Bucks coach Larry Drew talks about rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo

Drew on Giannis

December 9, 2013
By Alex Boeder

After the draft, when we were all trying to learn more about Giannis Antetokounmpo, it seemed wild to think that in 2013 there was an 18 year-old Greek kid with just a few grainy YouTube highlight clips in tiny gyms to his name… who was about to step into Madison Square Garden on Opening Night.

Now, it is wild to think that he lasted all the way to draft pick number 15.

Before the Bucks/Nets game on Saturday, Larry Drew chatted with the usual group of reporters outside of the team’s locker room. This time, there was an unusual amount of chatting about Giannis. Eventually, that might become more usual.

On the improved play of Giannis and getting him minutes:

Larry Drew: I’ve always said, this kid will grow a lot faster being out on that floor than he will sitting on the bench. It’s good to see him trying to make the most of it. And I have said it before, I was very intrigued by the fact that he is a guy who, if he is not scoring points, he does other things on the floor that affect the game. Whether it is rebound or a blocked shot or a good pass. He doesn’t have to score to be noticed out on the floor.

I see his confidence growing as well. He is getting into the mindset of knowing our league and knowing the level at which he has to play every night when he steps out on the floor. He is learning every night. One of the things that I was most concerned about bringing him on board was understanding this game. When we go through game plan, game strategy, is he really picking everything up? He will nod his head and say he is. And he is. He understands it. When he doesn’t know, he asks questions. But right now when he steps on the floor you can see he is really bubbly. And he loves being out there. And it looks like he is having fun. And that is important.

First of all, everyone knows the formula: Minutes for Giannis = Happy Bucks Fans. But to me, there always needed to be a follow-up question. Do we want minutes for Giannis because we as fans want to see Giannis on the floor, because he is new and young and fun and exciting? Because, that is understandable but also a little bit selfish, right? Or, do we want minutes for Giannis, because he will actually become a better player by playing? Maybe a combination of both?

In any event, Coach Drew reiterated that he believes some minutes will help. If Giannis really has it, then he has it. And vice-versa. Some minutes as a rookie alone won’t turn him into a great player or prevent him from being a great player. But it sounds like Coach Drew is willing to keep an open mind about getting Giannis on the court, even when the three spot could get a bit crowded, particularly with Khris Middleton playing well and with Caron Butler coming back from injury.

On the idea of getting minutes for young players:

Larry Drew: Certainly I won’t play guys that don’t play hard every time they step out on the floor. And we definitely want our young guys out there so they can learn.

But our young guys are also talented. We have some guys that are really talented, and they can do some things that certainly have opened my eyes. And I definitely want to have them out there. I know the more they are out there, the more they are going to learn. The more they are out there, the more confident they are going to become. The more they are out there, they are going to show why they belong in this league.

So I am going to have a little bit of a decision on my hands.

By the sound of this (and by the look of the season), Coach Drew isn’t going to play veterans just because they are veterans, and he isn’t going to play young players purely because they are young players. This is a good thing. If the veterans aren’t playing well, why give them the majority of the minutes? And if the young players are not effective or showing some negative tendencies, they are probably suited better to sit out for a while and reflect.

When healthy, the Bucks are pretty deep. And they have a lot of players with a very similar skill level at this point. Four different players on the team have the exact same PER of 12.4! And two others are also in the 12 range. This is crazy. So, minute distribution will be no simple adventure for Mr. Drew. But we are hearing and seeing good things.

On what he sees in regard to the growing confidence of Giannis:

Larry Drew: His mannerisms when he is out on the floor. I know at the very beginning, watching him, he seemed to be just thinking a lot. Thinking about where to go and what to do. Now he is just reacting, he is not putting a lot of thought behind it.

And I told him, just allow your natural basketball instincts to take over. And certainly, he has done that. I think with his size and with his length, he can do some things that other guys just can’t do. The dunk he had last night, just his stride to get to the basket, I personally didn’t think he was going to make it. But he got there in such a hurry, and he elevated pretty quickly.

He certainly brings something very unique to the team. One of our most athletic guys, and with his length and ability to pass the basketball. Like I said, he is one of the guys on our team, that if he doesn’t score, he can other things to impact the game. I am very intrigued by that.

Starting in the preseason, you could see that Giannis was over-thinking things a bit at times. He flashed some athleticism and some skill, but didn’t always seem to know his next move before the ball arrived to him, which often resulted in simple passes around the perimeter, or worse, travels and turnovers. While still a work in progress, he looks more confident and natural recently.

Most of the stats back it up. After totaling just three assists in his first 135 NBA minutes, he racked up nine assists in his next 70 NBA minutes. And that, while decreasing his turnover rate.

On whether he feels Giannis now believes he belongs in the NBA:

Larry Drew: I don’t know what he thought. I know when I went over to see him in Estonia, and we had a conversation, it seemed like he was just going to be happy to be around, whether he would be here with us or in the D-League.

But I think now, he is in a whole different place. Coming over here and embracing his team, and embracing the city. He has learned a lot since Day 1. He has learned a tremendous amount. I think he is doing things now, that I wouldn’t say are surprising him, but he is seeing the impact that it has. Being 19 years old, and seeing the impact, when he goes into a game and hears the ovation, I think he must feel like he belongs here. I think it has been a nice road for him.

And again, it has got to be tough for an 18 year-old kid to come over here without his relatives or his parents. But he has seemed to, I wouldn’t say he has gotten over it, because I am sure it affects him every day, but he has not allowed it to affect his basketball on the floor.

You have guys who go through four years of college, and they get to this level, and they don’t pan out for whatever reason. Some guys who have stellar college careers get to the NBA and they are just not able to get over that hump in the NBA, and they fizzle out. This kid, at 18, 19, is doing things that a lot of guys who have been in this league for years have not been able to do. So I think he has shown everybody that he belongs.

He has a few more highlight clips on YouTube in some larger gyms now. More, please.


Alex Boeder

Writing and the Bucks. Two of my passions. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009. I started writing for the Bucks in 2012. Before that, I co-founded and wrote for BrewHoop. I have written for the Milwaukee BrewersSB NationESPN MilwaukeeSlam Online, and so on. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.