Giannis Antetokounmpo is starting stronger than anyone could have imagined

In short,  Giannis Antetokounmpo alternates between making the plays that no NBA player should make and making the plays that no NBA player can make.

It’s the latter that has people that run inside NBA circles talking.

The buzz around the NBA from the Thorpes and Givonys of the world about Antetokounmpo is a rising chorus. Soon it will have more ‘z’s rattling in its hum than a screenplay based on the life of Olek Czyz.  In three games, Antetokounmpo has amassed an astounding collection of highlight dunks, blocks, and passes.  The 18-year-old shouldn’t be able to do the things that he does (1, 2). Not yet at least. He’s too young, too thin, too green, but he’s doing this stuff anyway.

The Bucks, more than ever, need the promise hiding behind his youth.  For years — a seemingly endless stream of years — the team’s ceiling has hovered somewhere around “get into the playoffs and illogically hope for the best.”  They must aim higher.  Fans need to be convinced that the loop of slightly-below-.500 basketball might end soon, and the Bucks have to engender enough goodwill to make keeping the team in Milwaukee a priority.

Making a dawdling team relevant is a massive task to ask of a teenager.  Consider the following:

When Andrew Bogut crashed to the Bradley Center floor and wrecked his elbow, Antetokounmpo sat on the other end of the teenage spectrum.  Can you spot 15-year-old Giannis below?

Screen shot 2013-10-15 at 9.39.23 AM
Giannis Antetokounmpo, three and a half years ago (back row, third from left)

When Ersan Ilyasova played his first game as a Buck, 10-year-old Antetokounmpo was just a boy who only two years earlier had touched a basketball for the first time. When Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson fell to the 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis was a preschooler of all of five years.

Days before the 1995 draft, then-Detroit assistant coach John Hammond traveled to Chicago to run an individual workout for a budding high school prospect in front of an assembly of scouts. That high school star, Kevin Garnett, later played his first NBA game a month before Antetokounmpo was born.

Giannis is young, and with youth comes growth — literally.  Giannis has only spent a few months in his body at its current length: 6’9″.  He grew at least three inches in the past year.  That’s the catch-22 for the moment.  He has the one-in-a-billion combination of wide-ranging basketball skill in a unthinkably long basketball body, but to get that way he had to develop a sense for the game and then grow and grow and grow.  He’s playing catch-up as far as pairing those skills with his body’s current iteration.

In the meantime, he mixes highlight-quality tip-ins and blocks with traveling violations and telegraphed passes.  He often botches the footwork when defending a pick and roll, but then smacks the ball away from behind anyway.  His attempts at jump shots have resulted in both swishes and air balls.  He has also shown the knack to alter (and sometimes smother) an opponent’s jump shot.

It’s Larry Drew’s job — and really, it’s the most important job he has — to help Antetokounmpo cut down on the mistakes.  In the first two preseason games, Giannis had 12 turnovers.  About half of them were traveling violations where he moved both feet before starting his dribble.  It’s a correctable mistake, and one that’s less likely to be called once the referees have ended their preseason display of making the call a point of emphasis this season.  Fixing the other issues will be more difficult.  In his third game, Antetokounmpo played fewer minutes than he did in his first two, but he survived without a turnover.

Antetokounmpo isn’t the first 18-year-old forward that the Bucks have drafted in recent years.  They also drafted Tobias Harris. (Sorry.) Whether it was by design or accident, the Bucks had the Harris moving along the right path.  They found him spare minutes when they could in his rookie season, then they slotted him as a starter as a sophomore (in part because Luc Mbah a Moute was hurt). Tobias wasn’t an overwhelming success — his defensive rebounding and rotations certainly left something to be desired — but he looked like a passable NBA starter at age 19. A month later, Scott Skiles buried him on the bench.

Minus the benching part, the Bucks need to put Antetokounmpo on a trajectory at least as steep.  He appears to be at least as NBA-ready as Tobias was at the same age.

