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.”
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.