The Portland Trail Blazers finally settled their Damian Lillard situation on Wednesday by trading him to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team trade involving the Phoenix Suns. By making this trade, the Bucks are sending a message to Giannis Antetokounmpo that will keep him from joining a team like the Los Angeles Lakers in the future.
There is no doubt that Milwaukee is the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference and is the favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Bucks were already a premier title contender and now they just added another All-NBA player to the mix (for a relatively cheap price).
In a day of superstar pairings, this Milwaukee pairing feels different. This isn’t a forced pairing that doesn’t make sense from a basketball perspective (like Bradley Beal joining the Suns). Lillard and Giannis complement each other quite nicely and have all the makings of being the best duo the league has seen since Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (even better than LeBron and Anthony Davis).
Some NBA pundits are going as far as to compare this duo to one of the greatest duos that ever played the game of basketball. ESPN’s Richard Jefferson sees a lot of similarities between Milwaukee’s duo and the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal pairing (h/t NBA Today).
"“Now you have Dame Time paired with Giannis. You know what that reminds me of? That is like Shaq for three-and-a-half quarters and then Kobe takes over. There are certain players that in the last few minutes of the game you are actually fearful of. So now you have Shaq for the first three-and-a-half quarters and then you got Kobe for the last half. That is what he (Lillard) does.”"
Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo are called the new 2001 Lakers
If there is anyone who knows what it feels like to play against Kobe and Shaq it is Jefferson. Jefferson came into the league when the two all-time greats were at the height of their powers and had to play them in the NBA Finals in his rookie season.
This might seem like a slight for Lakers fans, who are instantly going to push back on the comparison. While Kobe and Shaq are undoubtedly two of the greatest players of all time, this comparison actually has a lot of merit.
That is not to say that Lillard and Giannis have the same all-time standing as those two as they currently don’t. But from a basketball perspective, this is the closest thing fans have gotten to Kobe and Shaq since the two parted ways in 2004.
Giannis has been compared to Shaq in the past because of pure dominance near the rim. He is the biggest athletics specimen the league has seen since Shaq and has built a Hall of Fame career out of that. That comparison is definitely tangible.
Lillard may not be Kobe but he is on the shortlist of players that compare to Kobe, at least on the offensive end. There are not many players in the league that can take over games like Lillard can. Lillard also has the strongest clutch gene in the entire sport.
It has been a fun thought experiment to wonder what would happen if LeBron and AD had to play Kobe and Shaq in a seven-game playoff series. Well, Lakers fans may get the answer to that question if LA and Milwaukee square off in the NBA Finals.