*Editor’s note: This piece was written by Behind the Buck Pass contributor, Justin Becker.
As we all know by not, the Milwaukee Bucks are at the bottom of the NBA standings with a miserable 13-51 record. This season, we have seen a lot of player changes, and injuries have plagued Larry Drew’s crew. However, all is not lost for the Bucks. They have enough youth and talent to compete in the next couple of years.
The main reason why Bucks fans should smile is their rookie, who’s made a giant leap from obscurity to the big lights of the NBA. Meet Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the “Greek Freak.”
THE GREEK FREAK
Giannis Who? His family name is as hard to say as it is to spell. The US media prefer calling him “alphabet soup” for obvious reasons, but the fascination with him goes far beyond his unique name.
Before he was in the NBA, he was known as the “Greek Freak” in local circles. It’s a scary name, but the kid is a scary specimen.
He’s only 19 years old. His height was listed at 6-9 during draft day, but he had the wingspan of a 7-3 behemoth. And because he’s a freak, he’s still growing. Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times wrote:
“Indeed, doctors have informed Antetokounmpo and Bucks officials that the former’s growth plate is still open. In all likelihood, he’ll become a 7-footer.”
This was last December, when he was reported to have grown at least an inch. We wonder where he’s at today, but his height isn’t all that makes him a freak of nature. His hands measure 15 inches longs. When he palms the ball, it looks like he’s holding a tennis ball.
And that’s not all.
He played the guard position when he was playing in Greece. Although he’s not a prolific shooter yet, he can run like a guard, dribble like a guard and pass like a guard. His averages in the Greek 2nd division league were 9.5 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game. Even though those weren’t exactly Magic Johnson numbers, he was still magical enough for the Bucks’, who drafted him with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, despite having limited footage and scouting reports.
HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD
Antetokounmpo has already been compared to the NBA greats. His athleticism is on par with some of the league’s best, and his frame is similar to Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett.
His height makes him the prototype small forward for the NBA. Although he does not yet possess the offensive firepower of a Durant, he is already a better defensive player. Though his individual defensive skills have to be polished, he can hold his own against the top forwards in the league. With his 7-3 wingspan, and those 15 inch long hands, he is already an offensive player’s nightmare. And with the right footwork and technique, he can lockdown the best of the best given his physical tools. That will come with time.
Giannis is not just all defense though. He’s a near-seven footer who can distribute the ball and who can run the pick and roll. He’s got the agility of most guards and possesses that sudden burst of speed that could give Usain Bolt a run for his money. With the unique combination of height, speed and agility, he’s got the makings of an NBA freak.
According to Bucks coach Larry Drew:
“He’s 6-9 and 19 years-old. 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. We just have to continue to develop him. We have to continue to allow him to grow.”
What Larry Drew meant by “intriguing plays” are the countless highlight reel plays he’s been involved in this season. Those plays were so great and spectacular, it’s hard to write them down and describe them in words and adjectives.
Considering that his previous basketball experience was playing for a 2nd division pro league in Greece, the leap to the NBA has been successful since his current averages in the NBA are almost the same as those when he was in Greece.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Giannis has been averaging 24 minutes per game so far this season. He’s come off the bench in 37 games, but Antetokounmpo has shown that he can perform when given the right amount of playing time. In his 12 starts this season at shooting guard, his averages were a lot better than when he came off the bench. While starting, he averaged 9.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals in 32 minutes. So given the minutes and the right exposure, the kid can definitely play.
Kevin Durant told an NBA Greece reporter:
“We do look alike…but he’s more athletic than I am, so he has me there. His overall skills are definitely going to grow, just from the experience and the opportunity, so I am looking forward to seeing him grow.”
If Kevin Durant is correct, he may have met his match. Durant added:
“He plays hard. You gotta respect a guy like that. He’s going to be really good.”
Only time will tell if Durant is right regarding Antetokounmpo’s potential, but with Giannis’ work ethic and passion for the game, things seem to be on the upswing for both him and the franchise.
Here’s Giannis himself:
“I think that I have to work on everything — my dribbling, how to shoot, how to pass the ball, how to learn the plays, everything. I need to even work on my body, because my goal is to become the best.”
With this burning desire and the physical gifts that he possesses, the sky is the limit for the Greek Freak.