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51 Questions: Will Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard be as cool as we hope?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Will Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard be as cool as we hope?

Yes.

Yes, he will be.

We will get into the details (like he’s a point forward), but there is an easy answer to this question because we’ve seen the results already — and they are impressive. In the final 20 games of the season (after Michael Carter-Williams went down injured and coach Jason Kidd went all in with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the point) he averaged 18.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. In that time he had a true shooting percentage of 57.2 (well above the league average), and he assisted on 32.4 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court.

And there were highlights. Check out his triple-double against the Rockets.

What you see in that game is what makes Antetokounmpo so dangerous and amazing as a point guard. Or point forward. Or as Kidd would say, a basketball player. He’s not a traditional point in that Antetokounmpo is not going to guard Chris Paul or Stephen Curry (except on the occasional switch), he is more like LeBron James (or peak Kobe Bryant) initiating the offense and being the primary playmaker, regardless of position.

What makes Antetokounmpo unfair as the guy with the ball in his hands is he’s 6’11” with a fantastic feel for the game — he can see over the top of most defenders and throw passes to cutters or guys open in the corner that other guards struggle to make.

Try to guard him with a smaller, quicker backcourt player (like the Rockets did in the video above with Ty Lawson) and the Bucks will just post Antetokounmpo up and let him go to work. Or he can overpower them in an isolation set from the wing. Use a bigger player, and Antetokounmpo has the handles and the long strides to blow by his defender and, if the rotation is late, just go the rim and finish. Antetokounmpo can’t shoot the three, but he has a respectable midrange game that is hard to take away. Expect to see a lot of tall wings (around 6’8”) be the defensive choice on him.

Where Antetokounmpo is most dangerous is transition — he can grab the rebound, lead the break, and either finish himself (knifing around a defender with an impressive Eurostep) or finding the open man. You could see the other Bucks adjusting by running to the arc or filling the lanes on the break — they knew if they ran they would be rewarded.

With Antetokounmpo at the point, but Bucks are going to be fun to watch — yes, this is going to be as cool as we think.

Will it mean wins and a return to the playoffs for the Bucks? That may be another question. Last March, with Antetokounmpo running the show, the Bucks were 6-9. Now their offense was about three points per 100 possessions better than it had been during the season, and their net rating said they should have been around a .500 team, but even with that the Antetokounmpo show was fun but not dominant.

The Bucks brought in Matthew Dellavedova this summer to be the new point guard, which should add some defense and feistiness to the backcourt. He can work well off the ball (the man played with LeBron, he knows how this point forward thing works).

Where the Bucks need to improve most is defense — that is the end of the court that got them to the playoffs two seasons ago and made them look so promising. Antetokounmpo is a big part of that — his freakish 7’3 wingspan lets him block shots and make steals that others could not get to. The Bucks need to lock down on that end, force turnovers, then use that to get Antetokounmpo the ball leading the break.

With Dellavedova at the one, Kris Middleton at the two, and Jabari Parker up front, and Antetokounmpo running the show, the Bucks have a solid lineup (especially once they figure out how to use, or trade, Greg Monroe). There is not a lot of depth, but this is a team that should be in the mix for one of the final few playoff slots in the East.

Of that group, they may just be the most fun to watch. Thanks to Antetokounmpo.

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.