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
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
“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
“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
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
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