Giannis Antetokounmpo is talented enough to be as good as some of the NBA’s greatest players. That’s what his current coach Jason Kidd, himself an NBA champion and ten-time All-Star, thinks of the young Greek.
“We have special players that we come across,” Kidd said. “LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. And Giannis is one of those rare players we’ll be able to enjoy for a long time. He’s 21 years old doing a lot of things that a lot of us can’t do. That’s special.”
Antetokounmpo has been sublime this season, putting up career-high numbers almost across the board. His scoring is up to 22.4 points per game from 16.7 last season. He’s shooting at his most efficient rate as well − making 52.3 per cent of his field goals, while also grabbing 8.1 rebounds and dishing out 6.1 assists (second on the team behind Australian Matthew Dellavedova). He seems to be fulfilling his potential as a do-everything star which could very well set him up to become Greece’s first representative at the NBA’s All-Star game in February.
Antetokounmpo credits preparation in practice as a huge key as to why he’s taken such a huge leap forward with his play this season.
“Reps. Shoot 20-30 minutes before practice, and after practice,” he said. “Just [shooting] with confidence, that’s the main thing. Concentrate on my follow-through. Confidence is the biggest part of shooting.”
If Antetokounmpo wants to continue improving his shooting and offensive arsenal he could do worse than look to Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, one of the finest shooters in league history. Antetokounmpo said he’s spoken to the German about possibly working out together next summer.
“I saw [Nowitzki] in Dallas,” he said. “I saw his [shooting] coach and he told me they’re working out in Germany and he can come wherever I am, or I can come to Germany and work out with him. That’s the invitation right there. Hopefully between my schedule with the national team and the Bucks I’ll be able to make the trip.”
Antetokounmpo was drafted as a talented but very raw rookie with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft and coach Kidd believes that now, in Antetokounmpo’s fourth year in the league, he’s finally understanding how to play the game at a high level.
“If you look at what he’s done for us up to this point, you can see he’s got a lot of confidence in the hard work that he’s put in over the summer,” Kidd said. “He feels comfortable at the point-guard position and setting the table for his teammates. On the defensive end, he’s being him − blocking shots, getting steals, rebounding the ball.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and he’s taken it a little farther each time, so we’re excited about that.”
It was a bitter-sweet summer for the young Greek superstar, however. Part of the reason why he had so much extra time to work on his individual game was Greece’s failure to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio. Antetokounmpo is using the disappointment of that to fuel his current surge in the NBA.
“Everybody wants to represent their country in the Olympic Games, [now] we gotta wait four more years for the next one,” he said. “It was hard for me seeing people play in the Olympic Games and me just sitting on my couch watching them play. That was the hardest part about it, but we’re gonna have another chance in the next four years, and hopefully we make it then.”