“Old soul” Antetokounmpo still hungry entering 10th NBA season

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering his 10th NBA season.

Which doesn’t sound right. The Antetokounmpo fans love is still a child at heart — the guy who celebrates a title by going to Chick-fil-A and ordering 50 nuggets. The guy who smiles big on the court and tells dad jokes at the end of every press conference. The guy who goes to the White House with Joe Biden and jokes he will run for president in 2024 with his brother Thanasis and call themselves “Antetokounbros.”

It doesn’t feel like a decade. Giannis Antetokounmpo still plays the game and lives life with child-like joy.

Yet the calendar doesn’t lie, this season will be 10 years in the league.

“I’m an old soul, Antetokounmpo told NBC Sports. “Like, in my mind I feel like I’ve been a vet five years now. But like my body… I have so much energy. I’m so hungry to accomplish more. I want to go out there and help you know my team in the best way possible. And a lot of people know that I’m a winner. I love to win. I love to go out there and leave everything on the court.

“But definitely I agree with you that people don’t think I’ve been 10 years in the league and they see me as kind of the young guy. You know the new guy on the block but it’s okay, you know, but at the end of the day, I won’t go out there and do the best job possible and try to win games.”

In that decade Antetokounmpo has changed and evolved, especially physically. Antetokounmpo is not the scrawny kid who got pushed around when he entered the NBA, now he is a physical force like few others in the Association.

“I definitely feel different,” Antetokounmpo said. “When I was 18 I was eating cheeseburgers and drinking Mountain Dews and, you know, sodas, but as you as you grow older, you realize that you want to have a long life and a healthy life. And I definitely take care of my body as much as I can. I invest in myself. The best investment you can do is in yourself, to invest in yourself.”

Antetokounmpo also built himself into a brand over the past decade — to borrow a Jay-Z line, “he’s a business, man.” However, for him, that has to be personal as well. His latest venture is with Antidote Health, an Israeli telemedicine startup, where Antetokounmpo is both the company’s ambassador and an investor. Like seemingly everything in his life, this is not a cold, calculated investment for Antetokounmpo.

“It’s definitely personal. We share the same mission…” Antetokounmpo said. “Growing up in Greece. We didn’t have access to [doctors], you know, there were a lot of situations a lot of times that my dad was terrified to go to the hospital. He was terrified of the doctor’s visit. He was terrified to just go talk to the doctors, to take a hospital visit [because of the bill]… No matter where you’re from, what your circumstances is, where you live, what do you, I believe like you should have access to health care. You should be able to have that doctor, go to a hospital visit. I believe it’s a human right.”

Antetokounmpo has grown in other ways over the past decade — he is the father now to two sons, Liam and Maverick, and that will change anyone’s perspective. It makes him think of the security he can provide them, the legacy he leaves for them, both on the court and in the world (hence his focus on healthcare).

But Antetokounmpo is still a kid at heart — you can see it in his face as he plays with his brothers this summer representing Greece in EuroBasket.

Playing with that child-like mindset and joy is something Kobe Bryant talked to him about when Antetokounmpo worked out with the legend.

“I really am not one of those persons to, you know, kind of share our conversation. But yeah, he talked a little bit about it. You know, just being a kid. Always be curious. Always ask questions,” Antetokounmpo said. “Always trying to improve and he did that until he was 38 years old and even after basketball he was trying to always improve.”

If Antetokounmpo improves any more it should terrify the league — he is a two-time MVP, a Finals MVP, and is the best basketball player on the face of the earth right now.

And while he may be an old soul, he’s still just a kid at heart.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.