The initial plan had been to write a little on Twitter about Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks’ roll o’ the dice, first-round draft pick. But by the time you get done with his name, his identifying information and the pronunciation guide (YAHN-iss Ah-deh-toh-KOON-bo), well, there goes your 140 characters.
So HTB it is!
To hear the Bucks’ bosses talk about their upcoming season and the need to stay competitive in a smallish market with many fans of limited means – and to maintain visibility and popularity for a new-arena pitch underway – the development of Antetokounmpo in 2013-14 figured to be a low priority. Yet the long-armed kid played 57 minutes in Milwaukee’s first two preseason games, getting force-fed on the NBA game while managing to force open a few skeptics’ or sleepers’ eyes.
The 6-foot-9 youngster scored 14 points in the opener against Cleveland, shooting 3-of 7 from the floor, 7-of-10 from the line and hitting one of his three 3-pointers. He had four rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks, with five turnovers and five fouls in 29:12. He was the best of the Bucks with a plus-13 plus/minus.
Against Minnesota in Sioux Falls Thursday, the fellow some have taken to calling “G-Bo” – headline writers are rooting for that to take hold – played another 28 minutes. He scored four points on 1-of-6 shooting with a couple free throws, and had seven boards, one steal, four blocks, seven turnovers and five fouls.
His minutes were due in part to Ersan Ilyasova‘s sprained right ankle. His play is expectedly raw. But the 7-foot-3 wingspan that helped generate those seven blocked shots in two games is something that can’t be coached. And Antetokounmpo already has shown glimmers of what convinced Bucks general manager John Hammond to grab him at No. 15 in the June draft.
Enough, perhaps to recalibrate some of the team’s hopes and dreams for his rookie season.
“To me, success for Giannis is, I want people to see it,” Hammond had said when camps opened. “When you see him make a play, when you see a kid 19 years old on the floor doing what he’s doing, you say, ‘I get it. I see who he can be.’ ”
Hammond and Bucks VP of player personnel Dave Babcock watched Antetokounmpo work at Tim Grgurich‘s Las Vegas summer camp in August, with the GM ‘fessing up to moments when he got “giddy” over this play or that by the kid. Visions of the new guy alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson started swatting shots in Hammond’s head.
“I don’t think you’re going to see it, possibly, every night,” he said. “But just show it once in a while. To me, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Much has been written and said about Hammond’s marching orders from owner Herb Kohl. The NBA intelligentsia scoffs at the idea of a franchise getting itself “stuck in the middle,” settling for low playoff berths that generally translate into quick eliminations followed by mediocre draft position.
That’s the Milwaukee way, though, which makes Antetokounmpo a luxury of sorts. He is every inch a project player like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Jonas Valanciunas and many others, but without the risk of the high picks spent on those guys. A mandate to compete, but with the permission to take a flyer on a potentially homegrown breakout talent, has the Bucks and coach Larry Drew on a dual track.
“We keep talking about him this upcoming season and what we expect of him,” Hammond said. “I would like to see him get exposed but not over-exposed. Give him an opportunity to be on the floor when it’s possible, but not have him out there too much where he would lose his confidence and those around him would lose confidence.
“At 18 years old, 19 in December, the kinds of things he’s doing on the floor are unusual to say the least. So it’s a growth curve but that curve could be extremely high.”
Higher, perhaps, even than the spelling and pronunciation curves.