By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Milwaukee Bucks wunderkind Giannis Antetokounmpo is evolving at such a pace that he may soon outgrow his nickname of “The Greek Freak.”
It is not difficult to imagine Antetokounmpo one day becoming the NBA’s best scorer, defender, playmaker or all of the above.
But the athletic gifts that birthed Antetokounmpo’s moniker were just the starting point for the 22-year-old Greek point-forward who is acquiring a full package of skills.
It was approximately a year ago that Bucks coach Jason Kiddtransitioned his 6-foot-11 star from a traditional forward to a primary ball handler.
Antetokounmpo, once a picture of gangly arms and legs soaring through the air on every possession, now mixes willing passes and timely decision-making into his high-wire act.
In his fourth NBA season, Antetokounmpo has made the leap from exceptional talent to realized basketball player.
“Being a point guard you have to think for your team mates and also about what the opponent is trying to do,” Kidd told Reuters prior to Milwaukee’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “That’s helped him on both ends – having to think for so many people.”
Antetokounmpo’s maturation has also been Milwaukee’s. He fills the stat sheets as one of the game’s premier hybrid players, averaging 23 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.7 steals.
Meanwhile, the Bucks are rising despite the loss of second-leading scorer Jabari Parker to a season-ending ACL injury in February. Milwaukee (33-34) have won seven of eight games to reach the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Antetokounmpo led the team’s latest triumph, a 97-96 win over the Clippers, with a string of key passes late in the game that flaunted his versatility.
“I watch film to see where my team mates are,” Antetokounmpo told Reuters following the win. “My team mates talk to me and tell me where they will be. They help me every day.”
Antetokounmpo is helping them as well.
“Giannis is doing a great job finding everybody,” said Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova. “He’s unselfish, and when you have a guy like that he draws sometimes three, four (defenders). They’re all sucking into the paint because he’s so effective in there.
“He is just getting better every game.”
The success Antetokounmpo is finding in the NBA is hardly by accident.
Born in Athens, Greece, as the son of Nigerian immigrants, little was given to Antetokounmpo. He sold watches and other items on the street to help his family’s financial burden before basketball offered him a better life.
Antetokounmpo played for Greece’s Filathlitikos B.C. as a teenager where his highlights and potential led the Milwaukee Bucks to draft him 15th overall in 2013.
Even now as a proven player, Antetokounmpo’s hunger to be elite is evident. His pregame workouts can leave him drenched in sweat as he rehearses moves and hones his jump shot, an improving work in progress.
In February, Antetokounmpo played his first ever NBA All-Star Game as if it were his last, breaking the indifference of the defense-less exhibition.
He has trained with recently retired great Kevin Garnett this season and picks the brain of former passing maestro turned coach, Kidd.
“He’s not afraid to try something and he’s not afraid to ask (questions),” Kidd said. “That’s what makes him special, is he wants to be good.”