Thanasis Antetokounmpo hears the comparisons to his younger brother Giannis, but instead of wilting under the pressure, Thanasis is embracing the challenge and is using his brother’s feats as motivation to succeed.
“I wouldn’t say [I feel] pressure, I’d say motivation ’cause I know my brother, and I know my abilities skill-wise and athleticism,” Thanasis told Neos Kosmos. “In this league you have to have athleticism above everything else so it’s been motivation for me.”
Antetokounmpo entered this week’s training camp with the New York Knicks vying alongside three other players for the one remaining spot on the team’s regular season roster. Originally drafted by the New York Knicks with the 51st pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, Antetokounmpo spent last season working on his game with the team’s development squad, the Westchester Knicks, in the D-League. The NBA team retained his rights through the 2014-15 season and then formally signed him to a two-year, partially guaranteed deal in August. Antetokounmpo called his call-up “a blessing”.
“It was a blessing. You know, I’ve tried a lot for two years now in the Development League [so] it was amazing to me to get a call-up [to the NBA],” said Antetokounmpo during the Knicks’ media day in New York on Monday.
Antetokounmpo was initially drafted as a project by the Knicks, but quickly displayed an activity level playing in the D-League that caught the eye of president Phil Jackson, who told ESPN.com that Thanasis “has a great motor, which can lead to some hyperactivity. His key is learning how to control and sustain his energy on defence and be a consistent scoring threat”.
Antetokounmpo understands that he’s viewed as a defensive specialist, but to become a rotation player in the NBA, he’ll need to polish his raw offensive game, Jackson noted.
“First of all, for me being in the NBA, I’m a defensive specialist,” says Antetokounmpo. “I play defence first of all, and then whatever I do offensively is a plus so I just put one thing at a time – that’s my shot, next thing is the way I pass the ball …. you just go one thing at a time. I think I’m getting better everyday.”
There were loud calls from media and fans alike last season for Antetokounmpo to be called up from the D-League amidst the Knicks’ worst season ever, and although he would have jumped at the opportunity, Thanasis admits having a complete preseason under his belt with NBA teammates is more beneficial to his growth.
“If I had been given an opportunity I would have taken it, but it’s really good for me to start at the beginning [of the season] at training camp, get to know everybody, get to know the vets, the superstars and everybody,” stated Antetokounmpo.
Still, nothing is guaranteed in the cut-throat world of the NBA, and Antetokounmpo is no certainty to nab that final roster spot, although he has more pro experience than the other players he’s competing against, which will make him the slight favourite.
Thanasis will draw on some of that experience, and he also attributes time spent watching the Greek national team last year as crucial to his growth as a basketball player.
“I’ve learned a lot [watching the national team],” Antetokounmpo told Neos Kosmos during our interview in the Big Apple. “It’s a different culture of basketball, but slower and a bit more tactical, system-wise. [There’s] great personalities in Euro League play and national team, so it’s a blessing for me to get to see them.”
And if things go well, could we see Thanasis team up with his brother and the rest of the national team at the Olympics next year?
“Hopefully I’m ready [to play], and everything’s good [and] I’m healthy and by God’s grace, I’ll make the Olympics.”