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One-on-One With Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the NBA’s most intriguing players. He’s also an incredibly entertaining interview.

Alex Kennedy

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA.

He has all of the physical tools to be a dominant player, with his 6’11 frame and 7’3 wingspan, and he’s clearly just scratching the surface of his potential at 19 years old. Not only is Antetokounmpo an extremely entertaining player, he’s also incredibly fun to chat with off the court.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Antetokounmpo for this one-on-one interview.

Basketball Insiders: How much do you feel like you have improved as a player from the start of your rookie year to now?

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Coming into the league, I wanted to work every day with coaches. Just work. When I came in the league, I loved the coaches. The coaches trusted me and they wanted me to work hard every day, so in my head I was just thinking about work. I think by working when I came into the league, I’ve improved a lot. First of all, my confidence has improved a lot. I’m thinking that in the year that is going to come, the new season that is going to come, I’m going to be better, have more confidence and be a better player.

BI: Who were some of your teammates that helped you as you made the transition to the NBA? Were there any guys specifically who helped you make that transition?

Antetokounmpo: All of them. When I came into the league, I was 18 years old and I was alone in the United States, so they saw that I needed help. I didn’t know nothing. I didn’t know anything about America and I was just learning the game too. The teammates that helped me were Caron Butler, for sure, Zaza Pachulia, O.J. Mayo and Ekpe Udoh. They helped me a lot.

BI: How hard was that, being a young kid coming to a completely new country and learning all of that new stuff? How difficult was that for you?

Antetokounmpo: It was hard because, first of all, you’re in the NBA so there’s pressure on you. Being a young kid, 18 years old, you need help. That was very good, getting that help. I really appreciate that I had good veterans to help me.

BI: What were some of the biggest adjustments you had to make coming to the United States? Not just in the NBA, but going from Greece to the United States, what were some of the biggest adjustments in terms of your lifestyle?

Antetokounmpo: My lifestyle changed a lot. The biggest adjustment was that I was alone. In Greece, I was always living with my family and now I was in America – a country that I’ve never been before – and I’m alone. I was just trying to make my dream come true and be a better a player. I tried to adjust on the court too; the rules are different, the game is a lot faster, it’s more physical and I had to adjust to a lot of things.

BI: It seems like the Bucks have zeroed in on Jabari Parker at No. 2. He feels like he is going to end up with the Bucks. Have you seen him and what do you think of his game?

Antetokounmpo: I’ve seen him. He’s an amazing player, he’s a really good player. He’s an NBA-ready player who can come in and contribute faster than everybody in this draft, I think. He can help us and our team. I talked to him a little bit and he seems like a nice guy. And I think he’s going to take our team to the next level.

BI: Do you feel like the people with the Bucks like him as much as you do? (this was before the draft)

Antetokounmpo: Yeah, I think the Bucks like him too and we’re really excited about him.

BI: How well do you feel like you two can play together?

Antetokounmpo: I see myself as a good teammate, so I can play with anybody. It would be really nice to play with him. I see ourselves in a few years, if the Bucks make the right moves, I see ourselves as a playoff team in a few years and trying to be one of the best teams.

BI: I saw a report recently that said you grew two inches since you got drafted last year. Is that true?

Antetokounmpo: Yeah, it’s true. When I came in, I was 6’9. Now, I’m almost 6’11. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing.

BI: That sounds like a good thing. (laughs)

Antetokounmpo: Yeah, it sounds like a good thing for me. But I still have to adjust, because I’m growing. I have to adjust my game to that.

BI: Do you think you could keep growing? Do you think you could maybe top 7’0?

Antetokounmpo: No! I hope I stop growing! (laughs)

BI: Is your wingspan longer too?

Antetokounmpo: I really don’t know, I never check that.

BI: Being 6’11, that’s the size of a big power forward. Do you ever see yourself maybe transitioning to power forward, playing a little bit of the four spot also?

Antetokounmpo: Look, on a team, I’ll do whatever my coach tells me do. If they tell me it, I’m going to do it. I could see myself in maybe 10 years, 15 years playing the power forward, at the end of my career. (smiles). For now, I think I’m a two-three player.

BI: You have worked with trainer and Bucks assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer. What’s your relationship like with him? How has it been working with him? He is one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen in my life; he doesn’t miss.

Antetokounmpo: Oh my God, Josh is a really good guy and a really good coach. He always gives me advice, he always talks to me on the phone and he just tries to make me great. He always gives me a challenge and I really like working with him. For the record, I beat Josh once [in a shooting contest] last year.

BI: You beat him once?

Antetokounmpo: Once.

BI: You mentioned being great. When you talk to Bucks fans, they get really excited about your future and they think you can be one of the best players in the NBA. Is that a goal of yours? Do you feel like you can eventually be a superstar player?

Antetokounmpo: Yeah, for sure. That’s my goal. I’m a guy that doesn’t just talk. I just act and try to do it. I’m just working hard every day, challenging myself every day, so that I can be the best that I can be in my life.

BI: What’s it like having an entire fan base behind you? The Bucks fans love you so much, how cool has that been having that kind of support from such a big group of people?

Antetokounmpo: It’s really nice, and that motivates me even more. If the people want to see me as a star in Milwaukee, that motivates me. They push me every day to be better and better and better, so I can become what the people want me to become.

BI: Is it tough to deal with the pressure though? At this time a year and a half ago, you didn’t have that much pressure on you. Now, you almost have the weight of a franchise on your shoulders.

Antetokounmpo: No, I don’t have pressure. As a player, I will never have pressure. I’m just playing the game just to have fun, and I’m going to continue doing that. I think that’s what driving me. By having fun every day ,that makes me stay more and work harder. When practice finishes every day, I stay more because I’m having fun. I don’t want to leave. That makes me better. I’m still working more and more and more, and I’m just trying to have fun and push the pressure to the side.

BI: Have you interacted with the new owners, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, at all? Have you dealt with them?

Antetokounmpo: Yeah, I went to dinner with them once. They seem like really good people and I think they have great things [planned] for the team. They want to try to do great things for the team. I think they’re nice guys.

BI: Everyone likes the story of you falling in love with smoothies when you first came to America. Everyone on Twitter wants to know, what is your favorite smoothie flavor?

Antetokounmpo: I think berry. And strawberry too! Those are nice.

————-

Check out Basketball Insiders’ final 2014 NBA Mock Draft video, which breaks down all 30 first-round picks with analysis.


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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2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap

Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.

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The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.

Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.

NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.

Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.

The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.

LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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All Star

NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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