Giannis Antetokounmpo Embracing Move to Point Guard
Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Milwaukee Bucks sophomore Giannis Antetokounmpo has a new head coach, a new star teammate, a new owner and even a new position. Jason Kidd was hired as the team’s coach over the summer and he wants to move Antetokounmpo from small forward to point guard.
Kidd believes the second-year player has the skill set to thrive as a floor general, and envisions him being a match-up nightmare with his 6’11 frame and 7’5 wingspan. The 19-year-old has been working out in Milwaukee with teammates and is prepared to make the transition to the one.
“I’m not going to say I was shocked by it,” Antetokounmpo told Basketball Insiders when asked about the move to point guard. “It’s something that I feel comfortable with and I’ll play wherever Coach wants me to play, especially when it’s Coach Kidd who thinks that I can play point guard. That makes me feel like, ‘I can play it. I can play point guard.’ I’m going to try my best and just listen to Coach. I’ll do whatever Coach says to do and I’ll get more comfortable.”
In addition to learning from Kidd, Gary Payton has said that he’ll work with Antetokounmpo during training camp as he adjusts to playing point guard. Antetokounmpo is ecstatic that he’ll get to learn from Kidd and Payton, and realizes this is an opportunity that most players don’t get.
“Oh man, it’s really important and nice, since they’re some of the best point guards in NBA history,” Antetokounmpo said of Kidd and Payton. “Not only are they great point guards, they’re great basketball players and can help us all basketball wise. Whatever they say, that is what I’m going to do. I’m so happy to have guys like them as I figure out the position and to have them teach me. I’m really excited. I’ve talked with Jason Kidd and he’s a really good coach, but he’s also a really great guy. He treats us really well.”
Kidd had Antetokounmpo play some point guard during the Las Vegas Summer League and said that he’ll continue the experiment during the regular season. In Vegas, Antetokounmpo played well. He had the ball in his hands a lot and averaged 17 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, a steal and a block.
“I was comfortable playing point guard during Summer League, but the pressure and the [competition] level of Summer League is different,” Antetokounmpo said. “Okay, there are some NBA players, but it’s not the same. For sure, it’s not the same [as the regular season]. So, let’s see. Let’s see how training camp goes. The guys are ready. Brandon Knight, who is one of our point guards, will sometimes give me the ball so that I can be the point guard and he can be more of a scorer. I’ll just see how it goes in training camp, playing point guard, and then during the season see how I do.”
Initially, Payton wasn’t sure if Antetokounmpo could succeed as a point guard. However, after talking with Kidd and watching him closely in Las Vegas, Payton is a believer.
“When Jason said to me that he intends to use him as a point guard, I told him to stop making jokes. ‘Gary don’t talk before you see him,’ was his answer and I watched him during the Las Vegas Summer League,” Payton said, according to Eurohoops.net. “He can handle the ball, he can drive, he is smart and he is really athletic. That’s why I was asked to go to Milwaukee during the training camp in order to help him adapt to the demands of the modern point guard position.”
Antetokounmpo isn’t sure how much time he’ll spend at point guard versus small forward this year, but he’s expecting to play both positions. It sounds like the team is playing it by ear and seeing how he does in training camp and the preseason before locking in his minutes at one position over the other.
“I think I’m going to play point guard, but I’ll also play at the three,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m going to do whatever Coach tells me. Whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do.”
Last season, Antetokounmpo grew two inches and admitted to Basketball Insiders that while it was great news for him in the long-term because it made him even more of a nightmare on both ends of the floor, in the short-term the growth spurt was difficult for him because he had to adjust to being taller. Now, he says he is more comfortable in his body after playing more.
“I feel more comfortable now,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s hard when you’re growing and growing and growing because you have to get used to it. Things change. You’re dribbling higher, you have to find the timing on your shot. When I grew, I had to fix all of that, but I’m more comfortable now with my game.”
In addition to Antetokounmpo’s position change and continued growth (literally and figuratively), another reason to tune in to the Bucks this season is No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker. The former Duke star has been a household name for several years and he enters the league with huge expectations. Antetokounmpo can’t wait to play with Parker and, after working out with him in Milwaukee, he has nothing but positive things to say about the rookie’s game and work ethic.
