Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo starting to show his game
DEC 03, 2013 9:22a ET
MILWAUKEE -- Close to an hour after practice was over, Giannis Antetokounmpo was still on the BMO Harris Bradley Center court.
First it was assistant coach Scott Williams, then Nick Van Exel -- no matter how physical the opponent, the 18-year-old wasn't backing down and certainly wasn't retiring to the locker room until he had to.
If one of the arena workers had been willing to go one-on-one, Antetokounmpo would have taken on the challenge, attempted to talk trash in English and beaten them with a huge grin on his face.
The basketball world has gotten a small taste of just how talented the Greek forward is, glimpses here and there that have left fans longing for more.
"You see some things that certainly put a smile on your face," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "Eighteen years old and where his skill level is right now, you just don't see that much.
"He does some intriguing things when he's out on the floor."
One of those moments came Saturday night, as Antetokounmpo hustled back after a turnover to make an incredible block on Celtics guard Jordan Crawford's layup attempt. The rookie then booked it back down the court the other way and was rewarded with a one-handed dunk in transition.
"There's not many players in our league that have those type of attributes, as far as length, speed, skills to handle the basketball like that," Bucks point guard Brandon Knight said. "It's very rare that you come across a player at his size and with his length that can do those types of things.
"He can block shots and then be able to get a dunk on the other end all in one play just because of his God-given abilities and physical stature that a lot of us wasn't blessed with. There are few players in the NBA that can do that."
Drew thought there was no chance Antetokounmpo would block the shot. Many players wouldn't have turned and sprinted after turning the ball over, but even fewer have the athletic ability and length to take off from just inside the free throw line to swat a shot at the rim.
"There are a lot of things I can do that people don't know about me yet, but you will see," Antetokounmpo said. "As the season goes on, you will see."
The most impressive part of the sequence to Knight was the fact Antetokounmpo didn't let the turnover take him out of the play.
"Just because I think it epitomizes the team we want to be," Knight said. "He had a turnover, (but) regardless of the turnover he was able to hustle back. Once he hustled back he got a stop and then got rewarded for that hustle. Instead of turning it over, putting his head down and moping, he had the right mindset."
Not only did the block and dunk change the game around, Antetokounmpo had his most complete performance in Saturday's win over Boston. He scored 10 points with seven rebounds and four assists and sparked the Bucks with his energy.
The Milwaukee fans continue to cheer his every move, as the Bradley Center erupts with every positive thing he does.
"I love it because that's what I have to do when Coach calls me in," Antetokounmpo said of bringing energy. "Coach has many other guys to do things like shooting the ball, scoring the ball, rebounding the ball. I have to bring my team energy and play hard."
Antetokounmpo played a career-high 28 minutes with Caron Butler out with a left knee injury. With Butler out at least a week, he's likely to continue to get an opportunity to play for the time being.
Playing time hasn't been consistent, as Antetokounmpo has averaged 15.2 minutes in 11 games and has often played in garbage time with the Bucks down big. When Milwaukee is fully healthy, Drew is faced with trying to get his rookie valuable experience.
"I just stay focused," Antetokounmpo said. "When coach calls me, I go in. When he doesn't call me, I go back and practice to stay in shape to be ready when he does call me."
His vast potential and willingness to work hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, as Antetokounmpo was the talk of the locker room on Saturday night.
"He's an athletic freak," Bucks forward Ekpe Udoh said. "He's always hustling. ... It's great to see him grow up in front of our eyes."
"As he continues to learn our offense, as he learns to minimize the mistakes -- you are a rookie, you are going to make mistakes," Knight said. "As he tries to minimize those, he's going to help our team because there's not many guys that can match what he can do on the court."
While he's already provided Milwaukee with hope for the future, Antetokounmpo turns just 19 years old on Dec. 16 and knows he has a long way to go to realize his potential.
"I think I have to work on everything," Antetokounmpo said. "My body, my dribbling, my shooting, I have to work on everything."
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