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NBA PM: Giannis Embracing Move to Point Guard

Giannis Antetokounmpo on moving to PG, playing for Jason Kidd, teaming up with Jabari Parker and more.

Alex Kennedy

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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.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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