HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – New Bucks’ coach Larry Drew was most of one continent, an entire ocean and a large portion of another continent away from Milwaukee’s Summer League team. That’s an unusual itinerary for most coaches with a team in Las Vegas in mid-July, and certainly a coach about five weeks on the job and wanting to familiarize himself with the roster.
But this was about Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo is the No. 15 pick in the draft, the small forward with ball-handling skills but practically no experience against anything better than the equivalent of Division II in the United States colleges. He’s an intriguing prospect who recently arrived in Milwaukee with little connection to anyone outside Europe. He was a high-risk, high-reward choice by Milwaukee. And when he couldn’t join the Bucks for Summer League because of a commitment with one of the Greek junior teams, the Bucks went to him.
Drew watched Antetokounmpo play for Greece in the European under-20s championships is Estonia and, just as important, got the kind of bonding time that was not available before the draft. The updated read was valuable and realistic: Antetokounmpo may not be ready to contribute as a rookie with the Bucks trying to remain in the playoff pack – an opinion echoed by many around the league that he has real potential but needs a lot of time – but there is an emotional toughness that should carry him through the transition.
Here’s the full Drew perspective after returning from Estonia and with Antetokounmpo now in Milwaukee, where he sat down with Hang Time:
Question: What did you learn that you did not already know?
Answer: I didn’t know much about Giannis, I didn’t know much about his game. I watched a lot of tape on him, just trying to get a feel for who he was as a basketball player. Sometimes watching on film, you don’t get the true essence. It’s not like being there. When I heard that he was going to be playing in the 20-and-under tournament, I had to make a decision on whether to miss our summer league or to go over and watch Giannis, get a chance to watch him in person. I really thought that would be more valuable, at least for me, to go and see him face to face, live and in person, to get a real feel for who he was as a ball player. In going over there, I really didn’t know what to expect. From all the things that I saw on film, he seemed to be a really unselfish player, a really good passer. Watching him on tape, I thought his shot was a little funky. But watching him in person, he’s got a nice shot. It’s just a little bit of a slow release.
Q: Personality is obviously going to play a big role in this. He’s going to be facing challenges on and off the court he never has before. What did you learn about his attitude?
A: He’s going to face some hard moments. That’s part of the growth process.
Q: But more than a player coming from a U.S. college after a freshman or a sophomore year. Is it a bigger issue with him because he never faced anything close to this level of competition.
A: I agree with you on that. But I think this kid is pretty driven. He wants it. He hasn’t faced this level of competition, not where he’s from. That’s why it’s going to be important, especially with our team, our organization, that we nurture him along the way and that he understands that there’s going to be some peaks, there’s going to be some valleys. Players are going to come at him. No doubt about it. But he is the type of kid who embraces a challenge. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Physically, he’s got to get bigger, he’s got to get stronger. But it’ going to our job, our responsibility, to nurture him along and help him through those difficult times.
Q: What is realistic for this season? You guys are trying to make the playoffs. Is he someone you can count on right away or are we looking at more of a project?
A: That remains to be seen. A lot depends on how fast he develops. A lot depends on is he equipped, is he built for the NBA when the season opens? We’re going to bring him along slowly. We’re going to see just where he ends up. We’re not going to try to force him or push him into anything. I want this to be a real graceful process for him, a graceful process for us. We have to allow him to develop. If he develops at a good pace, maybe he is somebody that will get some playing time. But right now it’s really hard to say. We’re in the infancy stage of this thing. He’s here now working out, lifting weights. We’re trying to put a little more weight on him. We’ll just have to wait to see how this whole thing unfolds.”
Q: So it’s tough to say at this point whether you can get a dependable 18 or 20 minutes a game from him as a rookie?
A: I couldn’t honestly say that will be the case as far as him getting 15 to 20 minutes. That’s a hard question to answer right now.
Q: With his unique skill set, how do you as a coach envision using him?
A: He’s a terrific ball-handler for his size. He handles the basketball very well. When I first watched him play, the first thing I said is he’s a point forward because he has size (6-9) and he handles the ball in the open court. If he continues to improve there, I could see him being somewhat of a point forward. Somebody that can initiate an offense, somebody that can be in the middle of a fastbreak. He certainly looks comfortable doing that. He hasn’t done it on our level yet, though. That’s something that we’re going to have to nurture along. He certainly has the tools. He certainly has the skills. One thing I did notice about him, when he is in the open court with the basketball, he’s not just a gifted passer, but he’s a willing passer. He doesn’t try to over-dribble. He gives it up in a timely fashion. His skill is very unique and what he does for his size. I see him as a guy you can possibly put at the top of the floor, somewhere he’s allowed to handle the basketball, because he certainly, for his size, does a good job with that.”
Q: Could you ever see him as a full-time point guard once he gets the experience, once he gets stronger, or is that unrealistic?
A: Right now I would say that’s unrealistic. I would probably go as far as just calling him a point forward. With his size, with his ability to handle, he does a good job in his decision-making and delivering the basketball. I would classify him closer to being a point forward.
Q: Does Giannis compare to anybody or remind you of anyone?
A: Not really. I think when you watch him play and when you look at his size, his body frame, particularly when he’s in the open court, I see a little bit of (Kevin) Durant, sort of. Just because he’s thin, has long arms, 6-9, and the way he gracefully moves into the open court. I’m not saying he has Durant’s game. But just the way he moves in the open court, I see some similarities.”
Q: You played with a tall point guard with the Lakers. Do you reach out to Magic Johnson and say, “Can you have a conversation with Giannis?”
A: Not at this point. Earvin and I, we still maintain contact. Not necessarily for the individual. Maybe for our team as a whole, but not for the individual.”
Q: How do you mean?
A: Just have him come in and talk to the players, our entire team.
Q: Have you done that yet?
A: No I have not.
Q: You would like to?
Q: What do you see Magic brining in a conversation?
A: A winning attitude. He’s experienced winning at the highest level. I know players do look up to him in the highest regard. To have a guy like that speak to your team, I think that speaks volumes.