ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Larry Drew had never heard of Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Milwaukee Bucks coach really start diving into the draft.
After Drew got a glimpse of Antetokounmpo on tape, he instantly coveted the young Greek forward.
“I remember watching him the first day and just seeing what he was capable of; his skill level is pretty amazing,” Drew said. “A kid this young, physically he is not a very strong kid. I am talking about skills, I’m talking about his ability to get in between the lines and do things. This kid has it.
“Just sitting with (Bucks general manager) John (Hammond) yesterday, I was just shaking my head. I said ‘John, he will not be there at 15. He will not be there.’ I am really excited about getting this kid.”
Instead of going the safe route, the Milwaukee Bucks went with the youngest player in the draft Thursday, making Antetokounmpo their pick at No. 15.
“There were safer picks on the board for us,” Hammond said. “There’s no question there were safer picks, but nothing with this kind of upside. Nothing close to this. That’s the real key component of what we have here. Who is our next All-Star? I don’t want to put that on this kid’s shoulders; he has the skill set to become that if it all comes together for him.”
Antetokounmpo, 18, played last season with Filathlitikos in Greece’s second division, averaging 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
The son of Nigerian-born parents, Antetokounmpo is thought to be a couple of years away from becoming a contributor on an NBA team. He’s believed to have signed a multi-year deal with the Spanish club CAI Zaragoza in December, but the Bucks plan on bringing him over right away and will negotiate a buyout.
According to the official bio released by the NBA, Antetokounmpo’s strengths are his length and athleticism, a gifted ball handler for his size, an ability to split through traffic, ignite fast breaks and get to the basket.
“I know we’re all giddy, everybody is giddy on draft night,” Hammond said. “When we drafted Brandon (Jennings) we said he has All-Star speed and quickness, that’s all we said. I do think — I don’t think we’ve made a habit of saying this — I think this kid has potential All-Star talent. I really believe he has that.”
Not only will Antetokounmpo have to adjust to the NBA, but he’ll also have to adjust to living in a new country. He hadn’t left Greece until taking a trip with the national team a few weeks ago, and coming to Brooklyn for the draft was his first time in the United States.
Antetokounmpo plans to bring his family with him to Milwaukee to help ease the transition, and the Bucks are already working with him to make that happen as smoothly as possible.
“We have some work to do with him, there’s no doubt about it,” Drew said. “We have to get him stronger, we have to get him adjusted to playing against stronger guys, but I really think this kid will be a player who will learn fast. He wants to prove that he can get better.”
Milwaukee started scouting Antetokounmpo heavily in December, as Hammond made a trip to Greece to watch him in person. Bucks director of player personnel Dave Babcock recently made a trip to Greece to watch him with the national team, leaving again feeling that he’s a special talent.
“This kid just kind of blew up midseason,” Hammond said. “People started talking about this young kid in Greece and all the talent and ability he has. We all flocked over to see him. When I was there, I was probably with five or six other NBA teams watching him. We’re all looking and seeing the same thing.”
What the pick of Antetokounmpo didn’t accomplish: Addressing the questions in Milwaukee’s backcourt. With just one guard currently signed, several guards were left on the board at No. 15. But Hammond went for the best player available, not the safe pick.
“We’ll answer that question in free agency, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Hammond said. “We understand that … If it was about need and being safe, we take the backcourt pick. This was about taking the best player on the board.”