Why Giannis Antetokounmpo Is NBA's Most Intriguing Prospect Under 20

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 17, 2014

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You almost can't help but stare sometimes. I've been caught on occasion gawking and giggling like a little schoolboy.

Last week against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he took the ball from his own three-point arc coast to coast for a monster dunk—using only two dribbles to get there.

The fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo, who turns 20 on Dec. 6, embraces his nickname as the "Greek Freak" only enhances his likability.

It's crazy to think about where this kid came from compared to the other up-and-coming stars his age.

There were more people at my bar mitzvah than there were at Antetokounmpo's games in Greece's second division. He didn't even play in the top league in his country.

Antetokounmpo didn't experience time with Greece's youth national teams. He didn't spend a week at the Nike Hoop Summit, or a weekend at Eurocamp, or play against top-100 recruits and other international rising stars.

Some NBA guys hadn't even seen Antetokounmpo live in action until a month before the 2013 draft, given he first hit the radar around the January prior.

The Milwaukee Bucks ultimately drafted him No. 15 overall based strictly on the potential tied to his physical tools and the skills he flashed in doses.

As a rookie, you were just hoping he would hold his own and actually appear to belong. And he did.

Now that we can squash the fear and possibility that the allure of Antetokounmpo was a result of running imagination and mediocre competition, we can officially get excited about his growth and long-term upside.

Because it just might be more intriguing than the outlook of every other teenage NBA prospect.

MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 5: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks on defense against the Sacramento Kings on March 5, 2014 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
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Antetokounmpo's competition: rookies Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle.

I'm not saying Antetokounmpo is the top prospect of the bunch; rather, nobody offers more unpredictability yet greater potential reward.

You can't help but wonder where the Greek Freak would have gone in the 2014 draft had he delayed his eligibility and played on an equal playing field with the 2014 prospects, whether it was in the NCAA or in a premier league overseas.

So far in Las Vegas Summer League, Antetokounmpo has been the most impressive and productive of all the under-20 prospects, though granted he already has a year of NBA experience while the rookies have none.

Through four games, he's averaging 17 points, 5.8 boards and 1.8 assists on 46.2 percent shooting and 37.5 percent from downtown. Only it's not just the numbers that has me buying in—it's how he's been able to generate them.

We know about the size, length and athleticism, but what ultimately differentiates Antetokounmpo from the pack offensively is his handle.

You don't see too many guys his size that can actually handle the ball and create away from the rim.

According to Bucks general manager John Hammond, via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Antetokounmpo has grown to nearly 6'11", 217 pounds after measuring in at 6'9" prior to the 2013 draft.

Think about the guys who'll have to cover Antetokounmpo. Most players his size won't have a chance to contain his explosiveness and shiftiness off the bounce:

With the likely fear of getting blown by and embarrassed on the perimeter, check out how far defenders have had to sag off in Vegas:


Chances are he'll see mostly wing defenders in the regular season, where he'll have a distinct size and length advantage. And as he continues to add polish to his skill set, he'll be able to exploit that advantage more consistently.

We've already seen him post up and score against smaller men in Vegas. He's shown the spin move with his back to the rim and a pretty baseline fadeaway.

Antetokounmpo could ultimately be looking at plenty of uncontested jump shots over the next few years, due to slower defenders having to play back and the mismatch he'll have against smaller forwards.

And based on his rookie year and four games of Summer League, he's clearly got some promising shooting potential. He shot a respectable 34.7 percent from downtown as a rookie, and he's 6-of-16 in Vegas, having hit threes both off the catch and off the dribble.

He's also connected on a number of pretty mid-range shots that he's been able to create for himself with that nifty handle:

Wiggins doesn't have Antetokounmpo's handle, and that's limited him as a playmaker, having averaged just 1.5 assists at Kansas. For what it's worth, he has just one assist total in four Summer League games.

Parker has a decent handle, only he lacks the quickness to beat defenders as easily, making it tougher for him to separate and ultimately leading to contested jumpers.

Antetokounmpo's handle is dangerous enough that the Bucks even had him running the point in summer league, something he did back in Greece. Head coach Jason Kidd seems interested in experimenting with that moving forward.

"We've seen it in practice," Kidd told Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel. "When you see a player's comfort level with the ball—no matter what size—we wanted to see it in game action. We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense."

Realistically, Antetokounmpo probably isn't evolving into Milwaukee's full-time point guard, but just being capable as a facilitator plays to his potentially unprecedented versatility.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 14: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks controls the ball against the Utah Jazz at the Samsung NBA Summer League 2014 on July 14, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
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If we're just talking about ceiling projections, which is just another phrase for a prospect's best-case scenario, how could anyone top Antetokounmpo's? Nobody has the potential to present a more daunting two-way mismatch.

He's the most intriguing prospect under 20, partly because of his late-bloomer status and his unique path to the pros. But it's mainly due to the mismatch his tools and skill set can present once sharpened as a package, as well as the growth he's shown, both physically and fundamentally, in such a short period of time.

You could make the argument that Antetokounmpo has a higher ceiling than any of the under-20 prospects as a 6'11" playmaker who can score, create, shoot and defend. Whether he'll reach that ceiling is another story, but if each prospect maximized his talent, I'm not sure anyone ends up bringing more to the table than Antetokounmpo.

We can immediately eliminate Gordon from the conversation, whose offensive game is limited and position is somewhat uncertain. We can toss out Vonleh as well, whose lack of athleticism and off-the-dribble game caps his ceiling short of Antetokounmpo's.

Parker and Randle only thrive on one side of the ball. Antetokounmpo has scary defensive tools with the potential to guard four positions on the floor.

Exum is tough to judge, given how little we've seen of him. There's no questioning his upside, just his chances of reaching it. On the intriguing scale, Exum finishes ranked No. 2.

Wiggins is obviously a sensational prospect. He offers that towering two-way potential, along with some comforting certainty that comes with his superhero athleticism. I'd agree with most that Wiggins is the best prospect of the bunch.

But we pretty much understand Wiggins' ceiling. Best-case scenario, we're likely looking at a Tracy McGrady-Paul George type of scorer and defender.

We've seen his kind before.

We haven't seen many guys like Antetokounmpo. Between his background, tools and skills, he's blazing a unique trail into the league. And nobody really knows where it's going to lead.

That's what ultimately drives the intrigue surrounding his enormous NBA potential.


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