Why Giannis Antetokounmpo Could Be Biggest Surprise of 2013-14 NBA Rookie Class

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 16, 2013

GREENBURGH, NY - AUGUST 06:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks poses for a portrait during the 2013 NBA rookie photo shoot at the MSG Training Center on August 6, 2013 in Greenburgh, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

We kind of just assumed he wouldn't be NBA-ready. And though it's tough to take much from a few preseason games, Giannis Antetokounmpo looks far more prepared than most of us would have imagined he'd be at this stage. 

I got to watch a good amount of Antetokounmpo in the months leading up to the draft. He played in Greece's second division, which at times resembled a recreation league or high-school setting. 

But that didn't change the fact that Antetokoumpo stood 6'9'' with arms for days, top-notch ball-handling command and spectacular athleticism. And all those attributes have shined so far in limited NBA action.

While many aren't expecting Antetokounmpo to get much burn as a rookie, there really isn't any reason for the Bucks to nurse him on the bench. General manager John Hammond already made it clear he won't be sending him to the D-League. And given how limited Milwaukee is athletically at the wing position, Antetokounmpo might actually be able to help out sooner rather than later. 

I memorized how to spell Antetokounmpo back in January for a reason. Temper your expectations, but don't be surprised if the Greek Freak starts trending amongst NBA circles. 

Oct 12, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA;   Milwaukee Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to get around Charlotte Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson (9) in the 3rd quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Skill Set, Versatility

He's got the size of a power forward, the athleticism of a wing and the ball skills of a guard. His upside is detectable just by watching him dribble the ball up the floor. 

What could allow him to make an impact early on is his ability to get to the basket or execute in the open floor.  He got to the line 10 times in his preseason debut, looking unstoppable in transition and on his way to the rim. 

He uses a tight handle, long strides and shiftiness in his hips to elude defenders on the move. And with absurd length, gigantic hands and springs in his legs, Antetokounmpo can finish around or above the interior traffic. 

The Bucks ranked No. 3 in the NBA in pace last season, running at a tempo that would play to the strengths of their raw, yet gifted rookie. 

As a scorer, Antetokounmpo actually has a rather diverse shot-making arsenal. He can knock them down when set, on the move or by creating his own separation. 

He even whipped out the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway:

Antetokounmpo knocked down a couple of threes in his preseason opener, and though he's unlikely to provide much outside consistency, he certainly looks capable of at least threatening a defense as a shooter.

He's going to make mistakes and miss plenty of shots, but he's got enough talent and physical advantages to succeed as an opportunistic scoring rookie. 

Defensive Impact

With such a unique set of offensive tools, it's been easy to overlook Antetokounpo's defensive capability. He's got the size, athleticism and foot speed to defend four different positions and become a real disruption to opposing offenses. 

Throw in a 7'3'' wingspan, and it's like allowing a standard-sized wing to play with a broom.  

Take a look at how far off Antetokounmpo can afford to play off his man. With his length and reaction time, he can prevent his man from driving while simultaneously taking away the jumper.

He managed to block Sergey Karasev in isolation 25 feet from the rim. 

Antetokounmpo has what I like to call recovery length—even if he gets beat or finds himself out of position, Antetokounmpo's arms are long enough to keep him in the play. 


He's able to swat or contest just about any shot in his area, whether it's in the paint or on the perimeter. Antetokounmpo racked up seven blocks and three steals through his first two preseason games, both as an on-ball and weak-side defender. 

He'll need to eventually put some bulk onto his slender frame, but Antetokounmpo's body can still be a weapon at both ends of the floor. 

Rookie-Season Outlook

It's tough to project how many minutes Antetokounmpo will get in his first NBA season. Assuming the Bucks will start the year gunning for a late spot in the playoffs, guys like Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino will likely get the early-season reps. 

But if this ship starts to sink early, given the improved Eastern Conference and the Bucks' brand-new backcourt, Antetokounmpo might sneak in for some legitimate midseason action. 

With a spot in the rotation, Antetokounmpo could end up filling box scores, even without a refined offensive game. His physical tools and ball skills are extraordinary, which should lead to a few defensive plays and highlight-reel finishes whenever he takes the floor. 

Antetokoumpo might not contend for Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, but you can bet he'll flash enough promise to return as a breakout sophomore candidate. 


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