MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo has a new contract extension and likely a lot more responsibility once the Milwaukee Bucks open the season.
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The athletic, 6-foot-11 matchup nightmare will start with a full season as a full-time ball-handler. It’s the latest step forward for a fourth-year player who has come a long way from the raw 19-year-old rookie from Greece picked 15th overall by the Bucks in 2013.
"Since Giannis has arrived, he has done everything he can possibly do to become the best player he could become," general manager John Hammond said. "We have full faith and confidence in Giannis (that it’s) not going to stop."
Antetokounmpo averaged 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season. He really took off after the All-Star break when coach Jason Kidd had him take over running the offense.
Antetokounmpo finished with five triple-doubles over the season’s final two months. The Bucks rewarded him in September with a four-year extension worth $100 million.
The young forward has grown up in Milwaukee, where Hammond even taught him how to drive a few years back. Antetokounmpo and fellow forward Jabari Parker have shown that they have the maturity to handle the spotlight of being franchise cornerstones.
Parker, who is in the third year of his rookie deal, figures to get an extension a year from now.
"The thing we focus on is just to win. We win games, everything else will take care of itself," Antetokounmpo said.
Parker is well-spoken and passionate about social justice issues. He is focused and intense, but quieter than Antetokounmpo in front of the microphones after a game.
Antetokounmpo alternates between smiles and scowls on the floor. He’s always up for a laugh, just like at his first preseason meeting with reporters in September when he cracked this knock-knock joke:
"Who’s there?" reporters answered.
"Obama," Antetokounmpo said, referring to the President.
"Oh by myself," replied Antetokounmpo in song, to the tune of the Eric Carmen ballad, "All by Myself ."
Other story lines and things to watch this year in Milwaukee:
The Bucks’ hopes of a playoff berth took a hit when starting shooting guard Khris Middleton tore his left hamstring during a workout on Sept. 20, just hours after Antetokounmpo signed his extension. The team’s leading scorer, Middleton (18.2 points) has blossomed into an all-around player. He could be back by mid-March, with a month left in the regular season for a potential playoff push.
Outside shooting was a weakness last year, and that was with Middleton in the lineup. The Bucks hope new additions Matthew Dellavedova (39.8 percent 3-point shooting), Mirza Teletovic (41.2 percent) and Tony Snell (35.1 percent) hit from behind the arc to create more space for Antetokounmpo and Parker to make plays around the basket.
Kidd wants to revert back to the defense that his team played in 2014-15, when the Bucks allowed 97.4 points per game and allowed opponents to shoot 43.7 percent. Milwaukee allowed 103.2 points on 45.4 percent shooting last year. The Bucks’ length and athleticism can create problems for opponents on both ends of the floor.
TO THE POINT
Antetokounmpo might handle the ball up the floor, but he probably won’t be guarding opposing point guards. That’s where Dellavedova, who was with Cleveland last year, becomes an important piece. Entering his 17th season, guard Jason Terry is on the roster to provide veteran guidance.
IN THE PAINT
The Bucks have three big men with distinct skill sets to play in the paint. Miles Plumlee returned to Milwaukee as a restricted free agent on a four-year, $52 million deal. Kidd likes the energy and hustle that Plumlee provides. John Henson has a lefty hook shot but is better known for defense. Greg Monroe is more of a back-to-the-basket scorer, but could be on the trade block. Kidd plans to continue to adjust according to situation and matchups.