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Giannis Antetokounmpo embracing new role as Bucks point guard

"I'm not into labeling him as a point guard, I'm going to label him as a basketball player who can make basketball plays."

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo will reprise his role as the tallest starting point guard in the NBA next season, a frightening thought for opposing defenders across the league.

After news broke Tuesday that the Bucks were planning around the 21-year-old as their starting point guard going into next season, Antetokounmpo had nothing but praise for head coach Jason Kidd.

MORE: What questions do the Bucks face now?

"I really appreciate the fact that coach trusts me and has confidence in me." Antetokounmpo said. "The only thing I'm thinking about right now is how I can get better so that the team can get better too, so that I can play the point guard spot as good as I can."

Kidd said Giannis' ability to push the ball off of rebounds had suggested a broader playmaking role was possible. Seeing Antetokounmpo grab the ball and push it down court without waiting for a point guard caught the future hall of famer's eye, though the process of turning him into a primary ball-handler has taken a couple years.

"Seeing Giannis take that and do well with it, we thought the next step was for Giannis on makes to bring it up and start the offense," Kidd said. "That goes with being a leader, and you have to make sure everybody is touching the ball. He's able to do that."

On top of the 1,000-shots-per-day-in-the-summer advice Kobe Bryant gave him earlier this season, Antetokounmpo now knows he'll also be the team's primary ball-handler. Still, the latter won't necessarily affect how he plans to attack his workouts and training in the coming months.

"It doesn't change anything." Giannis said. "I think I'm a smart player and I know people that can help me to get better, The only thing I have to do is a lot of jump shots, my ball handling has to get a lot better now having the ball so much. My passing ability and I've just got to get stronger. Those four things are the most important things."

Since his workload is likely to take a spike from getting and pushing the ball more frequently, Kidd wants to see a jump in Giannis' conditioning, too.

"His conditioning mentally and physically has to get better," Kidd said, "because that's the first thing they (opponents) are going to try to do, wear him down."

Even with the move, Kidd was clear when explaining how Giannis' role on the defensive end doesn't change at all.

"The little confusion is that, Giannis is going to start sometimes the offense, but he's not guarding the point guard." Kidd stated Wednesday. "The luxury of having someone like Giannis (is that) you've got to use his skill set and put him in the position to be successful but also the team."

Antetokounmpo has rarely guarded opposing point guards for the Bucks, so this isn't surprising. He'll still primarily defend near the basket against wings and fours unless he's faced with a switch. This is the best area to utilize Giannis because having him closer to the basket against larger players makes up for the Bucks' lack of size and rim protection. Wednesday's game against the Suns provided an obvious example, as Antetokounmpo started the game against 7-foot center Tyson Chandler.

"He's not going to guard the point guard, he's going to guard the three or the four. With switching, he may end up on a smaller guy, but that doesn't change our defensive assignments of what we've done all year.

"I'm not into labeling him as a point guard, I'm going to label him as a basketball player who can make basketball plays."

Antetokounmpo doesn't find his current defensive assignments to be challenging, nevertheless, he still sees room for improvement.

"It's not difficult," Antetokounmpo said of guarding bigs. "It's something I have to get better at but I don't think it's difficult.

"Before I was playing the point guard spot, I was guarding the bigger player, I was guarding the four guy or the wing. It's nothing different on the defensive end, the only thing that changes is that I'm handling the ball more."

In other words, Giannis won't often match up against the likes of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. This move is similar to what the Cavaliers do with LeBron James or what (a younger) Bryant did with the Lakers. If Jerryd Bayless misses Friday's game due to a knee injury he sustained against the Suns, Tyler Ennis or Greivis Vasquez will probably start in his place, not Giannis.

"It's just like LeBron." Kidd said. "Kobe wasn't a point guard but he started the offense in L.A. That's what it is."

Could the Bucks still draft or sign another starting point guard this summer? Yes, although now it would likely be one capable of and willing to play more off the ball. They could also just continue to do what they're operating under right now, with Bayless starting as another shooter on the floor next to Giannis. Considering the fact that the Bucks have three expiring guards (Bayless, O.J. Mayo and Vasquez — all capable shooters), it's definitely possible.

This summer will be interesting for the Bucks, but it's specifically an important one for Antetokounmpo. He'll earn $3 million next season as part of the final year of his rookie contract, though he'll also be eligible to sign a long-term extension with the team, one that could pay him as much as $147 million over five years starting in 2017. Regardless, the 21-year-old is ready to take a leap in another department, one that only comes with time and experience.

"I want to come back and try to be more vocal, become the leader of this team," Giannis said, "and push this team as far as we can go."