Giannis Antetokounmpo is growing, trying and succeeding

Giannis gets past Greg Monroe and finishes at the hoop. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Giannis gets past Greg Monroe and finishes at the hoop. Also, the basketball look like a grapefruit in his hand. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Every game, he shows some impressive flashes. Giannis Antetokounmpo drew some headlines nationally after an impressive chase down block followed up by a dunk within ten seconds and 13 steps. Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons he had a longer stretch that wasn’t quite as flashy, but equally difficult and impressive.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Bucks in a zone, Giannis and Luke Ridnour trapped Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey. Immediately, Giannis was out on the break, looking to make a play. He saw Ersan Ilyasova streaking down the court and dropped off a pass just at the right time for Ilyasova to catch and finish a layup. Not one to rest on his laurels, Giannis got back on defense and rebounded a blocked shot, which he quickly made an outlet pass to a guard before taking off down the middle of the court.

He kept his eyes up and awaited a pass as he sprinted towards the hoop, catching in stride a look from Ridnour. He rose up over Pistons defenders, using that incredibly length perfectly, and finished in traffic, earning a foul along with his finish.

It was a fantastic 30 second stretch, one that showed all of the facets of Antetokounmpo’s game, even the things he’s learned and adapted to since arriving in training camp with the Bucks. Once upon a time, Giannis may not have been so quick to find a guard and sprint down the court himself on the second half of that play.

“Last year in Greece and even with the national team, when I rebound the ball, coach allowed me to bring down the ball and call the play,” he said after Wednesday night’s game. “Even here, coach allows me to do that. But I don’t usually. I think it’s better to give the ball to Brandon and Luke. It’s more … more … safe,” he said with a smile once he found the word he wanted. “They’re going to call the right play.”

The right play after the rebound was locating Giannis, though there was some debate on the broadcast whether or not Ridnour was doing so. Gary Neal looked to be open on the opposite wing and the pass could have been heading his way, but Giannis’ long strides brought him into the picture at just the right time. Milwaukee’s growing force on the wing, swooped in, and with two giant steps from the top of the key, had a layup and a foul.

And I mean growing quite literally. He’s grown to 6-foot-10, up an inch from where he was when the Bucks drafted him last summer. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen, Giannis’ growth plates are the plates of a 16-year-old. There’s a chance that Giannis will eventually grow to be a 7-footer. That’s a fun fantasy that’s often played out when people create a player in a video game, except it could actually be a real life thing. In Milwaukee of all places.

But Giannis isn’t only looking to grow physically. He still has a ways to go to be the player he wants to be. One of the areas he’s working on is his movement off the ball. He primarily played with the ball in his hands in Greece, but he said his experience in Milwaukee hasn’t been his first time operating without the ball. You’d think it was, judging from how often he ends up planted in a corner on offense.

He’s averaging just 22 touches in 15.2 minutes per game for the season. For comparison’s sake, the aforementioned Neal, professional shot taker, averages 37.2 touches in 22.2 minutes per game. But Giannis is trying to involve himself more in the half court.

“When I’m off the ball and other guys try to penetrate, I try to cut backdoor, get some dunks,” he said. He had backdoor cuts for dunks in the Bucks two games prior to Wednesday’s game against Detroit, which may have caught the Pistons eye. “Today, I didn’t get any, they were kind of … waiting for me. I also try to shoot the three, shoot the perimeter shot.”

“I get more comfortable day-by-day. I’m starting to get some minutes and getting more comfortable.”

His 3-point prowess (6-15 3FG) has surprised, even if it has come in limited doses. His reliability around the hoop has been less surprising. Given his size, explosiveness and length, he profiled as a good finisher and that profile hasn’t been wrong, which is why Coach Larry Drew says they continue to encourage him to stay active and on the move.

“That’s just something he’s going to have to learn, being 18 years old, find out what his niche is,” Drew said recently. “He’s a young kid that’s still learning, still digesting a lot of stuff from the short period of time that he’s been here. But you know, once he gets that feel, it’s just something that he’ll be adding to his game. We try to encourage him just to keep moving.”

“With his length, and he’s got some speed … all these things he wants to incorporate into his game. Moving without the basketball is kind of a lost art in our game. There’s a lot of standing-around basketball being played. But we try to encourage him more and more. With his length and his long arms, in around the basket he’s pretty efficient.”

Over the past three games, Giannis has seen an uptick in minutes with Caron Butler absent from the Bucks lineup as he battles a sore knee. In those three games, he’s averaged 6.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 blocks in 23.6 minutes per game, truly displaying his much touted versatility. Butler is expected to return to the lineup next week and Drew is expected to have a hell of a time sitting his exciting, energy and highlight providing rookie.

“I know CB (Butler) is out so, for sure, I know coach is going to give me some minutes,” Giannis said. “But maybe when CB come back, I know he’s the starter so I know my minutes going to be less. I just, now that I got an opportunity I try to show coach I can do something, I can help the team, so he can trust me and put me in for some minutes. I don’t know if I have showed him that yet, but I’m still trying.”

Giannis, showing off his "Antlers" (or as he calls them "Deers") 3-point celebration after a game. (Via @nmonroe)
Giannis, showing off his “Antlers” (or as he calls them “Deers”) 3-point celebration after a game. (Via @nmonroe)

It’s hard not to be taken with his humble, soft spoken and playful nature as you discuss with him the incredible thing he did on the court and he talks about what coaches allow him to do and how he hopes that he’s earned their trust. He’s certainly earned the trust and admiration of Bucks fans.

I’ve been bombarded by Bucks fans on Twitter for weeks asking for at least 15-20 minutes nightly of Giannis, but it isn’t just a loud minority shouting into space. When Giannis entered the game on Wednesday night for the first time, he drew a loud ovation from a small crowd. I got the feeling that Bucks fans wanted to show Giannis even more appreciation with ex-Buck Brandon Jennings on the court for the opposition.

They’ve moved on from the rookie that wowed them early, but less often as time went on, but they haven’t lost their ability to hope for the best. So far, Giannis has done what he can to reward their faith.

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  1. Giannis is legit. This kids gonna be great, especially if he’s still physically developing for another year or two…

  2. So so so excited for this kid to be great, but so so so aprehensive about it because – lets be honest – this is the Bucks and bad shit happens to us/them.

  3. He’s got an sensational mix of skills. He’s on of the few players in the league (and really in history) where when he scores 10-14 points and does all the other things he does he seems utterly dominant. I think in part it’s because he’s such a superior athlete along with his many basketball skills.

    Last night, I thought he played his best game of the year. Especially defense and passing wise. I think already he is Bucks best all around player. He may alone turn on the Bucks fan base enough to get us out of our current mess and move forward.

    Lastly, I can’t believe how aggressive and unafraid he is of anything. He literally was taking it on himself to go after the Pistons big men in the 2nd quarter. And having some success.

    Imagine Giannis in a month or two? Much less a year or two. Wow.

    • apatheticbucksfan

      dont get me wrong bro ive got a giant giannis boner too, but i think u just won some sort of award for dramatic overstatement

  4. I’m staying cautiously optimistic. Season is less than 25% complete…lots of basketball to be played. Giannis raw skills are very clear to see,no denying the ceiling is sky high for his game!!
    For now,I’m putting my faith in BUCKS organization to prepare and PROTECT their young superstar(?). No need to be greedy with the future of FRANCHISE,let him come along at the appropriate speed. If we are to have any future here in Milwaukee,we must be patient enough to wait for more young players to join Giannis.Get him his minutes,yes-but don’t run him out on the floor to appease the fans when times are tough.


    • I think you make a lot of sense, here, dipsydoo toyou.
      I am amazed and impressed that Giannis has come so far, so fast with his game, and am delighted that he appears to be a genuinely good guy. Even playing 20 minutes or so per game, he could make this season a lot more exciting and fun. Maybe he could get up to 30 minutes. I agree that the key is to do what is best for Giannis, as well as for the team.
      I also hope the Bucks are doing whatever is reasonably possible to help Giannis off the court, from helping him not to get lonely to helping him to eat good meals. I’d like to keep him away from bad people. I don’t want to smother the guy, but I hope the front office is at least offering him opportunities for a good and wholesome life in Milwaukee. I feel that way about all of our guys, that I want them to be protected as much as possible, to at least have referrals to good people and places and services.
      With Giannis looking so promising, with Larry and John already showing star potential, with Khris and Brandon so young and finding their games, and maybe even Nate joining in the parade… this is starting to look like an up-and-coming team that I could actually enjoy for this season. It seems like the egos are muted, the attitudes are generally in the right place, and that the guys are likeable.
      I’d really like to see some positive basketball right away, and even some wins. Then if we do get an elite draft pick, he would be joining a movement toward success that is already well underway. Whomever among the vets are willing to play team basketball and want to come along for the ride, welcome.
      Good article, Jeremy. I, too, dipsydoo, am cautiously optimistic about Giannis — and also about the team. Please, management, give our young guys a good opportunity to play, and support them on and off the court. Give us fans reasons to hope, and to cheer, starting Friday against the Wizards. It would be nice to say, “Go Bucks!” without having to grit my teeth our of sheer loyalty, to actually really like our guys and the direction they’re heading.

  5. It’s time to let the kid play. Needs to be on the floor 30 mins a game. Bucks only have 3 wins this season. Plus Butler’s out. Bucks are one of the worst teams in the league w/ one of the better rookie’s of the season getting inconsistent minutes. Draft is deep, they’ll still be able to get a talented player at 4 thru 6.

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  8. Here’s me earlier comment on the rating the Bucks 1-15 earlier this year basically comparing him to a young Kobe Bryant. You might say I like this kid and see a bright future.

    10-15 for the most part seem pretty regular, back of the bench type guys with a couple young bench guys. HOWEVER, good for emphasis right.

    Giannis current chances of playing this year, probably 10-15 minutes early on and the potential to be the face and future of the franchise(It’s all yours Larry Sanders right now, but see Brandon Jennings on the length of that). I would compare him to a former teenage superstar selected just 2 picks before Giannis, Kobe Bryant. Let the shock and appal begin. But here’s some similarities:

    1. Teenage prospect, playing against relatively unknown competition(Lower Merion vs Greece YMCA league not a huge difference)
    2. Very athletic with great upside
    3. Picks 13 and 15, Kobe and Giannis respectively
    4. Kobe averaged 15 minutes, 26 minutes, and then shot up to starting and averaging 38 minutes. I think this is going to be very similar to what we can expect the Bucks to handle the progression.
    5. Kobe was behind Van Exel and Eddie Jones for playing time, very similar to a veteran Caron Butler and OJ Majo combo.

    Based on some of the similarities, future playing time, and current position, I would put Giannis much higher than #10, I would think a more comprable evaluation would be in the 5-7 range. Sanders, Henson, Irylsova, Knight, and then Giannis, Mayo, Butler, Ridnour somewhere in the mix of that 5-7 range.

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