Kobe Bryant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I’m not surprised at what he’s doing’

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo has made a leap this season. An MVP level leap.

A lot of credit for the leap has gone to coach Mike Budenhozler and the Bucks organization for putting players and a system around him that fits better. Milwaukee is playing 6.7 possessions per game faster, it upgraded the roster to surround Antetokounmpo with shooters, and the result is he has the freedom to attack. The Greek Freak is overpowering defenders on his way to taking two-thirds of his shots being at the rim. And he finishes with the best at the rim.

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Just don’t undersell Antetokounmpo’s role in all this. He puts in the work.

Look what Kobe Bryant said at a recent Q&A, as reported by Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Giannis came to work out with me this summer and he showed up one-and-a-half hours early. We talked for 20 minutes before we worked out and he whips out a notepad. What the … he starts taking down notes. ‘What about the footwork here? What about the coverage here?’ And he’s writing them down. After practice same thing; he sits down, and we talked for like an hour. We talked about coverages and defensive match-ups that gave him problems. He just sat there and took notes. And he studied and studied so I’m not surprised at what he’s doing. He just has the mentality of he’s just getting better all the time. He’s just scratching the surface.

When you look at young players coming into the league — from Zion Williamson through the No. 60 pick this draft, whoever it ends up being — scouts and front offices can measure, watch, and project. What they don’t know is how the player will face the challenges of being in the NBA. On the court is part of that, but so is getting used to the travel, taking better care of their body, studying film, and what does that young player do with a lot of money, less structure in his day-to-day life (nobody telling him to get to class, etc.), and plenty of free time. Predicting how a 19-to-21-year-old will react in this new life is next to impossible. Think of yourself at 19.

Some guys have both the talent and the drive to get the most out of their talent and become elite at a young age. Kobe had it. LeBron James had it. Kevin Garnett had it.

Antetokounmpo has it. That is why he is one of the three best players in the game now.

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