LAS VEGAS -- Watching Giannis Antetokounmpo warm up is entertaining. Watching other people watch Giannis Antetokounmpo warm up is even more so.
The Bucks weren't a visiting attraction last season, so the 2014 Summer League is the first time most people have seen Giannis up close. They've heard about the hype, but Giannis is one of those players you have to watch in person to really understand.
"This kid is so ridiculous," the camera man in front of me said to his co-worker during layup lines. "He's a basketball Stretch Armstrong, man. How does that even work?"
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Very well, as it turns out. When the Bucks selected Giannis in last year's NBA Draft, most experts thought he was too raw and would need at least a few years to develop. Just one year removed from those criticisms, Giannis has already become one of the breakout stars at the Las Vegas Summer League. Now, the trick for both he and the Bucks is to maximize every bit of the 19-year-old's talents.
It's been a long year, though. Giannis spent most of his rookie season out on the perimeter, waiting for a play to break down or a transition opportunity to present itself. He had insane physical tools, but was too inexperienced to use them and become a threat in the half-court offense, often running down to the corner of the court just to wait for the ball. There just wasn't much he was capable of doing with such limited experience.
Summer League has provided an opportunity for the developing Giannis -- he's grown from 6'9 to 6'11 and added 27 pounds in the past year -- to expand his game, most noticeably as a primary ball-handler under new head coach Jason Kidd. But is that really possible? Could Giannis realistically become a point guard or point forward?
"We've seen it in practice, and so when you see a player's comfort level with the ball no matter what size, we want to see it in game action," Kidd said. "We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense."
The Bucks are realizing that the best way to activate Giannis's skillset is to put the ball in his hands a lot more. Given that he is a capable ball-handler, it makes perfect sense to experiment with him running the point while out here in Las Vegas.
Not only could Giannis use his height and length to see over his defenders for passing lanes, but he can also stretch himself into the paint faster than a lot of point guards can. Take this drive in the game against the Phoenix Suns.
When Giannis is able to generate a bit of space in the paint, he can extend those elastic limbs of his and cover tons of ground in a matter of seconds. This can force the defense to react quicker than they'd like, leading to a kickout pass or foul.
Consider: Last season, Giannis had a free-throw rate of .483, the equivalent of shooting one free throw per two field goal attempts. Despite the small sample size (15-percent usage rate), that number was nearly on par with Kevin Durant, the most prolific free-throw shooter in the league. Having the ball more should work to his advantage.
Being 6'11 with a 7'3 wingspan also helps his passing ability because he has almost a half-foot advantage on any guard matched up against him. Even if they're quick and can keep up with him, Giannis will still have the opportunity to just go right over them for a shot attempt or a pass. The Spurs tried several times to get their hands in passing lanes in Wednesday's game, but it didn't work. He could reach over their efforts and fire the ball across the court to Nate Wolters or into the high post to Johnny O'Bryant for better looks. It was indefensible.
But it's not just what Giannis does with the ball, it's where he's getting it. When Giannis has been handling point duties in Summer League, most of his action starts from the top of the key. Last year, Giannis would camp in the corner and catch hand-offs, whether going back toward the top of the key or reversing his path and head back toward the baseline. It was already difficult enough for Giannis to attack the defense, and taking away driving angles didn't help matters much.
Now, Giannis is starting his action from the top of the key, giving him more space. He's able to take more aggressive angles and the defense is forced to be crisp on their rotations rather than relying on court dynamics to help out. Even when the defense is set -- like Austin Daye was several times during Wednesday's game -- Giannis was able to keep Daye guessing by approaching a move quickly with his length.
The results are still mixed, but it's tough for defenses to figure out Giannis' agenda with the ball. The only scouting report I heard from the Spurs bench was when Jeff Ayres bellowed, "Make him shoot! Make him shoot!" Giannis proceeded to nail a jumper shortly after that.
When the defense is not crisp, Giannis is able to motor down the lane like he did in Wednesday's game against the Spurs.
Sure, these aren't NBA teams, but there are NBA players on these rosters that are having difficulty keeping Giannis from blowing past them. Giannis has been defended by bigger players (Anthony Bennett, Kyle Anderson) and smaller ones (Dante Exum, Andrew Wiggins), yet nobody has been able to corral him just yet. It's not easy to contain someone who frequently is described as the Greek Freak.
The early returns of Magic Giannson have been encouraging, but there is still plenty of work to be done before it becomes a regular occurrence. He has struggled with turnovers during Summer League, but he's also been able to penetrate and find open players as a result of that aggressiveness. It's going to be an up-and-down process, but the Bucks are in a position where they can afford to wait it out.
If Point Giannis ends up not carrying over, they'll have at least created some major flexibility, something that excites Kidd
"With the group we have right now with B (Brandon) Knight and Giannis, we have additional playmakers," Kidd said of the regular-season plans. "When we have that on the floor, it makes the game easy. We'll see how the roster shakes out, but we're not afraid to play him at the point, as you see.
"A 19-year-old to a 30-year-old is a little different in understanding that. But that's what this time of the year is for, to understand Magic (Johnson) wasn't fast. Grant Hill had a quick first step, but he was a point forward.
"Scottie Pippen could play multiple positions."
The Pippen comparisons are premature, but for the Bucks and their athletically-gifted prodigy, the possibilities are endless.