Entering his second season, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is poised for a breakout year. The 19-year-old boasts loads of potential and has a chance to establish himself as one of the faces of Milwaukee’s future.
This 2014-15 season will be one of significant improvement for Antetokounmpo. In fact, it is feasible for him to become a candidate for the NBA‘s Most Improved Player Award.
And if all goes well, he may just win it.
Summer of Growth
A big reason why Antetokounmpo will significantly improve this season is the growth he endured over the summer, both as a player as well as physically.
Not only did the 19-year-old hone his skills in the NBA Summer League, but he gained invaluable experience playing for the Greek national team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup as well.
The “Greek Freak” finished the tournament with respectable averages of 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes of play per game. This includes an exceptional performance against Puerto Rico, when he produced 15 points and three boards on 45.5 percent shooting from the floor.
As far as summer league goes, Antetokounmpo impressed, averaging 17 points, 5.7 rebounds, 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent shooting from three.
Through it all, the forward focused on developing numerous aspects of his game, including his ball-handling skills and ability to make plays in transition.
He also increased his confidence, telling Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel that he feels “more confident and more comfortable on the court.”
This will all play a major role in the improvement Antetokounmpo experiences in 2014-15. He is expected to fill multiple roles in Milwaukee, and his busy summer helped him transform into a more versatile player.
And of course, if he plays numerous positions well, this will subsequently lead to more opportunities for statistical growth.
Mix in the fact the forward shot up in height from 6’9″ to an intimidating 6’11″, and it is clear he boasts a real chance at winning MIP.
As mentioned, Antetokounmpo‘s versatility will serve as a huge factor in his improvement.
Standing at 6’11″ and possessing the skills of a wing player, the 19-year-old is capable of filling every single spot on the court, including point guard.
Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has said as much (via Gardner):
When we talk about basketball players, we try to stay away from labeling. We want them to use their natural instincts to make plays and find ways to win.
Giannis being a point guard, I think he can start the offense. He can go coast to coast, and he’s very comfortable with the ball in the open court.
In essence, Kidd plans on utilizing Antetokounmpo according to each specific situation. If this includes placing the forward at point every now and then—something that happened in both summer league and preseason—Kidd trusts him enough to fill that role.
Coming from one of the best point guards to ever play the game, this is incredibly high praise.
It’s also realistic. From cutting off-ball towards the basket to driving the lane and creating opportunities for teammates, the teenager can be productive no matter what position he plays.
Not only is Antetokounmpo flexible offensively, but with his athleticism and 7’3″ wingspan, he boasts the means to defend multiple spots as well.
Need him to contain a 2-guard? He’ll implement his lateral quickness to do so. Want him to stop a center from scoring inside? The youngster will use a lengthy, outstretched arm to block his shot.
Antetokounmpo‘s versatility will help him improve tremendously in his second season, as it will allow him to produce in a plethora of ways on both ends of the court.
The following video of the “Greek Freak” in preseason perfectly exemplifies this potential:
He utilizes his height and reach to block power forward Taj Gibson on one end, then follows it by applying his guard-like speed and explosiveness to finish with a powerful slam on the other.
If he consistently gets it done like this throughout the year, the Most Improved Player Award is undoubtedly within reach.
Increased Play Time
In order for Antetokounmpo to successfully increase his output, however, he must receive more minutes than the 24.6 per game he logged last season.
Heading into 2014-15, it seems the 19-year-old will get exactly that.
The Milwaukee roster consists of a young nucleus, including 19-year-old rookie Jabari Parker, 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and 25-year-old center Larry Sanders.
Also, the Bucks are by no means a playoff-caliber team, even in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
A postseason appearance is achievable in two to three years time, but achieving that level of play will rely heavily on the continued development of Milwaukee’s rising stars. Consequently, Kidd and the rest of the organization will place a heavy focus on giving their youngsters on-court experience together.
Of course, the “Greek Freak” is a critical part of the Bucks’ youthful concoction, and he will get a lot of playing time as a result.
The specific number of minutes he will play is not entirely clear at this point. He is expected to start, so he will likely accumulate anywhere between 27-32 minutes per night.
By logging roughly five more minutes per game than last season, Antetokounmpo will have the chance to drastically improve upon his rookie averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
As a result, he will place himself right in the thick of the Most Improved Player conversation.
Josh Haar is a NBA contributor on Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JHaarNBA.
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