And to be clear, general manager John Hammond used the right strategy with his #15 draft choice no matter how Antetokounmpo pans out: Pick young. Pick big. Pick athletic. Pick a good kid and worry about the teaching part later.  If it works out, great.  If not, keep gambling for the superstar payoff.

The Bucks now have in place a Robert Indiana-inspired floor and designs on the Indiana model of team building. Like the Pacers, they keep adding pieces from the middle of the draft and hoping to assemble a deep and level roster without fully bottoming out. Larry Sanders promises to be their stopper in the middle a la Roy Hibbert. Now the trick will be to see if Giannis can be the Bucks’ Paul George, even if he projects more like an Andrei Kirilenko-type player.

If he can, the Bucks will be one puzzle piece closer to NBA relevancy.

Categories: Player Profiles

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    • Hahahahaha I see what you did there but hopefully the 55 points is accompanied by 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 blocks, and 5 steals. Go Bucks!

  1. I hope Giannis is great in the NBA, with a good start this season if possible, but in any case it appears that John Hammond used a terribly wrong strategy in picking Giannis at #15, and the question is whether he will get lucky or not with this selection.
    I’ll change my mind if Hammond says (or has said) that he throroughly scouted Giannis before choosing him as the 15th-best player available across the world to help the Bucks become a better team. If Hammond says he sent his most trusted scout to Greece for six months, that this scout watched Giannis’ games and practices; talked to coaches and teachers and friends; ate dinner with his family, helped Giannis with his algebra homework, and played fetch with his dog — then I’ll give Hammond credit for drafting Giannis, even to a certain extent if Giannis doesn’t make it in the NBA. Otherwise, it seems to me like a lazy and stupid pick that may or may not turn into something great.
    To repeat, for the record, I hope Giannis turns out great, and that he plays as much as possible this season to the extent he’s ready. I’ve been all for playing young guys like Tobias and John Henson last season — unlike Jeremy and Jon Hartzel and almost all of the other fans on this site, who continually dismissed or downplayed my many posts about playing Tobias and not trading him (and later in the season John Henson, especially for the Heat playoffs). If these same people are among those going gaga for Giannis now, I am baffled and bothered by the inconsistency, barring some good explanations. ***deep breath***

    • there were better players available in the draft…right now…that isn’t what the bucks need. they don’t need a bunch more high floor/low ceiling guys, they need an extremely high ceiling guy and gianis has the highest ceiling of anyone in the draft (as well as probably the lowest floor). the bucks will never lure a superstar to milwaukee via free agency, so their only hope is to hit on one in the draft (and it’s hard because their owner refuses to bottom out so no top 5 pick) or hoard a ton of low cost assets and hope some team is dumb enough to trade another james harden.

    • Constant debbie downer, give Hammond some credit at some point. Regardless of how much information you have on a guy, he knew he was a very young, very athletic, high ceiling player which is what the bucks need to gamble on to have any sort of future success.

      • brandon, why so hard on me, just for having a different opinion? The gambles you are talking about get us guys like Yi, although there might have been a lot more info out there about Yi prior to his draft. It’s like a prospect at quarterback who is 6’7″ with a rocket arm; great physical stature and highlight-reel skills don’t necessarily mean a star player.
        To imply that it isn’t important to scout thoroughly just doesn’t seem sensible. Hey, I’m getting excited about Giannis, too, but I hope people aren’t edging into hysteria about him, or believing that luckiness in drafting justifies laziness in scouting.

        • Do you think the guy didn’t scout him at all? lol, hes a professional GM that brought the pistons multiple NBA title runs, he kind of knows what he’s doing. It’s like this, his choice in the draft was basically choose a medium ceiling player that could turn into a role player possibly in a few years and not be a huge contribution, good example of this would probably be D.J. Augustin. Or he could draft a HUGE ceiling player that has a body style thats almost exactly similar to a Kevin Durant and has shown flashes of highlight ability, he’s only 18 and he’s still growing. He’s making mistakes that are completely fixable and he still has an amazing athletic ability. I would much rather take option 2, not sure why anyone would prefer option 1, especially in a market like this where you WON’T attract a big name free agent like the point guard that you want.

          • Wow! It’s amazing to me that I’m considered a downer while John Hammond is praised as a basketball guru. He’s already had four years to turn around the Bucks, and things aren’t looking so great for this season or the next.
            Is it not important whether or not a GM scouts a guy? Is it not important whether the GM tells us how much he scouted a guy? The GM just does whatever he wants and nobody cares, even if the team is lousy?
            Larry Sanders, John Henson, and Tobias Harris are all guys picked in about the same place in the draft as Giannis. Are you gonna tell these guys that they only have medium ceilings? I bet Sillybilly could name ten more guys drafted #15 or later who have starred in the NBA without even blinking. When you have the opportunity to take the 15th best young player available in the world…?
            The Bucks have been a moribund and embarrassing franchise for more than a decade, and will continue to be so unless the fans wake up and hold the front office accountable. I’m starting to think some of the fans on this site deserve what we are getting.

    • Have u watched Giannis play? How can you see his physique skill and athleticism and not conclude that he was a steal at 15?

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  3. I just can’t help but think how nice it would have been to have T.Harris on this team w/ Giannis, J.Henson, L.Sanders, B.Knight, OJ.Mayo, and E.Ilyasova. The only thing we’d really need to try securing would be a more dynamic PG or Guard… perhaps someone like Eric Bledsoe or maybe even Isaiah Thomas would have made a truly fine addition to a team like that. Then of course the filler depth and specific role player pieces; though, getting someone with size and strength in the frontcourt given size of L.Sanders and J.Henson would have been important (Zaza isn’t that bad of an acquisition) and acquiring another guy who could stroke the 3 at the guard position (Don’t think I would have gone for Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, or Carlos Delfino who can play some SG).

  4. I think people are thinking about this a little too much. There is a lot of speculation about the current structure of this team because no one knows what to make of it. I dont think anyone is just willing to accept this team for what it is….. a stop-gap roster. I dont really care if there guards work out or not, they’ll be gone after their contracts are up anyway (1 to 3 years). This is a developmental team, for this year and next. Hence bringing in the high character guys, with an eye on next years draft. It looks to me like a solid 4 year plan. Pairing larry, john and giannis, along with high character guys, and an uber talented guard from next years draft from which they will pick high because of the extra 2nd round picks they stockpiled to trade up. Solid, long-term plan if you ask me.

    oh, one other thing about the next 2-3 years…… a new arena, new talented team, deep playoff runs. Things are looking up :)

  5. People really need to stop crying about Tobias Harris…if you are going to cry about something cry about Ray Allen

  6. Sfisch we understand your concerns about the “risk” pick. You’re Yi example would be excellent, however Larry Harris made that pick, not John Hammond. John Hammond is a very good drafter…trade artists maybe not so much. Larry Sanders (long athletic), John Henson fell to us I realize but still (long athletic), Giannis…you get it. Brandon Jennings was the number one player in his high school class, and had the most points scored in a season at The Oak Hill Academy. Some decent players went there (Melo, Durant, Beasley, Rondo, Josh Smith). Tobias Harris. Even has second rounders in the league that are rotation players. Look Joe Alexander may be the worst pick in NBA history but he’s been doing excellent after that nightmare. BTW got LRMBAM in the 2nd round in that draft.

    On to Giannis, he’s played the 2,3,4 so far in preseason which is awesome, would love to see him get more reps at the 2 guard. Some people on these boards would like to see Giannis and Middleton on the floor at the same time and I’m down for that too.

    • For fun, I will list our most recent first round picks and list some guys that I think are better than the pick we got with their overall pick in parentheses.

      2009: Brandon Jennings(10) Jrue Holiday(17) Taj Gibson(26)
      2010: Larry Sanders(15) _______________
      2011: Tobias Harris(19) Kenneth Faried(22) Jimmy Butler(30)
      2012: John Henson(14) ______________

      So yeah there you go, I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. There are players I like for example Reggie Jackson and the wrecking ball style of Ty Lawson but only one All Star in that time period and that was coming out of a real terribly weak East guard class last year.

      • I appreciate the good discussion, James, and good info.
        The quote above by Jonathan Givony at Draft Express indicates that at least some of the draft experts had never seen Giannis play. I’m guessing Jeremy had never seen him play, nor any of the other experts on this site, who seem to be pretty good basketball analysts. I doubt that any of the fans on this site had ever seen Giannis play? So, I’m wondering if John Hammond ever saw him play, or had one of his top scouts check him out? Is scouting a guy too much to ask? I still think the 15th best young player in the world is a precious opportunity.
        I’ve made it clear that I’m getting excited about Giannis, and have said all along that I hope he makes it big time — a happy ending for all, including us fans. For one thing, I don’t want to go overboard after four exhibition games. (Where was the excitement for Tobias last winter on this site after he had starred in the summer league?) Second, drafting a guy without scouting is irresponsible, and any success would be mostly luck. Three, John Hammond hasn’t gotten the results with the Bucks that deserves all the praise he gets on this site; not only that, but people actually seem to take offense if I raise questions, concerns and criticisms. Four, is anyone else tired of the Bucks losing, and doing so in such a lackluster and unloveable way?

        • To answer the question that you’ve been constantly asking, I’m sure the Bucks did exactly as much scouting of Giannis as any other team did. To ask them to “watch Giannis’ games and practices; talked to coaches and teachers and friends; ate dinner with his family, helped Giannis with his algebra homework, and played fetch with his dog” is unreasonable because no team did that. It’s not as though they did NO scouting and just blindly picked him. They chose to take a risk with a player that no one knew a lot about because it was more or less universally agreed that he has great potential.

          Similarly, your demands that the front office apologize for the bad moves they made – no front office does that, so why should Hammond? I’ve never seen active team management come out and say “We messed up” after making a move. It just doesn’t happen, so demanding that this front office do it is unreasonable. You seem to be trying to portray all the negative things that happen as ineptitude on the part of the front office and all of the positive things as luck or happy accidents. It doesn’t work that way – blame and credit must be applied equally.

          From your posts on this site, it seems as though you enjoy playing the lone wolf and acting like you’re the only person who thought the Tobias trade was bad and has any criticisms for team management – I encourage you to go back and read the relevant posts by Jeremy & crew as a refresher. They’ve had plenty of criticism and concerns as well.

          Finally, no one enjoys watching the Bucks lose, but you’d have to be pretty set in a negative mindset not to see that the team is on a better trajectory than they have been for quite some time. It’s more or less impossible for them to be great RIGHT NOW, but the construction of the team and growth potential give us plenty of reasons to be optimistic instead of continually griping and moaning.

          • I remember asking Jon Hartzel before the trade of Tobias why he wasn’t playing, because Jon singled out Tobias in his author profile as a key to the future of the Bucks. As I remember it, I was surprised about how unenthused Jon was about Tobias playing last year — perhaps saying he wasn’t yet ready — and I don’t remember Jon bemoaning the trade at all on this site, nor Jeremy or any of our other experts.
            As for the fans on this site, they generally seemed positively giddy about acquiring J.J. Redick, and nonchalant about giving up Tobias in the process. They actually seemed upset with me for making such a big deal about losing Tobias, and downplayed his success with the Magic. Also, when I encouraged the Bucks to give John Henson some meaningful minutes in the playoffs… silence.
            I do bring things up again and again, mostly because I rarely get any real responses in the first place, rather mostly just rah-rah for John Hammond. When I question what seems like a blind draft pick from overseas, or the wisdom of bringing in 11 new players, or why we don’t have a true point guard, well, I don’t get much in the way of answers. I’m genuinely interested to know what others think, because I know I might be missing something. It seems like some of the responses that I do get are more dismissive than explanatory. As far as Jeremy & Co., they generally ignore me.
            So maybe I’m just a raving crank? Do I relish the role of lone wolf? Actually, it’s kind of a bummer, and discouraging. I do like to present original opinions, although sincere; and it’s not that I mind good-natured disagreement; but it is hard to be mostly ignored or brushed off or criticized for griping. Oh well, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does bother me as a kind of sadness.
            Meanwhile, as I repeat in my repetitive way, John Hammond gets a pass after four years and another 30-40 win season in the works. As wrong as I might be about things, I think to myself that I couldn’t do all that much worse as a GM than what we’ve experienced for a long time now. Not only is the team mediocre at best, but they haven’t been all that enjoyable or likeable in general.
            One more thing in closing: It seems like the front office wants us to get excited about our players, especially our young guys; but then, are we supposed to just forget about them when they are traded as if they are commodities on a fantasy team? When Tobias finished his 30-point, 18-rebound game against the Bucks last season with an emphatic dunk, do you think he might have been expressing a little frustration at how he was mistreated in Milwaukee, even by neglect?