“I’m really excited we added him to the team because he’s a great player and a great guy too,” Antetokounmpo said of Parker. “I love playing with him and he’s going to bring a lot of things to the team. He’ll draw a lot of attention [from defenses] and there will be a lot of space, which will help me create. He’s going to help me – and not just me, all of the team. He’s going to make all of the team better because he’s a really good player and he’s a hard worker, who is going to make the rest of the team work hard too. That’s the truth. Whenever I see our guys working, and not just Jabari, that really pushes me to work harder. Seeing a guy like Jabari always on the court and working hard, that makes me want to work harder and harder. I think he’ll be really good for us this year.”
This offseason, Antetokounmpo played for Greece’s national team in the FIBA World Cup. Greece lost earlier than expected, in the round of 16 to Serbia, but it was a great experience for Antetokounmpo, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes per game. He was often one of the youngest players on the floor and deferred to Greece’s veteran players, mainly getting his points through hustle plays. However, he believes participating made him better and he’s looking forward to playing with Greece every chance he gets going forward.
“I really think it will help me,” Antetokounmpo said of playing in the World Cup. “I went over there [to Spain] and I played among the best from all different parts of the world, so it was a really good experience. With things like that, you never lose something, you always gain something. I’m glad that I was there and participated in the World Cup and helped my team Greece to do something. I was really glad that I did a lot this summer. We didn’t do what we were expected to do. We thought we were going to go further, but what can we do, that’s part of the game. For sure [I will continue to play with the national team]. Things like that make you better because you’re working hard over the summer and participating against the best.”
Antetokounmpo’s numbers from last season don’t jump off of the page, but he didn’t play a ton of minutes and it was easy to forget that he was as old as many high school students. Still, he showed glimpses of brilliance and had a number of jaw-dropping plays.
Really, his development has been incredible, especially when considering that prior to entering the NBA, he was playing against low-level competition in Greece that an NBA executive once compared to YMCA games. Now, he’s one of the most intriguing young players in the NBA, he’s gotten much stronger and he’s ready for an increased role in Coach’s Kidd’s system in Milwaukee.
“For sure, I feel much stronger and more athletic, but I still have a long way to go,” Antetokounmpo said when asked about his development last year. “I can still get much stronger and much more athletic. I’m just going to keep working.”
Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting up-and-coming players in the entire league and all eyes will be on the Bucks over the next few years to see how he develops. The good news for Bucks fans is that their young point forward is working extremely hard and he’s determined to reach his full potential. He also wants to make Milwaukee more competitive in the near future, since last season’s 15-win campaign was brutal for everyone involved.
“Last year was really hard and the first thing [we want to accomplish as a team] is to get as many wins as possible,” Antetokounmpo said. “We just got to keep getting better as a team because we have a lot of young guys in this group. We can start to show the world what we can do right now, and then in two or three years, we’re going to really show them what we’ve got. We’re still growing and trying to get better. My team goal is to keep getting better, work really hard and win as much as possible this year because last year was really tough. My individual goal is just to be the best that I can be every year and try to add something every year.”
This year, the Bucks are hoping that he’s ready to add point guard duties to his impressive skill set. If he can succeed at the new position, the rest of the league better watch out because he’ll be a nightmare for opposing floor generals.
Lakers Sign Ronnie Price
The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Ronnie Price, it was announced today by general manager Mitch Kupchak.
The nine-year NBA veteran holds career averages of 3.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 rebounds over 425 games (35 starts). The 31-year-old Price spent his first two NBA seasons with the Sacramento Kings (2005-07), followed by stints with the Utah Jazz (2007-11), Phoenix Suns (2011-12), Portland Trailblazers (2012-13) and most recently with the Orlando Magic last season.
The 6’2 Price averaged a career-high 2.1 assists per game in 2013-14 with Orlando, in addition to 2.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 0.8 steals in 12.2 minutes over 31 games (two starts).
The Friendswood, TX native has appeared in the postseason four times (2006, ’08, ’09 and ’10) in his career.
Kings Waive Scotty Hopson
The Sacramento Kings today waived guard Scotty Hopson, according to Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro.
Hopson was recently acquired from the Houston Rockets along with Alonzo Gee and a pair of second-round draft picks in exchange for guard Jason Terry and a trade exception.
Undrafted out of the University of Tennessee, Hopson appeared in two contests for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season before being traded to Houston during the offseason.
This was expected, as Hopson’s deal was non-guaranteed.
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.