Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd stood in front of reporters Sunday night in Orlando and didn’t seem to have an answer when asked why one of his players isn’t getting more recognition from around the league.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is perhaps one of the NBA’s most exciting players to watch these days, but he isn’t mentioned very often alongside the other top up-and-coming players in the league.
While the fourth-year player out of Greece is officially listed as a small forward, the Bucks have used Antetokounmpo at virtually every position this season. Take a quick glance at any given box score and it’ll show that he can impact from all over the floor.
He’s averaging a career-high 22 points, 8.3 rebounds, six assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.9 steals per game this season for the Bucks. He ranks 20th in the league in points, 24th in rebounds, 16th in assists, sixth in blocks and 12th in steals. He leads the team in every major stat category with the exception of assists.
The injury to Khris Middleton during training camp led to Antetokounmpo taking on an increased role. Middleton was the team’s leading scorer last season, but his status for the remainder of this season is uncertain after undergoing surgery to repair a torn hamstring. Antetokounmpo has stepped up in every way for the team and has become their go-to player.
So, why isn’t he receiving more recognition?
“[His name] is hard to pronounce,” Kidd joked with reporters.
The Bucks rewarded Antetokounmpo with a four-year, $100 million contract extension prior to the start of the season and he’s fully lived up to expectations thus far. Although “The Greek Freak” won’t be turning 22 years old until next week, his head coach believes he’s already in elite company historically considering his production.
“Well, you’re talking about someone who’s averaging I think 20 and six, two blocks [and] two steals,” Kidd said. “He’s in a rare air right now. I don’t know too many guys doing that. [Scottie] Pippen, maybe LeBron [James]. It’s rare.”
What allows him to be so effective?
“I think it’s our system; positionless,” Kidd responded. “He’s a basketball player. We’re not saying he’s the five or the point guard. He’s a basketball player that runs the team on both ends – offensively and defensively. He’s become very comfortable with that role.”
As a former point guard, Kidd knows a thing or two about running a team’s offense on the floor. With four other guys on the floor that want to score, Kidd understands that it’s hard to get everyone the touches they’d like, but believes Antetokounmpo does a great job of getting his teammates involved.
Kidd joked that the team basically asks him to do everything on the court, but he’s done a great job so far handling those duties. Antetokounmpo has recorded six triple-doubles during his time in the league, with five of those occurring last season and the other one just last week against the Magic.
Last Monday, Antetokounmpo recorded 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and three blocks in that game against the Magic. He joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in history to have at least 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and three blocks in a game.
“It’s very fun [to watch him play],” Bucks teammate Jabari Parker told Basketball Insiders. “He helps contribute to our team and we try to utilize the time [on the floor] like that. That’s our teammate and we try to ride with him.”
Whether it’s on offense or defense, it seems he’s always making plays. He is also one of the best in the league at making hustle plays. He currently ranks fifth in the NBA in loose balls recovered and 15th in shots contested.
Having a player like Antetokounmpo in the lineup gives Kidd and the Bucks a lot of versatility. They have three centers on the team and can run big at times or they can run smaller with Antetokounmpo playing at the five. Kidd often will use Antetokounmpo at the center late in games when he deploys smaller lineups.
Perhaps one reason why Antetokounmpo isn’t gaining a lot of attention on the national landscape is due to his team. The Bucks have gotten off to a 7-8 start and would currently be out of the playoffs if they started today. While a 7-8 start is surely respectable, it may not warrant coverage on a wide scale.
As one of the younger teams in the league, the Bucks are looking to make that next jump up in the Eastern Conference. The team took a bit of step back last season and missed the playoffs. With Antetokounmpo playing at a high level, and with Parker beginning to tap into his potential after being a second-overall pick, the Bucks look to have a bright future.
“I think we just control what we can control out there at the end of the day,” Parker said. “Just don’t focus on the external things, just worry about what we do internally and everything will come our way as long as we take care of winning.
“The team can be really good. Just fix a little bit of things both defensively and offensively, creating good habits with the starters and the bench and those things just carry on with us throughout the year.”
The scary thing about Antetokounmpo and Parker is they both still have a lot of room to grow on and off of the court. That should ensure the Bucks have a bright future ahead. It should also ensure Kidd may not have to answer those types of questions on Antetokounmpo for much longer.
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