By Kostas Psimoulis
The most hyped Greek prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo (‘94), who plays for a Greek team named Filathlitikos, which finished third in Greek's A2 league. Through the previous months dozens of American and European scouts have came to Greece to see him play in person, not only in the team's facility but also on road games. Antetokounmpo is originally from Nigeria but grew up in Greece, he considers himself a Greek, although Greek authorities have failed to grant him a Greek passport so far. He's a great kid who has a deep respect for everyone, coaches, teammates, media and fans. The first thing everyone loves in him is his size and length, Antetokounmpo is 6-9 feet tall and has reportedly a 7-3 wingspan. He has decent quickness for a player his size and his jumping ability is solid, too. However he needs to add strength to his thin frame (he weights just around 200 lbs) in order to compete at the upper levels of basketball. Body-wise he’s not ready to absorb physical play yet, the upside however is very high.
Antetokounmpo hasn’t developed a true position yet however that’s a common thing among youngsters who haven’t played organized basketball long enough. It seems that he will make a career as a modern combo-forward who can affect the game in many ways. This year he’s playing in both Filathlitikos men and junior team having served different positions, roles and responsibilities. In men’s team his role is more of a slasher rather than a first-team option. The coaching staff led by Takis Zivas is very cautious with him having his minutes and his role under control; Antetokounmpo has played only 55% of his team’s possible minutes and has used 20.7% of team’s possessions when on the floor. Filathlitikos uses him the right way and gives him the opportunity to play to his strengths both on offense and defense. It’s a fast-paced, transition team (also very simple in the half court) in a slow paced, half-court oriented league thus Antetokounmpo has all it takes to use his excellent speed and athletic ability.
Had he been in another team everything would have been tougher for him because his understanding of the game is at an average level right now thus a more complex offensive team could have been an impediment to his development. He plays mostly both forward positions where he pick his spots carefully and getting his touches in transition, on the offensive glass and by cutting hard to the hoop. He has shown glimpses of a low-post game but it’s at an average level right now. When he plays for the junior’s team he seems like a completely different player mainly due to low competition level. Spends his most time with the ball in his hands and serves as the primary ball handler who tries to create his own shot or set up his teammates when the defense sends extra defenders to guard the ball. Again, the simplicity of Filathlitikos’ offense is obvious (mostly spread PNRs or isolation plays in the post), nothing wrong with that of course but everything needs to be put into perspective because it’s important how a player can fit a particular system.
Offensively one of the first things to notice is his good ball handling, he dribbles the ball like a guard while he’s able to dribble using both hands. He’s good at changing speeds either in transition or when bringing the ball up. His speed changing from slow to fast is at a very good level however he has a lot room to improve and he’s capable to add a few more gears to his speed in the years to come. Moreover a nice aspect of his game is his capability to lower his body when attacking the basket although he’s not as good a finisher as you could find when absorbing contact. In PNR situations he reads angles well enough and attacks the basket with power, however he lacks strength and often shies away from contact and either settling for long shots or pass the ball to a teammate in a much tougher position.
At times he looks passive especially when the game is physical. Shooting is an aspect of his game which needs to be expanded. He makes just a 31% of his threes; most of them are in spot-up situations. He’s made a real progress thought-out the season and his mechanics look solid now, although he shoots from a low-release point, when his concentrated on the target. Often though he loses his focus and forgets to hold his follow through. His shooting motion is consistent, he just needs time and more practice to make it effective and repeatable even when he’s tired.
At the higher level it’s possible that he’d be called to fill a role of a dynamic slasher thus he needs to work on his game without the ball. Cutting and screening are two important things for improvement and both require not only strength and better understanding of the game but also an expanded skill set. A player with his physical attributes needs to be more assertive at cutting, has to realize how devastated he can be the time he’ll decide to move into spaces and fill the gaps. If makes that a part of his game he will always drag defensive attention even when he hasn’t got the ball in his hands.
Passing is an underrated part of his game, as I mentioned earlier he’s capable of making simple plays when defenders try to trap or send help in his direction creating easy shots for his teammates. He keeps his head up and does a good job probing defenses and recognizing help defenders even when he’s under pressure. Antetokounmpo possesses a nice court vision and a good arsenal of different passes, he’s able to pass on the move, make skip passes when trapped or make long passes immediately after a defensive rebound. He’s the kind of player who doesn’t want to force things or try to make hero plays, he plays the game the right way however he’s not so good at reading it. He hasn’t played organized basketball for more than a year and that hurts his overall understanding of the game on both ends of the court. Positioning is an aspect which needs to be improved, he has to value position more and make quick decisions when he’s away from the ball. Spacing, screen setting and quick ball moving are things he’s ne so good at right now.
On the defensive end he’s far from calling him a decent defender but his upside is terrific. Again, Filathlitikos plays him to his strengths by employing a defensive system with relentless ball pressure and commonly a type of zone press. Antetokounmpo very often has the chance to freelance and block shots or jumps into passing lanes. His size and length making him a player tough to ignore, every opponent need to pay attention and recognize his position because Antetokounmpo is able to come into help and throw the ball in the stands. He gets into their minds and force opponents into rush decisions; however he often leaves his feet and that hurts his team’s overall defensive presence. He has a decent lateral quickness and makes a good use of his wingspan either when he’s guarding the ball or when he’s playing the passing lanes. He’s not always into a good stance when he’s on the ball but that’s an aspect he has made progress throughout the season. When he’s the help side defender he often turns his back on the player he guards, a thing youngsters do very often. Right now he hasn’t found yet the real difference between over-committing and under-committing. Also his knack for blocks makes him vulnerable in cuts and put him often off balance. He relies too much on his physical dominance and often finds himself in bad situations (missed box-outs, bad fouls) especially when he faces smart players. When he’s guarding post players he’s shown a good feel and rarely tries to block the shot straight up, he prefers to challenge the shot and then box-out. However it’s easy for the offensive player to take a good position and go to the spot he wants because Antetokounmpo lacks body strength. Strength will make Antetokounmpo a much better defender notably in the post and when guarding cutters and fighting through screens. Experience and better feel for the game will make him a beast on that end of the floor.
Rebounding is a major aspect of his game. He tries to dominate the glass and he’s able to rebound out of his area. He’s not always the first to chase the ball and that has to be changed if he wants to be dominant in the glass in the NBA, however he tries to be in a good position and has put a good value on defensive rebounding because it’s leading to transition opportunities. His good ball handling makes him a tough player to guard in the open court in coast-to-coast situations thus he attacks constantly the defensive glass in order to advance the ball quickly to the other end.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a kid with high ceiling and a player who would possibly dominate FIBA competitions in the next years if he chooses to stay in Europe. He has NBA potential but looks at least two or three years away from getting a chance to play there. He lacks experience and hasn’t played high competition level basketball yet. He’s a work in progress and a risk worth taking in the draft by a NBA team, especially a team with playoff credentials who has the rights to be patient and let him stay in Europe until he has his game developed.