          • Sfisch, I don’t think you understand how difficult it is to build a winning team from nothing in Milwaukee nonetheless. Everyone here was upset about the Tobias trade, fortunately we found a way to get over it because there’s nothing that can be said or done to fix it. It’s done. This team is NOT about winning now, this team is about creating a genuine culture around young players which will lead to a winning culture. The group they have now, meaning the younger players, will want to grow together and begin to win over time, you have to give it time. Yes, I understand that it’s been a long time since the Bucks have done anything meaningful and it’s just as frustrating for everyone else. But Hammond is building something that will last for a good stretch of time. The players he is building around are 25 and younger, the run of this team would go 5-6 years probably if they all blossomed to their potential.

          • Sfisch, I encourage you to go back and read these posts and their accompanying comments sections before claiming that people aren’t addressing Tobias, Henson, and the Bucks’ front office:





            And that was a pretty cursory search. These things are getting talked about, but perhaps you’re not remembering them because they don’t espouse exactly what you think about the team.

          • Sfisch I believe everyone is on your side for the Tobias thing. His lack of play was not Hammond’s decision, that belonged to Skiles and Boylan, who are/were awful decision makers. I also think Kohl has Hammond on speed dial and sends 30 snapchats daily to him saying “win now”. The Toby thing sucks. He will be good. However, his combo forward style is weird compared to an LBJ or Melo combo forward. He put up numbers on an awful Orlando team, where he probably is the best player. The faults for Toby start with our old coaches, then Kohl, then Hammond in my book. We’re stuck in mud because no high profile guy is going to sign here, and we draft anywhere between the 10 and 15 seed yearly. It is crappy but we do have some nice young pieces to work with. To add more fuel to the fire Hammond won executive of the year in…2009? I think. Haha Go bucks!

          • James, thanks for the positive tone to your post.
            I’ll try not to get carried away with my comments, to overdo it with my opinions, but I hope it’s okay to disagree without being considered a disloyal downer or a negative griper. Otherwise, this site might get as boring as a press release from public relations.
            I am just trying to understand the apparent hoopla and possible hysteria for Giannis after a handful of exhibition games in contrast to the apparent apathy for Tobias last winter after he had been a star in summer league. Maybe I’m truly missing things, and I would be glad to get other perspectives — but it’s frustrating to be mostly ignored, and it hurts a bit to be attacked personally.
            Maybe the Bucks are on a better trajectory these days, but I don’t think that this is obvious or indisputable, nor that disagreeing with such optimism is indicative of a negative mindset. I’ve been a huge fan of the Bucks since at least I was seven years old in 1970 and I cried when we lost to the Knicks in the playoffs. Now, all these years later, I don’t like a lot of the things that are going on with the Bucks, even since the trade of Tobias. I’m sincere, but I could be wrong. It would be great if I got more feedback from others on this site with various degrees of agreement and disagreement.
            I do wish everyone well at the Bucks and at Bucksetball, from the owner to the ballboy, from the blog leaders to the fan readers. I hope the debate is passionate but also good-natured.
            In the spirit of moving on with no hard feelings, here is my nomination for the nickname of our remarkable rookie: Giannis “the antelope” Antetokounmpo. May he prosper!

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