But before he became The Greek Freak, Giannis was a young, scrawny, gangly complete unknown from Greece. He was a ball of clay that needed to be molded — but what he could be molded into, nobody knew.
But as his career developed, former Bucks head coach Jason Kidd decided to experiment with Antetokounmpo’s skillset. Eventually, he installed him as Milwaukee’s full-time starting point guard toward the end of the 2015-16 campaign.
It’s not quite a “the rest is history” situation, but it’s certainly a “we know what happened next” scenario.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was as raw as they come when he was drafted by the Bucks
NBADraft.Net‘s 2013 scouting report on “Giannis Adetokoubo” — a 6-foot-10, 205-pound small forward (he really was that skinny) read, in part, “Without question he has a large basement to go with his large ceiling … Despite his athletic abilities he lacks elite explosiveness (writer’s note: misfire there) … The overall impression is of a raw prospect from basketball comprehension standpoint, whose is based on instincts, talent, physical gifts and natural feel for the game.”
Parts of that aren’t too far off until you see his NBA comparison was Nicolas Batum.
Antetokounmpo, now that we have it correct, understandably struggled during his first year in the NBA. As a 19-year-old with little-to-no legitimate experience, no understanding of the NBA game, and who had no clue where Wisconsin even was, he averaged 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds.
He reached double digits in scoring during his second season, averaging 12.7 points to go along with 6.7 rebounds.
He started 71 games under Kidd and began showing more flashes of potential.
Then in his third season, when J-Kidd figured he had an almost-complete picture of his 21-year-old’s game, he put Giannis at point guard and unleashed him upon the NBA.
Jason Kidd put Giannis at point and The Greek Freak took off
In a story that ran on NBA.com in 2017, John Hammond, the Milwaukee general manager who drafted Giannis, was asked about Antetokounmpo and what he saw in the 19-year-old who had only advanced to the second division of professional basketball in Greece.
“He was basically playing the point-guard position a lot of times for his team,” Hammond said. “He was getting the rebound and taking it himself on the break. Or sometimes other players would get the rebound, sometimes the smaller players would throw it to him to handle the ball. He was like the point guard for his team. Someone at that size was handling the basketball and along with that had just a really good feel for the game.”
So the team had an inkling that point-Giannis existed somewhere in the ether. In 2016, Kidd finally saw fit to let his Greek Freak flag fly.
The Athletic is counting down the best 75 players in NBA history. Antetokounmpo recently learned he landed at No. 24. In his own Athletic story written by Eric Nehm, Giannis explained how, in this third season, Kidd’s decision gave him a new level of confidence in himself.
Now J-Kidd can see something, ‘You can handle the ball. You can make passes.’ I don’t want to curse, but (nods to imply) ‘(F–k) yeah, Coach. I can make passes. I can find the open guy.’ Not as well as I do right now, but I can do it. Be the point guard. ‘Oh, OK. I wasn’t expecting that, but I’ll go with it if you trust me that much.’ I’d rather be trusted than not trusted, right? So now I’m making plays.Giannis Antetokounmpo on Jason Kidd’s decision to let him start at point guard
Shortly after that, the third-year player posted his first career triple-double.
He had four more triple-doubles over the last two months of the season, and The Greek Freak was unlocked.
The following season he signed a four-year, $100 million contract, the richest in Bucks franchise history. Now is the point in the story where we can say, “The rest is history.”
The two-time MVP has Kidd to thank, at least in part, for unlocking his versatility
The now 6-foot-11, 240-pound swiss-army knife continues to expand his game year over year. He’s a tireless worker with the goal of becoming the best and most complete player he can possibly be.
The most significant leap Giannis has made the last few seasons is in his passing ability.
It’s not necessarily the assist numbers — it’s Antetokounmpo’s court vision and the accuracy and firepower behind his passes. When he runs into triple- and quadruple-teams as he drives to the basket, his kick-outs hit just the right spot and have his teammates locked and loaded and ready to fire.
Kidd was a controversial coach in Milwaukee, especially toward the end of his tenure. And since the current Mavs coach left, Mike Budenholzer has unlocked even more of his franchise superstar’s game.
But without Kidd’s gutsy call and willingness to try something that put The Alphabet in a unique and uncomfortable position, we could be looking at a much different version of Giannis Antetokounmpo and a much different version of the Milwaukee Bucks.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.