MILWAUKEE – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich got laughs during The Finals when he talked about Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan’s undying belief that, deep down, he’s a 6-foot-11 point guard.
No one was goofing around Saturday night, though, when folks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center actually saw one.
Derrick Rose wasn’t on the court for Chicago; in fact, the Bulls used backups Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks the whole fourth quarter. The stakes were low in a contest played in the middle of October.
Still, there was significance to be found when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo played point guard for the Bucks for the final quarter of their 91-85 loss to the Bulls.
Milwaukee lost the game but won that particular quarter, 24-17. And lest you forget, Antetokounmpo stands 6-11, courtesy of a two-inch growth spurt in the offseason.
“I feel like if I handle the ball it gives me the opportunity to go around the bigs and go to the basket,” the second-year teenager from Greece said afterward. “Not only that, but I tried to make my teammates better. That’s what I was thinking.”
It wasn’t 12 minutes of John Stockton out there on the throwback MECCA hardwood. None of the Bucks, frankly, benefited more from Antetokounmpo at the point than Antetokounmpo, who scored nine points but passed for no assists in the period. Then again, he made four of his seven shots while his teammates combined to shoot 5-of-17 in the fourth, so assists were hard to come by.
“I thought Giannis did a great job for us at the point, running the show, finding guys and also being able to find his shot,” said Jason Kidd – who ought to know, right? “We kind of fell into it with B. Knight being hurt [minor leg injury] and I didn’t want to run up [Kendall Marshall's] minutes. So this was a perfect situation against a talented team to give him a chance to see what he can do at the point.”
The extra-long point guard is one of those NBA breakthroughs that pretty much began and ended with Magic Johnson. Given Johnson’s massive success as the 6-foot-9 ringleader of “Showtime,” people assumed the league would soon be dominated by converted shooting guards and small forwards as their team’s primary playmakers.
It never became a trend, because players with similar skills and aptitudes were in such short supply – and Johnson’s game came to be revered even more than before. Oh, we’ve had a few; Jalen Rose and Shaun Livingston come to mind. The term “point forward” still gets used – LeBron James and Kevin Durant surely have played that role, and Chicago’s Joakim Noah often looked like a “point center” in Rose’s absence last season.
But Antetokounmpo, who ran the point at times at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, is trying to cut his teeth at the position at least on a part-time, as-needed basis. His most memorable highlight Saturday was more garden-variety Giannis – blocking Taj Gibson’s shot at one end, then sprinting down the floor to finish with a dunk at the other end. And yet, Kidd praised the kid for a different scoring chance.
“Yeah, he showed, I thought it was, kind of that Magic Johnson baby hook,” the coach said.
With Knight, Marshall, Jerryd Bayless and Nate Wolters on the roster, there might not be an extreme need for Antetokounmpo to work as the consummate floor general’s floor general. Kidd mostly wants him and fellow teen Jabari Parker to slow down as they learn, even though he wants the Bucks to pick up the pace of their attack.
Antetokounmpo today isn’t the point guard – or the anything – he might become with more experience. But he’s getting a taste and giving a glimpse. Several Bulls players noticed a hike in Antetokounmpo’s confidence.
“I haven’t seen a small guard take the ball from him or give him too much pressure,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “He’ll start going more north and south than east and west, and we’ll start taking advantage of his size.
“It’s the ultimate weapon to me. He can post up and bang and exploit mismatches. … He expands our lineup, especially defensively.”