Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo starting to show his game

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.”

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter