Giannis Antetokounmpo conquers Croatia in Estonia

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Antetokounmpo (#11) huddles with teammates.

Giannis Antetokounmpo did a little bit of everything in Greece’s 77-68 win over Croatia in the FIBA Under-20 European Championship tourney in Estonia.  Antetokounmpo tallied 12 points, 15 rebounds, an assist and a crowd-pleasing six blocks.

The Greeks trailed early in the first of four ten-minute quarters, but they quickly pulled back the lead after Antetokounmpo entered the game.  And once Giannis was in, he was in to stay.

Bucks head coach Larry Drew was in attendance in Tallinn and he got to see Giannis imprint the game with his personal style, sometimes bad but more often than not good.  Among his six blocks were a number of swats rotating over in a zone defense, but he also snuffed out a layup attempt from behind and batted away a jump shot in a one-on-one scenario out on the perimeter.  He also missed a block attempt on a late rotation defensively and got dunked on for his efforts.  To be honest though, the Croatians shot very few attempts in Antetokounmpo’s vicinity. They knew better.

In the half-court offense, Giannis seemed content to linger out by the three-point line one side or the other.  He was not playing the point guard spot, and whether by design or not, the Greek wings utilized little motion.  From long distance, Antetokounmpo made one of his four attempts.  Included in the misses were a hurried shot near the end of a shot clock and an airball that fell woefully short of the rim.

Antetokounmpo excelled in transition.  There, Greece relied on him more to handle the ball.  In addition to pushing hard, he showed a mature knack for finding open three-point shooters when the defense collapsed on him in the lane.  He also threw a perfect 60-foot outlet pass that netted a layup for a teammate.  I don’t know how FIBA assists are tabulated, but by NBA rules, he had at least five.

He also got fouled a lot.  Despite his huge hands, Antetokounpo flashed a gorgeous free-throw stroke on his way to five makes in six attempts.  The fine form is rather amazing for an 18-year-old who grew three inches in the past year. Any excuse ever made for a big-handed, poorly-styled free-throw shooter (hello, Shaq) is just that: an excuse.

Giannis’ best and worst moves came on spins.  The high point happened when he backed down a smaller defender in the post, spun quickly to the baseline, and flipped in a long-reaching underhand scoop.  He got fouled on the play too.  The lowlight came in the backcourt when he dribbled against a bit of ball pressure.  There was a momentary glimpse of promise when he dodged the pressure by whipping a whirlwind 360 move past the defender.  But the move threw him off balance to the point where he fell on his face.  Against all odds, he managed to keep his dribble alive without turning it over in the deer-on-ice moment.

Somewhere it should be noted that the Greeks had enough confidence in his passing to use Antetokounmpo as their inbounds passer in the fourth quarter.

The obvious caveats still apply.  The competition level was middling.  And like 2012-13 John Henson, Giannis will need more strength to play in the NBA.  But also like John Henson, Giannis can elevate and reach above everyone else in the paint for a rebound.  The physical tools are there and better yet, so are the basketball instincts.  Related: HE IS EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD.

I would guess that Larry Drew is pleased today.

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6 Comments

  1. Is the U20 competition any worse than high end high school basketball in the US, because that’s who he’d be playing against if he lived here. I’m excited for him to come over and be on the Bucks even if in his first couple years he struggles with flashes of being very good.

    • if he struggles in his first couple of years, he will only have one or two in milwaukee till he takes his talents somewhere else. unfortunately for bucks fans, flashes are all we have to get excited about

      • international players seem like they are more loyal. They don’t seem as much money driven but grateful to the team that drafts them for the opportunity.

        • i can’t think of many international players that are cancers to their teams, or that complain to leave

    • I’d imagine that it is about the equivalent of a freshman college team, as many of the players would be of age to play in college as freshmen in the United States. They are probably better than the average varsity team, especially as many of these kids are already professionals in Europe. In any league, this would be an impressive line, especially given that Giannis is not the focal point of the offense and he’s mostly there to provide D off the bench.