Scouting Giannis

Normally, there would be a chart or two right above this text, or at least below.

Maybe something about how often Giannis Antetokounmpo gets to the free throw line relative to his draft class, or his turnover percentage. Some shade of green would probably feature prominently in the chart, because the Bucks wear green and green is my color.

I like charts, and I hope you like charts, but this is not that story. Because Antetokounmpo (or as I call him, "Antetokounmpo") arrives to the Bucks from Greece, which is 5,000-some miles away from me knowing what to think. He is 18 years old, and his statistics cannot be translated in a meaningful way, at least not by me. The mystery of it all is probably the best part. But I still wanted to learn more about the newest first round pick.

So I dialed Billy McKinney – the Director of Scouting for the Bucks.

Here are some excerpts from my interview. Thanks for taking the time, Billy. And thanks for getting us all excited, Giannis.

Interview

What are his strengths right now?
He has a very high basketball I.Q. And he is very skilled. He can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, and he shoots the ball. He has an all-around game, which is really remarkable for a young man of his age.

What are his potential strengths in a few years?
Being able to play multiple positions. He is a player, with his size, who could play point guard, shooting guard possibly, and small forward. The other thing he does that is remarkable with his offensive skill set, is that he really makes the effort to play defense. He doesn't just play on one side of the ball, which is very impressive.

What does he need to improve to make an impact?
Well, naturally, getting stronger. That should come with a good strength and conditioning program, and with natural maturity. In addition to that, shooting the ball better, more consistently. And being able to take the contact that he is going to receive from players at the NBA level.

I noticed watching some highlights that he hardly jumps on his jumpshot. What do you think about that?
There are more players who are shooting more of a set jumpshot now. Jason Kidd had a pretty similar shot a when he came into the league. Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, I could go on. There are players today that shoot the same way.

Do you like his form? What do you see about his shooting that you like?
He has good form. He has good range. He will have to increase that. That will certainly happen as he gets accustomed to shooting behind the three-point line. He has a good base for being able to make mid-range shots, right now, out to the college and European three-point shot.

How can he use those unusually large hands to his benefit? Or could they potentially hurt him?
I think more than anything, he will be able to get a lot of deflections. He will be able to rebound the ball. His hands haven't affected his shooting. One of the players of course that you think about with big hands is Shaq. And Julius Erving was a player who had trouble shooting because his hands were so big. But Giannis shoots the ball extremely well. And shooting will be something that he should be able to improve.

What about his dribbling and ball-handling skills?
Very good ball-handling skills. When people ask me, when I watch him play, who does he look like? And I am not saying he is one of these players. But looking at his size and length, he reminds me a little bit of Kevin Durant when he was younger, being pretty thin. And handling the ball with some ability to see the court and make passes, also Magic Johnson. And I do not mean to compare him to those players, because they are certainly exceptional.

But there are things that he does that we always kind of use gauges for comparing players, who does he look like, who does he play like. And the way he handles the ball, and being able to bring it down in transition and make a play for himself or other people is pretty remarkable. He has a really good feel for the game and court vision.

As the youngest player in the draft, and coming from Greece, he has been viewed by some as a high-risk, high-reward player. Do you view him in that way?
Because he has had a limited and a little different platform on which to show his skills, I would say that is the case. And we understood that when we discussed the possibility of drafting him, that it was going to take a bit of time with him. And that it would be perceived as somewhat of a high risk. But given everything that we were able to evaluate, we were very comfortable and very excited that he was available at 15.

Do you ever get nervous about some of the players that you choose in the draft? As far as tracking them going into the NBA?
The answer is yes and no. We have done so much research on the players, and we have seen them over a period of time. And we always imagine those players getting better. We understand that when we select a player that he is a work in progress regardless of how talented he might be at the outset.

But as far as being nervous, we are comfortable that he will be placed in an environment where he will be able to grow with us. Larry Drew and his staff, as they watched him as a player, and we talked about him, we were all on the same page about what needs to take place as he continues to develop as a player.

When you have your coaching staff on board with you entirely, and everyone is moving in the same direction, on the same page, those fears are very, very limited.

Was Giannis a consensus pick?
Absolutely. In fact, as we were watching videos of some of his games, there is kind of a running commentary joke when we see a player that we really like. Somebody will say, we don't have to worry about it, because he won't be available when we pick. And when I watched him play on video, I was like, he is not going to be here. Because if you watch him compared to the other players we watched throughout the year, his skill level was really high.

