Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Clippers

The Extra Pass: Giannis Antetokounmpo is having fun. And starting to figure out how good he can be.

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LOS ANGELES — Watch him play in person and there are moments where Giannis Antetokounmpo makes your jaw just drop like you’re in a Tex Avery cartoon.

Monday night against the Clippers there was the point in the fourth quarter when the young Bucks forward took a rebound away from DeAndre Jordan, spun around and led the break himself at a speed normally reserved for point guards and just attacked the basket, forcing Matt Barnes to foul him. It was breathtaking.

Or there’s this.

Antetokounmpo is a story hard not to love. In just a handful of years he has gone from part of a poor, struggling family in Greece — he and his brothers used to sometime sell their toys to help pay for food — into a cult favorite of NBA fans and maybe ultimately the best player out of this past draft class.

He’s savoring this change of fortune, enjoying it — and more than anything else that comes through in his play.

“I can’t believe my rookie season so much has happened and I have fun all the year,” said Antetokounmpo, despite this being a season where his team has won just 13 games. “I enjoy all the days, all the time in practice, because I got good teammate and a good coaches.”

He’s enjoying the little things. Like how people can now pronounces his last name.

“That’s awesome,” Antetokounmpo says with an infectious smile. “At the beginning no one could say my name and now everybody knows it.”

Watch him play and the other thing that leaps out is he is still a very, very raw player— just a year ago he was playing in Greece’s second division and the jump to the NBA is light years.

“For sure the speed of the game was an adjustment at the beginning, but now I’m used to it,” Antetokounmpo said. “I even like it. I love it now, running up and down, trying to block shots and get dunks.”

Antetokounmpo has gotten the chance to learn on the job this season in part because the Bucks are physically banged up and struggling — Bucks coach Larry Drew admitted if this season has gone as planned the “Greek Freak” would have been riding the pine. The plan was to bring him along much more slowly. Instead the Bucks have the worst record in the NBA, so Antetokounmpo gets to learn on the court (he played crunch time against the Clippers and their athletic front line Monday).

He still has a lot to learn.

“His next stage is would certainly have to be just get stronger,” Drew said. “I think he’s gotten familiar with the NBA lifestyle. People ask me if he has hit a wall. He his stretches where he didn’t play well but he was still playing hard.”

“It’s not just about getting stronger. It’s about getting stronger, getting better on defense, being in the right position on defense, improving my jump shot, everything, my explosiveness. Everything,” Antetokounmpo said,

The biggest adjustments for Antetokounmpo have come off the court — moving halfway around the world to another culture, going from having no money to having enough to support his family at age 19, plus just being thrust into the spotlight.

“I think the hardest part was the English, because at the beginning I didn’t speak so good English,” Antetokounmpo said. “After that the culture was a little different.”

His English is pretty good now and he picked up the language of basketball just as quickly.

“When he came in one of our concerns was him just adapting to being here in the states and for me just the language barrier and would he be able to understand NBA terminology, our lingo, would he be able to comprehend it?” Drew said. “And he has. He picks things up pretty fast, which is a big surprise to me. At 18 years old when he got here I was really concerned if he would really understand the terminology with all the things that happen, but he picked it up. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions, which is good. A lot of young guys are too timid to ask questions. He has shown he has really grown and is developing in that area.”

He even had to get used to a new nickname — the Greek Freak.

“At the beginning it was a little like ‘The Greek Freak’ (I didn’t like) ‘Freak.’ But now I like it because my brother is also the Greek Freak… We’re Greek Freak nation,” Antetokounmpo says laughing.

There’s still a long way to go for Antetokounmpo to reach anywhere near his potential — his game is still so raw. But every game you watch you see flashes of that rare athleticism that led the Bucks to take a chance on him at No. 15 — and you realize they a steal when then did. Redo this draft and Antetokounmpo doesn’t get out of the top five, maybe the top three.

There were a lot of questions last June about if Antetokounmpo could really adapt to America and the NBA. The answer turns out to be a jaw-dropping yes.

And he’s doing it all with a smile.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.