When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him last June, Giannis Antetokounmpo was considered an intriguing, if largely unknown, 6-foot-9 wing prospect. Four and a half months later, he had already shot up to 6-foot-10-1/4, with the Bucks' doctors saying the 18-year-old could keep on growing, thanks to his growth plate remaining open. Now, as Antetokounmpo prepares for his sophomore season and the Bucks weigh their options with the No. 2 overall pick in this Thursday's NBA draft, Milwaukee general manager John Hammond told media members that the Greek swingman is still growing like a weed, and that Giannis' growth opens some doors for the team in its decision-making.
Have you had discussions about how players' positions may change based on [the] No. 2 pick?
"We've talked about that. I think, once again, that these guys are multiple position guys helps that discussion. For that matter, I think Giannis is going to be a multiple position player some day. He came last September he was 6-9, 190 (lbs.) and today he's almost 6-11, 217 pounds. I think Giannis is a guy that is going to be able to play, at his size, he's going to be able to play some small forward and he's going to play some power forward some day."
Remember: Antetokounmpo played point guard in Greece. Now, after measuring at 6-foot-9-1/2-inches without shoes during his 2013-14 exit interview, Giannis is getting ever closer to 7 feet tall, and could slot in just about anywhere on the Bucks' depth chart this fall. (Then again, considering the Bucks are coming off a dismal 15-67 season in which they turned in the NBA's second-worst defense and fifth-worst offense, just being able to fill one of those slots isn't necessarily saying all that much.)
It's not clear whether Hammond and company had any idea that Antetokounmpo still had a growth spurt or two left in him when they decided to take the little-known Greek prospect with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. The move seemed like a gamble to many observers, with questions abounding as to how the 18-year-old swingman — who would be going from the comparatively weak competition of Greece's second professional division to the highest-level basketball in the world — would handle both the step in difficulty and the significant cultural transition that comes with moving to a new country.
Such concerns weren't wholly unfounded. Antetokounmpo did struggle at times in his first season with a terrible Bucks team, although his culture-clash moments seemed to result in positive stories rather than negative ones. But after Hammond's preseason pumping of the brakes with respect to the likelihood of Antetokounmpo playing big minutes, the lanky swingman wound up logging nearly 1,900 minutes as a rookie, making 77 appearances and 23 starts thanks to a combination of injuries, trades and a general lack of viable options on the wing for head coach Larry Drew.
Along the way, Antetokounmpo showed flashes of athletic brilliance, and wound up turning in per-game averages (6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists in 24.6 minutes per game) that landed him in some very impressive company among teen performers in NBA history, alongside the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady and Luol Deng. While Antetokounmpo said after the season that he was happy to prove to himself that he belonged when it came time to play against top-flight talents like James, Anthony and Kevin Durant, he said that he wasn't satisfied, giving himself a "D-minus" for his rookie campaign.
Coach Drew was a bit kinder ("He's being hard on himself") but emphasized the need for his reedy rook to get stronger, according to Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin:
"I want him to really focus on just getting stronger," Drew said. "He may not be a guy that's going to pick up a lot of size from a strength standpoint, but there is such a thing as wiry strong. I've played against guys and I've coached guys like that.
"He's got to get quicker, more explosive, particularly laterally, so he's able to chase and defend guys out on the perimeter. He still has a lot to learn, but it all starts with his strength." [...]
"I'm going to continue to work on my body because I have to get a lot stronger," Antetokounmpo said. "Coach said that my progress was nice, so I'm just going to try to make more progress and get bigger.
"Coming into this league, the first thing I wanted to do was not get pushed around by the big guys. I accomplished that. The thing now is I want to get bigger so I can push them around."
Well, it remains to be seen whether Antetokounmpo's developed enough strength to go from bullied to bully in Year 2. As for getting bigger, though, it sounds like that's one mission accomplished ... and a mission that might not be over just yet.
Hat-tip to Eric Buenning at Brew Hoop.
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