Budding star Antetokounmpo a versatile tool for Bucks
MADISON, Wis. — Giannis Antetokounmpo can dunk like an explosive wing player. He can handle the ball like a guard. He can provide an instant energy boost like a sixth man off the bench.
And for at least the first few weeks of the NBA season, the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo will probably be muscling up against power forwards while the Milwaukee Bucks await Jabari Parker’s return to the lineup.
The 20-year-old Antetokounmpo just follows coach Jason Kidd’s lead. A budding star, the third-year forward certainly doesn’t lack in confidence.
"I don’t really look in front of me if it’s a point guard, if it’s a big guy. I think I can guard everybody, even the small guys, even the big guys," he said. "I’m going to do what I do as hard as possible."
Effort never seems to be an issue with Antetokounmpo. His highlight-reel dunks and bubbly personality have already made him a fan favorite.
He and Parker, also 20, were the faces of the team on billboards this summer when the Bucks unveiled their new-look uniforms.
Neither of them will be suited up for the season opener on Oct. 28 against the New York Knicks.
Parker isn’t expected to return until mid-November as the Bucks proceed with caution following the forward’s torn ACL in December. Parker is said to be doing well in practice.
Antetokounmpo must sit out the opener after being suspended for one game for running over the Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy during Game 6 of last season’s first-round playoff series won by Chicago. When he returns for the Oct. 30 game against Washington, Antetokounmpo seems destined for duty at power forward.
"Every game, he’s getting better. He’s trying to figure it out," forward-center John Henson said.
There is no better learning experience for Antetokounmpo than having to match up against Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett. They faced each other on Tuesday in a preseason game in Madison, and will meet again on Friday in a rematch.
Garnett, 39, has been in the league since 1995 — the year after Antetokounmpo was born. They boast similar wiry but athletic body types.
They made for an entertaining matchup at the Kohl Center, especially with the way Garnett tried to get into Antetokounmpo’s head.
"I thought he did well in the mental warfare of the game," Kidd said of his young star.
He made his usual collection of highlight reel plays, too.
In the first quarter, Antetokounmpo swooped in for a dunk along the baseline after converting a missed 3, then hustled back on defense for a steal. In the third quarter, he raced back to block Shabazz Muhammad’s layup attempt from behind on a breakaway.
"He gave the crowd a little bit of what he can do. A little flair," Henson said.
Antetokounmpo should mostly play small forward, though his multi-faceted game gives Kidd the ability to move him around the floor to account for matchups or foul trouble.
Antetokounmpo has dabbled at point guard, a position he played in his native Greece. With quickness to go along with his wingspan, Antetokounmpo could be a matchup nightmare at any position.
"He’s 20 years old and he’s going to play every position for us," Kidd said. "He’s never complaining. He just goes out there and plays."