Kurt Helin

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Associated Press

First time Jason Kidd benched Giannis Antetokounmpo angry youngster decided to check Kidd’s career stats

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If you grew up a hoops fan in America, you know who Jason Kidd is — NBA champion, gold medalist, six-time All-NBA, nine-time All-defensive, 10-time All-Star, future Hall of Famer and one of the great point guards ever to play the game. He’s now the Bucks’ coach.

Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t grow up in the United States.

Antetokounmpo’s adjustment from a guy playing in the Greek second division to budding NBA superstar — this year he should play in his first All-Star Game — is the focus of a brilliant feature by Lee Jenkins at Sports Illustrated. You should read the whole thing. But as an illustration of how little Antetokounmpo knew about the NBA, there is this anecdote from the story.

The first time Kidd benched him, Antetokounmpo was irate. “I was like, ‘Let’s see what this guy did in his career, anyway,’ ” Antetokounmpo recounts, and called up Kidd’s bio on his phone. “I saw Rookie of the Year, NBA championship, USA Olympic gold medal, second in assists, fifth in made threes, blah, blah, blah. I was like, ‘Jesus freaking Christ, how can I compete with that? I better zip it.’ ”

Kidd has come to trust Antetokounmpo more and more, and has unleashed him as a point guard in the Bucks offense (which is eighth best in the NBA this season). He has all the skills. He is a relentless driver of the lane — Antetokounmpo leads the NBA in points in the paint per game (more than DeMarcus Cousins, although Cousins does have a better outside shot). Antetokounmpo knows to finish, and he is a gifted passer learning how to run the offense.

Imagine how dangerous he will be when his jumper becomes consistent? Look at his shot chart for the season:

Antetokounmpo shot chart

Andrew Bogut to come off bench for Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki to start

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It only took a few minutes of Andrew Bogut and Dirk Nowitzki sharing the court to realize this was simply not going to work — that is two slow-footed big men who like to stay back in the paint, not push out on pick-and-rolls. Go up against a team with even mediocre shooting and that lineup will get exposed.

The solution? Move Bogut to the bench.

And it was his idea, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Mavs C Andrew Bogut will be coming off the bench for the foreseeable future. “There’s no point of starting with Dirk and then getting pulled 30 seconds into a game,” Bogut told ESPN. “So I went to coach and said, ‘If you’re going to continue to do that, just bring me off the bench. I won’t be offended. We’ll get on with life.'”

Bogut off the bench should help the defense of that unit and keep the ball moving with the reserves. It’s also very possible he still closes games.

Dallas has gotten healthier — although Bogut and Nowitzki are on minutes restrictions — and moved up the ladder to “respectable” of late, having won four of their last eight. But all the new faces in game jerseys leaves coach Rick Carlisle trying to figure out lineup combinations on the fly, stuff most teams figured out long ago.

Nowitzki said the Mavs haven’t given up hope on making the playoffs, that they just need to string together some wins. That seems optimistic. The Mavericks are just 4.5 games out of the eight seed (currently Sacramento), but the Mavs would have to leap six teams to get there, and that is incredibly difficult to do.

JaVale McGee’s new 2017 hairstyle is very… JaVale

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Like people in glass houses, those of us without hair should be slow to criticize anyone’s hairstyle.

So I will offer JaVale McGee‘s new look for 2017 without comment, other than to say that is not a rat-tail. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not that.

In case you hadn’t noticed, or were too stunned by the new dew, McGee is having a solid season off the bench for the Warriors. He’s fit in well with a team looking for athleticism up front.

Sixers working Nerlens Noel into rotation, showcase for trade?

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Sixers’ coach Brett Brown said he wanted to use eight games to get a good look at the Jahlil Okafor/Joel Embiid pairing. He watched six games where the defense was a flat-out disaster with them together (allowing 117 points per 100 possessions) and the team went 1-5. That was enough.

Next up in the “how do they fit together” rotation will be Nerlens Noel, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“We want to see Nerlens and Joel a little bit,” Brett Brown said. “I think the Jahlil-Joel pairing we’ve seen. … I think it’s fair to say, mostly, there’s nothing 100 percent certain with all of this.”

“Defensively, it’s obviously going to be to our advantage,” Noel said. “It has its hits and misses with playing big lineups like tomorrow. Maybe it’s beneficial because they have Gorgui (Dieng) and Karl (-Anthony Towns), so it evens out a little bit. I think we’ll be able to play just fine.”

Noel and Embiid may pair better together, but whether they are the long-term answer is another question. And all of the dynamics will change when Ben Simmons steps on the court as the primary playmaker. Ultimately, Dario Saric may be the best call at the four.

It’s no secret that the Sixers will listen to trade offers for Noel or Okafor, they have an overcrowded front line that doesn’t fit all that well together. If they are going to trade Noel, they need to showcase him, which is one of the reasons he needs to get on the court.

Expect Noel and Okafor to come up in a lot of trade rumors by the deadline — and maybe in a trade.

Paul Millsap says his heart is in Atlanta, wants to stay with Hawks

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Did anyone expect Paul Millsap to say anything else? I don’t doubt that he means it.

Over the weekend, trade rumors surfaced that the Hawks were starting to listen to trade offers for All-Stars Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver, plus Thabo Sefolosha. The rumor goes that the Hawks were burned by Al Horford leaving for nothing last summer, and they don’t want to be similarly burned by their current stars. There is logic there — if you believe Millsap is going to leave. Millsap is too smart to commit to anything right now, but he said exactly what was expected — he doesn’t want to go anywhere.

Of course, it’s going to come down to money. Millsap will be a 10-year NBA veteran demanding a max contract next summer (likely starting at $36 million a season). The concern isn’t is he worth it right now — he’s a certain max player, a guy who can score around the basket, knock down threes, and is a smart defender — but what about the end of the contract? Millsap will be 32 when he signs that deal, do the Hawks want to lock him in for four or five years at the max?

That’s just one of the questions the Hawks as an organization needs to answer. Another is: How badly do we want to make the playoffs this season? Because if they move Millsap, they will be trading their best player and not getting equal value back (at least in the short term). They will miss the postseason.

Atlanta should see what the market is for these players — which is why they are listening now. But moving Millsap is another thing entirely. Not sure the Hawks are there yet, or that they will ever get there.