Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo to compete in Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend


Typically, rookies don’t get noticed. Typically, players from overseas need more time to build an American following. Typically, Milwaukee Bucks are ignored.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is definitely atypical.

“The Greek Freak” has wowed fans all season with his long arms, diverse skillset and outward happiness.

He’s been so impressive, he’ll be competing in Skills Challenge – a speed drill that tests dribbling, passing and shooting – during NBA All-Star Weekend, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

An invite to to the Skills Challenge hardly constitutes “making it,” but for Antetokounmpo, it’s sure recognition of his incredible progress. Drafted No. 15 out of a third-rate Greek league and the NBA’s youngest player this season, Antetokounmpo was widely viewed as a project – and he is.

Yet, his skills have shined so brightly, they can’t be ignored.

Just six rookies had ever competed in the Skills Challenge since its 2003 inception. Most of them (Damian Lillard,* Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul) went onto win Rookie of the Year.**

*Last year, Lillard became the first rookie to win the Skills Challenge.

**The two exceptions: John Wall and Brandon Jennings. Wall led his draft class in Rookie of the Year voting, but Blake Griffin, who began his NBA career a year late due to injury, won the award. Jennings had a historically great first half to his rookie season.

Antetokounmpo certainly isn’t a Rookie of the Year favorite, and it seems two candidates ahead of him – Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke – would have been more logical options for the Skills Challenge. That’s because they’re point guards.

Positional definitions can get tricky at times, but whatever Antetokounmpo is, he definitely can’t be pigeonholed as a point guard. The last non-point guard in the Skills Challenge was Dwyane Wade in 2008, and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the only other non-point guards to ever compete. Until now, being a superstar was the only way to clear the positional barrier of entry to the event.

So, no, a Skills Challenge invite isn’t a crowning achievement for Antetokounmpo. But he incredibly cleared many obstacles to get this far.

What are a few more on All-Star Saturday Night?

Players’ union, NBA to set up cardiac screening for retired players

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First it was Darryl Dawkins. Then it was Moses Malone.

Two all-time great players who recently died — and at t0o young an age, 58 and 60 respectively — from undiagnosed heart conditions. Even before that, recognizing the issue the NBA players union and the league itself were setting up supplemental health coverage to provide cardiac screening for retired players, something ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan recently broke.

The joint effort between union executive director Michele Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver — at a time when there still may be potentially acrimonious labor negotiations looming for their sides — is intended to ease the health concerns of its retired players.

Roberts said action from the players’ association on providing screening for its retired players is “imminent.”

“I wish I could give you an exact timetable, but we have to make sure all the components are in place,” Roberts told ESPN recently. “I will tell you we hope to have something sooner than later.”

The Cardiologists are affiliated with the NBA already, and some of the money will come from the league, while the union is both pitching in a chunk of cash and is the one organizing this, according to the report.

It’s good to Roberts and Silver working together on this. While you’d like to think this would be the kind of no-brainer move that the league and union would work together on, in the past the relationship didn’t always facilitate this sort of cooperation even on the obvious.

I’d like to think this bodes well for future labor talks, but I’m not willing to completely draw that parallel.


Stephen Curry drops 30 on Portland in preseason (VIDEO)

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Somebody is in midseason form.

Stephen Curry put up 30 on Portland in a preseason game Thursday night, hitting six threes and getting to the line 15 times over the course of his less than 26 minutes. It was quite a show.

Portland won the game 118-101 behind 25 points from Allen Crabbe and 22 from Damian Lillard. Not a lot of defense in this one but it was fun to watch.