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

3 Comments

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.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

Leave a comment

John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?

Chicago billboard calls for Bulls to fire Gar Forman, John Paxson

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1 Comment

Gar Forman split Executive of the Year with Pat Riley the same year Riley lured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to the Heat.

Forman’s stock has fallen quite a bit since.

The Bulls general manager – who works with executive vice President of basketball operations John Paxson in a duo (once affectionately) called GarPax – is facing increased scrutiny. The latest: A Chicago billboard organized by Bulls fans and paid for by GoFundMe donators.

GarPax’s recent missteps have been troubling. The breakup with Tom Thibodeau was messy and felt personal, especially with Fred Hoiberg succeeding him. First-round picks – Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott and Marquis Teague – have yielded little dividend. The Jimmy Butler trade was almost unbelievably lousy, even after the Three Alphas plan with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fell flat.

But it’s also worth taking a step back. The Bulls have won 59% of their games, made the playoffs seven of eight years and never had a losing season under Forman. This somewhat feels like Chicago fans having unrealistic expectations.

The most important question owners should ask when weighing whether to retain management: Who will best guide the team forward? Prior results should matter only to inform that question.

Based on overall body of work GarPax has a case for staying on the job. The tandem built a 62-win conference finalist around Derrick Rose then saw his injuries sabotage the run. But GarPax has also trended the wrong direction, failing too often (and too often predictably) since Rose declined.

Would the Bulls hire someone who will do better than Forman and Paxson if they fired those two? Maybe, and it’s a discussion worth having. But the answer isn’t as simple as I suspect the people behind this billboard would believe.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks on Otto Porter: ‘He’s a max person in my mind’

AP Photo/Nick Wass
3 Comments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Otto Porter is a quiet, complementary piece to the Wizards’ talented young core. He is also now Washington’s highest-paid player.

At least temporarily.

Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal garner most of the attention as Washington has made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs three of the last four seasons. But for now, Porter makes the most money after the Wizards matched a four-year, $106.5 million max-contract offer sheet the forward signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

There might be questions if the 24-year-old Porter is worth that money. But the Wizards believe he is a good fit alongside Wall, 26, a four-time All-Star, and Beal, 24, one of the league’s top shooting guards.

“You just use that as motivation just like John and Brad did,” Porter said at a news conference Wednesday. “They set the bar high. I’m going to set my bar, high, too.”

Porter entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, and when agent David Falk couldn’t agree to terms with Washington on July 1, he chose to shop his client’s services. The Sacramento Kings showed interest, but the Nets were the most serious and made a run at Porter.

“They felt like they wanted to test the market to see if there was something more out there, and they did,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “But it wasn’t a big decision because all along we said we wanted to keep our young core together.”

It probably won’t be long before Wall surpasses Porter as the Wizards highest-paid player. Wall was named third-team All-NBA this past season, and the point guard is eligible to sign a $160 million, four-year super max contract any time before the 2017-18 season begins. Wall will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2019.

Re-signing Porter was a top priority for Washington this summer. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft out of Georgetown, Porter had a breakthrough season. He ranked fourth in field goal percentage among small forwards (51.6 percent) and fifth among all NBA players in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent).

Porter’s ability to fit seamlessly with Wall and Beal without needing the ball in his hands is a huge plus, too, according to Grunfeld. At 6-foot-8, Porter’s length also plays a significant role in the Wizards’ defensive concepts. His skillset was so valuable to Washington the Wizards surpassed the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold by matching the offer sheet.

“I never look at Otto and judge him by the stat sheet,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He does so many little things that the stats don’t show. He dives on the floor for a loose ball, he sets screens. He makes the extra pass to the corner, offensive rebounds.

“You can never have enough high-character guys that are committed to each and that’s what he is,” Brooks said. “He’s a max person in my mind.”

Utah Jazz sign forward Royce O’Neale, first season reportedly guaranteed

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Utah Jazz signed forward Royce O’Neale on Wednesday.

Sportando:

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

O’Neale gives Utah 16 players on non-two-way contracts, one more than the regular-season limit. Raul Neto is on unguaranteed contract, but he’s a potential rotation player.

A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, O’Neale played for Gran Canaria in Spain last season and averaged 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists. O’Neale was a member of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Las Vegas Summer League team last week and averaged 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists.

The 24-year-old was undrafted out of Baylor in 2015. He adds wing depth to a Jazz team adjusting to life without Gordon Hayward after he signed with the Boston Celtics in free agency.

The Jazz won 51 games last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They were swept by the Golden State Warriors after beating the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.