And when Larry Drew came in, he watched the video and said the same thing. Not knowing that was something we always say. He just said, we don't have to worry about it, because he won't be there when we pick. So we were anxious and pretty nervous. Because we knew that if we could see his potential and his talent, other teams could see it as well.

You mentioned watching a lot of video of Giannis. Did you ever get to watch him in person?
No, John Hammond went over and spent some time watching him. Dave Babcock had seen him. Those two guys had put their eyes on him and watched him, so there was not a need for me to make a trip overseas. They both scouted him pretty extensively.

The U20 Euro Championships are this month. Is anyone from the team going to Estonia to watch Giannis play for Greece?
Yes, Larry Drew is going over to spend some time and watch several of his games. And that is terrific that Larry is investing that time. That is part of that development process. When we talk about being comfortable with the draft selection and everyone buying in, Larry understands what this player can be for us.

So he is going over to give him support, since Giannis couldn't be in Summer League with us. It is a really critical trip.

Will Larry (Drew) meet one-on-one with Giannis while he is in Estonia?
Absolutely. Larry will spend some time with him when his schedule permits, absolutely. Larry is a very personable coach and he believes in developing a relationship with all of his players. He has reached out to every player. I know at some point this summer, he will go to every player, and spend some time with them too.

He understands the importance, as we all do, of him being able to spend some time with Giannis. Because when he comes over, he is 18 years old, and Larry said it very well, that it is a major transition for him, because he is essentially leaving his country for only the second time in his life. We are going to have to give him a lot of care and attention when he gets here to make sure he is comfortable with a cultural transition, even as much so as the playing transition.

How much more difficult is it to evaluate a player who is 18 years old, than, say, 21 years old ?
When a player is 18 – and I am out here in Las Vegas right now at the LeBron James Skill Academy, watching some of the college players and high school players – you have an opportunity to evaluate what their upside will be. And what type of player they eventually will evolve into when their skills improve and their bodies develop.

Compared to college players, is it a challenge to project and evaluate statistics for a player who plays in a league that is less familiar, such as Giannis in Greece?
Yes, that is a challenge when we try to make comparisons.

But you also really have to rely on what your eyes are telling you. There are a lot of teams, including us, that utilize statistics as a tool for evaluation. But you can't draft a player blindly just based on statistics. And when you look at this young man play, you can see some things that statistics don't show, that he will be able to bring to the table for our team.

Do you view him playing for Greece as a positive for his development?
Yes, absolutely. It certainly is. The more he can play against that type of competition, the better for him. That is always helpful. Even in the league he was playing in, he was playing against grown men. And playing for the national team, that talent level around him will be really good for him. It could even be better than Summer League for him.

The thing about Summer League is getting to work with our staff, and the kind of offense that we will be running, but playing with the national team is a benefit.

Since he will be missing Summer League, is there anything you will do to catch him up on things before the season?
Yes. We will try to get him in a little bit earlier than the other players, and get him to work with our coaches. Some of the skill development things that they are doing, with Bob Bender and Nick Van Exel. And having him work on some of the things we are going to be doing offensively and defensively.

Is there anyone on staff that will work most closely with Giannis?
Yet to be determined. It will be a group effort. Everybody will have some involvement in the development, whether it is on the court or off.

Giannis is another first round pick, like John Henson and Larry Sanders recently, with a lot of length. Is that something you are valuing increasingly?
We have been valuing that for a while. If you go back to statements made by John, myself, and others in the organization, we have always talked about how to get more athletic and longer. And we certainly have done that with our draft selections and pick-ups. We have been moving in that direction and trying to get more athletic. That is certainly something that has been on our mind since we arrived in Milwaukee.

How would you define a successful rookie season for Giannis?
I think getting consistent minutes on the court will be the biggest thing for him. We have already talked about the value of getting minutes for him during games to get experience. And he will get that experience in not only games but practices will also be very valuable, and exhibitions even. Everything that we do will be valuable for him.

In terms of putting numbers or quantities on what will be successful for him, I couldn't do that, I wouldn't do that. He is 18 years old, and with a big transition. He will have moments where he looks really good, and he is probably going to have moments where he looks like he is 18 and still learning the game.