Before a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, Bucks coach Jason Kidd was asked about the most underrated aspect of his star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"He's 21 years old," Kidd said. "He's doing a lot of things that a lot of us can't do. I think that's special. It's overlooked sometimes."
When Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall by Milwaukee in 2013, the Athens, Greece native was seen as a long-term project. At 6-foot-11 with arms that measure 7-foot-3, the freakish athleticism was evident from the jump, but the Bucks needed to translate that talent onto the basketball court in useful ways. With his ball handling ability and court vision, Kidd saw the opportunity to turn Antetokounmpo into his point guard. And so he did.
In his fourth season, Antetokounmpo has made the leap. In his first 17 games this season, he's averaging 22.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists. Despite his limited jump shooting game, he's still shooting 54 percent from the field (compared to 50.6 percent last season). On offense, he is facilitating for teammates and creating for himself. On defense, Antetokounmpo is one of the most disruptive players, averaging 2.2 steals and 2.2 blocks while guarding multiple positions. Teammates are not surprised by the seamless transition he's made this season adjusting to his newfound responsibilities.
"He can pass better than most guards," John Henson said. "His skillset is a point guard's skillset. He can attack. He can drive and seal the defense. He's a blessed talent."
There are still questions about Antetokounmpo's jumper, something that he is working on by shooting for half an hour before and after practice. Asked about the difficulty of having consistency in his shot, Antetokounmpo pointed out how difficult it was for someone of his size to have a fluid motion in bringing the ball up from his waist for a clean follow through.
"My main focus is to shoot without hesitating," Antetokounmpo said. "I don't care if it goes in or out. I don't have nothing to lose. Just let it fly."
A similar narrative followed Kidd around early in his career, when he was a triple-double threat on a nightly basis as a point guard, but struggled to make shots.
"[Giannis] can be a great player without a jump shot," Kidd said. "There will always be people who will criticize and pick at his game. We all want to shoot the ball better. He works on it as hard as anyone. I think the jump shot will come."
The Bucks are still trying to figure out who they are under Kidd's guidance. Their splashy free agent signing of Greg Monroe has not worked out. The team lost Khris Middleton before the start of the season with a left hamstring injury that could sideline him for the entire year. For now, Jabari Parker and Antetokounmpo represent this team's future. In a home victory over the Cavs last week, Antetokounmpo was the most dominant player on the floor in a game against LeBron James, scoring 34 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dishing out five assists and adding two blocks and five steals in 35 minutes. Two nights later, in another victory in Brooklyn, Antetokounmpo scored 23 points and added eight rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and four steals in 30 efficient minutes.
"My game is so versatile that even without thinking about it, just by playing hard and being in the right spot, I will fill up the stat sheet," Antetokounmpo said. "I have the ball in my hands; no matter what happens, the stats will be there."
The 21-year-old says this not in a conceited way, but as someone who recognizes his value on the floor. There's still plenty of room for improvement aside from the shooting for The Greek Freak, but he's established himself this season as perhaps the most fascinating young talent in the league.
The best compliment might have some from his head coach, who listed LeBron, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as examples of players whose skills and approaches were so unique that it separated them from the competition. Said Kidd, "I think Giannis is one of those rare players."
Asked what the most difficult part of getting a triple double is, Antetokounmpo paused for a second, and then finally responded: "I don't know. You can control your scoring, you can control your rebounding, but the assists, [your] teammates have to make shots." And then he gave a slight shrug to the question. It's clear there are very few things that are out of his control on the court -- and this is only the beginning.