Bucks take teen from Greece with No. 15 pick
MILWAUKEE The Milwaukee Bucks drafted 18-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6-9 forward from Greece, with the 15th overall pick of the NBA draft Thursday night, a head-scratcher of a pick for a team in dire need of backcourt help.
The Bucks may have addressed that need after all, even if the team didn’t confirm it: High-scoring South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters was acquired by the Bucks in a trade involving the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia, according to Allegiant Athletic Agency, Wolters’ agent.
None of the teams had announced the deal late Thursday, leaving the focus on Antetokounmpo, who averaged 9.5 points and 5.0 in 26 games last season for Filathlitikos in Greece’s second division.
“If it were about need and being safe, we’d take the backcourt pick,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “That wasn’t about this. This was about taking the best player on the board.”
The Bucks had been projected to select a guard to replace Monta Ellis, the team’s leading scorer last season, who opted out of his contract to become a free agent. In addition, starting point guard Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent.
Wolters, a 6-5 point guard, averaged 22.7 points last season.
“Being drafted to play in the NBA is a dream that I’ve worked my entire life to achieve,” he said in a statement provided by Allegiant. “Milwaukee is a great organization and I am very appreciative for this opportunity.”
With their own pick at No. 43, the Bucks drafted 6-6 shooting guard Ricky Ledo of Providence, but a person with knowledge of the deal said he was being sent Ledo to Dallas for a 2014 second-round choice. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
Among the guards still available when the Bucks made their pick were Dennis Schroeder of Germany, Shane Larkin of Miami and Sergey Karsev of Russia, each of whom went shortly after Milwaukee’s pick.
Hammond said the guard situation would have to be addressed through free agency.
“That’s what we’ll have to do,” he said. “We understand that.”
Bucks coach Larry Drew, who was hired in early June after coaching the Atlanta Hawks the last three seasons, admitted he had some catching up to do on Antetokounmpo.
“To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of him,” Drew said. “I remember watching him the first day and just seeing where this kid was, his skill level. His skill level, it’s pretty amazing. A kid this young, physically, he’s not a very strong kid. I’m talking about skills, I’m talking about his ability to get in between those lines and do things. This kid has it.”
“Just sitting with John yesterday, I was just shaking my head and I said, ‘John, he will not be there at 15. He won’t be there,’” he said. “I am really excited about this kid.”
Antetokounmpo said he was excited about the opportunity to play in the NBA and at being drafted by the Bucks.
“I still don’t believe this is happening.” Antetokounmpo said. “I can’t describe how excited I feel to get drafted in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s a dream come true. But this is not the end. It’s only the beginning, you know, to a very long road that maybe someday will give me the opportunity to make my NBA team.”
Milwaukee stumbled into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, going 4-12 to end the season and then was swept in the first round by the eventual champion Miami Heat.
The Bucks have not won a playoff series since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2000-01. The nucleus of the seven players under contract is young. Starting center Larry Sanders is 24; last year’s first-round pick, forward John Henson, is 22; and forward Ersan Ilyasova is 26. Jennings, who has been a starter each of his four seasons, is 23.
Hammond said Antetokounmpo started to appear on the NBA’s radar in December.
“There are no secrets in the NBA,” Hammond said. “You can be at a major NCAA Division 1 school or an NAIA school, if you can play, people know where you’re at. This kid just kind of blew up midseason and people started talking about this young kid in Greece and the talent and ability that he had. So we all flocked over to see him. When I was there, I was probably there with five or six other NBA teams at the time watching him.”
Hammond said Antetokounmpo is being viewed as being on the roster as opposed to possibly being in the developmental league, although there is a lot of work to do. Antetokounmpo is listed at 210 pounds and both Drew and Hammond said he would have to get stronger, but each emphasized the tremendous upside.
“I remember when we drafted Brandon (Jennings), I said he had all-star speed and quickness. That’s all we said,” Hammond said. “And, I don’t think we’ve made a habit of saying this sort of thing, but I do think this kid has potential all-star talent. I really believe that he has it.”
Hammond said that Antetokounmpo would have to be brought along slowly because of his age, inexperience and cultural differences.
“There is a real transition period for him,” Hammond said. “You’re talking about a kid, he’s only been out of the country one time and that was only a matter of a few weeks ago when he played for the Greek national team.”