort of wish he would have challenged.) 9/10
Hype: To this day, Antetokounmpo’s single best mean mug and quite possibly the moment the stank face became a staple of his big-play celebrations. The clenched fists. The flexing. The heavy breathing. It’s all there. 10/10
Precision: Each three portions of the play are incredibly precise. And the dunk is pristine. Clean runway. Ball explodes through the rim. Rim pulled down. 10/10
Total Score: 48/50
#1 – Bucks vs. Thunder – March 6, 2016 – Euro Step on Westbrook to a Lefty Slam on Ibaka
Athleticism Showcased: Point Giannis? Check. A euro step that shakes Russell Westbrook? Check. A lefty dunk on top of Ibaka challenging at the rim? Check. 10/10
Degree of Difficulty: Needed to be able to grab the rebound, bring it up the floor cleanly and beat the active hands of Westbrook before actually finishing at the rim with Ibaka lurking. 10/10
Intent to Maim: Oh. Antetokounmpo was not going to be stopped. And once he saw Ibaka coming, he was going to put it on his head. 10/10
Hype: Antetokounmpo turns around quickly before slowing down because of the foul called on Ibaka. (Aside: Why are fouls almost never called when people get dunked on?) This probably brings down the hype a little bit, but the bench still lost it. 9/10
Precision: All of his movements on the way to the basket were incredibly precise. Ibaka doesn’t hit the ball, so Antetokounmpo is able to palm it with his left and put it through without incident. 10/10
Total score: 49/50