For the New York Knicks, one of the more intriguing picks during in this year’s draft was Greek guard Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The prospect, who was picked in the second round of this year’s draft, is a player with plenty of upside, particularly defensively. However, due to the Knicks roster being set, Antetokounmpo will not be on New York’s roster. Instead, the New York Knicks’ draft pick is, surprisingly, taking a significant pay cut by choosing to stay in the D-League instead of going over to Europe.
The 6’6″ Antetokounmpo, who is of Greek and Nigerian decent, is no sure thing for the Knicks. He is an incredibly raw talent who, likely, will have to work hard in the D-League in order for New York to put him on the roster. What he does have going for him though is that he is incredibly motivated to do so. Had he played in Europe, he could have made $550,000 over the next two years. By signing with the Knicks D-League affiliate in Westchester, the guard will only make $25,000 next year. Considering his dream is to play with the New York Knicks, it is a smart move for the 22-year-old. While he could have continued to work on his game in Italy, playing in the D-League will give him more accurate training in terms of playing the NBA style. Additionally, with him playing in Westchester, under GM Allan Houston, he will be playing in a system similar to New York’s.
Off the bat, the biggest upside going for Antetokounmpo is his drive to play. Not many young players are going to say no to over 500 grand. It is this type of attitude which is one of the guard’s best qualities on the court as well — energy. While playing for the Delaware 87ers last season, he proved to be driven by going for that tip-in or deflecting the ball of the opposition. These are his two significant contributions after his one year in the D-League. The Greek guard is athletically gifted with an impressive vertical ability, which resulted in many put-backs last season. It is his athletic ability, in conjunction with his wingspan, that has the Knicks interested in his defensive ability. Last season, he averaged 1.16 bpg and 1.3 spg, while contributing 12 ppg in an average of 29 mpg. With the right training, Antetokounmpo has the potential to become one of the better defensive guards in the NBA.
The problem for the Greek specimen is that he is quite raw at this stage. Despite his defensive abilities, he needs to build up his basketball IQ. Often, he is found to be more concentrated on the ball than his respective man, leaving the opposing guard wide open. Thus, by the time he reaches position to block his opponent’s shot, the ball is already over his head. He has quite a bit to learn in terms of overall team defense, as well as his defensive focus. Once he is capable of learning these key defensive concepts, the sky is the limit for him.
It is at the offensive end that Antetokounmpo will be a liability. Near the basket he is an efficient scorer, which is mostly from put backs. However, the problem with his offensive game is that, despite his athletic ability, he tends to rely too often on his jumper, particularly from the three-point line, where he only averaged 30 percent. With the athletic ability that he has showcased, Antetokounmpo needs to focus more on lay ups and dunks. It also would not be a terrible idea for the prospect to practice his jump shot when needed. His most glaring problem on the offensive end, however, tends to be that he forces up shots frequently when the opponent is in his grill, as opposed to passing the ball off properly.
Despite his current raw form, Thanasis Antetokounmpo has the potential to be a real force in the NBA one day. If his decision to play in the D-League over Europe, despite the pay cut, means anything, the New York Knicks’ recent draft pick could wind up being a steal in years to come. Before he makes that leap though, Antetokounmpo needs to focus, increase his basketball IQ and, most importantly, prove that he is capable of playing at the NBA level. If he does those things, he may be playing on the floor of Madison Square Garden sooner rather than later.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey